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Quite Quitting

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Is this phenomenon merely generational, or just a sign of the times, or both?  The snark definition of quite quitting is doing the bare minimum necessary at your job, or only that which is required to not become terminated. A fairer definition would be that it is a reclassification of what really constitutes a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.  The callousness of huge corporations comes into play here because today’s workforce has become hip to the tactics of a business model given human-like qualities except to say that it doesn’t have a beating heart and it never dies.  Most of these corporations are large enough to at least create the illusion that there is a pathway for ongoing advancement, quite possibly even to the top, but the vast majority of all businesses in America are classified as small businesses with 50 employees or less, so the path is short and the top is very close to the ground.  In truth, many of these businesses are family owned and operated which makes the top a very exclusive club that most employees will never know the secret password to.

In the world of work even the marginally intelligent never needed The Who’s advice of, “Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss,” from the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” because they were never fooled in the first place.  They’re not working for their health, they’re doing it for the money, but motivational studies have shown that money, in and of itself, will not inspire all workers, meaning that if appreciation had any weight, it would be worth its weight in gold.  Employers are slow to give employees praise because false praise is phony and genuine praise without reward rings hollow and any other kind of praise rises expectations for its ongoing continuance.

Work from home became all the rage during the Coronavirus pandemic, but for each reaction (in this case more anonymity), there is an equal and opposite reaction which has become the invisible handcuffing known as employee tracking.  The computer gives and then the computer takes away. Still, once a segment of the workforce was spared the pointlessness of water cooler gossip and tasted the freedom of foregoing the soul sucking, to say nothing of the gas sucking, requirement of the commute they were in no hurry to experience them again and thus the Great Resignation was born of the refusal to return to business as usual.  This was all well and good for those  of the have computer but will not travel persuasion, but had no effect on the manual labor and customer services sectors that require boots on the ground in order to operate, but more and more they are operating at much lower efficiency than ever before.

Quite quitting is most definitely generational. I remember vividly my pre-silent generation grandfather  who was the manager of the local A&P Grocery Store telling me, the eventually to be boomer generation employee, “Christopher, don’t be  a clock watcher.  I can’t stand them.  Go do something until it’s time to clock in, then go clock in.  If the job’s not done by quitting time, clock out, and then go finish it.”  In other words, give the company some of your time.  His reasoning was that when and if there was a slowdown, the more loyal and generous employees would be the last to be let go, and even if that were to unfortunately happen, they would be the first to be rehired.  That, and that he despised pettiness, and felt that a half hour unpaid was not too much of an imposition on those lucky enough to be employed.  Surviving the Great Depression and the Second World War left a work ethic etched deep inside his soul and he tenaciously clung to it.

Times change, however, and not necessarily for the better.  The ordering kiosks at McDonalds, the self-check-out counters at Wal-Mart, and the infuriating automated answering systems at any number of utilities, all supposedly put there for customer convenience, but in reality they all prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that if these companies can find just one more way to eliminate yet another human, they will spare no resources in doing it.  This trend will continue despite the current blip on the radar screen of gainful employment opportunities because we are living in what is an “employee’s market” bubble that is about to burst, and when it does, quite quitting will be blown away with it.

At its core this issue is about how we treat each other, and the importance we place on one another’s inherent value.  Want to make a lot of money?  Then use people until you use them up and then go out and get yourself a fresh batch.  Don’t like your employer’s compensation package?  Do as little work as possible without losing it until something better comes along.  Back in 1979, during my first year in business out on my own I lived at an apartment complex where I struck up a friendship with a guy who seemed cool enough and personable enough, but he was a bundle of nerves.  He worked as the human resource manager for a mid-sized corporation and told me he hated his job because, “Everyone tells me that they’re not getting paid what they’re worth, and they’re right, and I know it.  Nobody’s ever satisfied, and I can’t change that.”  He felt that his job was to never approve any raises but rather to lie to people and convince them that they wouldn’t be any better off anywhere else – but how would he really know that?

That’s the essence of the fatal flaw with quite quitting.  Better to stay than to go through the trouble of leaving only to sign on for more of the same.  And besides, many jobs over a relatively short period of time becomes the red flag on a resume that tells future employers that you may be the problem.  In the one job is as good as another job market, why go to the trouble of a lateral career move that could become the plateau that you stay on for the rest of your work life?  The whole game becomes not to slide down or sideways rather than taking the risk necessary to climb up.  Simply hang around and hope for the best, in other words.  But success doesn’t hang on hope which is just a more ethereal form of blind luck; it’s fueled by motivation.

The millennial generation (1981 – 1996) had a bumpier road into the workforce than previous generations which was kicked off by being caught up in the student loan bubble. Then came the economic meltdown of 2008, and then as they approached  mid-career, the Coronavirus pandemic stuck, and the country was sent reeling.  The succeeding generation (2005 – 2020), now dubbed Gen Z or I Gen (I phones) became the school shooting generation that birthed saftyism, helicopter and bulldozer parenting, and kids that genuinely believe that they are constantly in danger.  They are so fragile that books are being banned, pronouns are being used, trigger warnings are being set off 24/7, safe spaces are being set aside, and anything that could remotely upset them is being eliminated.  This has led to a dwarfing of their maturity level to the point where 18 year old students now entering the nation’s college system are in effect emotionally equivalent to yesterday’s 15 year old high school student.  This isn’t even a variant on the theme of quite quitting; in this case on learning from the hardships of growing up, but rather never actually starting.

There are two main points to remember that will contribute mightily to the extinction of the phenomenon of quite quitting.  First, that it’s just another name for something that has always existed – laziness.  And second, the marketplace always adjusts.  This popular term, nothing more than a passing fad, is in reality a smoke screen masking the far larger problems of automation and robotics which will within a decade make quite quitting a moot point because there will be precious few jobs to quite quit, or even loudly quit at.


John C. Krieg (USA)

John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He is also retired as an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist and currently holds seven active categories of California state contracting licenses, including the highest category of Class A .

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