Quiet quitting or working hard?

Employees are drawing boundaries to strike a balance. These are testing times at the office

By Anamika Chatterjee, Allan Jacob

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We are not our work

Published: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 10:25 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 10:28 PM

“Don’t be a quitter. Ever.” When you are young (and restless), this is unsolicited advice that’s handed out to you by those who believe they have more experience of the world. There might even be considerable truth in that claim; there is a sense of triumph when we surmount a problem at work or in domestic life with our resilience and grit. If only life was about a promising beginning and a happy ending! It’s navigating the curves in between that defines the person or the professional one will eventually become. And when you find yourself constantly faced with one challenge after the other, the nature of which isn’t drastically different because nothing really is changing around you, the sense of triumph takes a backseat. Instead, you end up feeling as though you were Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was cursed with carrying a boulder up the hill only for it to fall down, and the action be repeated again and again.

It’s hard to imagine Sisyphus happy. Injected with copious amounts of idealism, most of us begin our careers thinking that we will either reach the top or will fade into oblivion. No one prepares us for the limbo in between — the knowledge that you may have a lot to offer but are either burnt out wearing too many hats or have realised that the organisation cannot accommodate your robust dreams. This does not mean that the organisation alone is at fault — the real problem is that the idea of working hard, as opposed to working smart, has been needlessly romanticised in our collective imagination.

By no stretch of the imagination is quiet quitting — in other words, mentally checking out of work and getting by doing bare minimum — a term that inspires confidence about the future we think we ought to inherit. But before I dismiss it altogether, I remain curious about why young professionals may have reached this point in the first place. Prior to the pandemic, we viewed workaholism with rose-tinted glasses. I still remember when, in my formative years, a friend advised me, “The only honest relationship you will ever have is with your work.” We believed that going above and beyond the remit will fetch us rewards. What many forgot in the process is how there was a life that was also passing us by — children growing up to find their place in the world, spouses coming to terms with your absence and parents whose health deteriorated enough to be unable to make new memories with you. Ambition-fuelled workaholism cannot account for these losses.

Quiet quitters are not people who have given up on their jobs, they have given up on their dream. They are misfits in a professional milieu that has increasingly begun to fall back on hustling in order to advance one’s career. They are also people who do not feel the need to advertise their talents time and again to seek validation in companies where they have already proved themselves. They may have also realised that if these companies are happy availing only 50 per cent of their talent, they need not really give in a 100. The rest can be judiciously utilised in honing another talent.

We are not our work. And neither are we just parents, daughters, children, husbands or wives. We are a sum total of all our experiences in life, of which work is one aspect. When we subtract everything else, only to keep one engine running, we sell ourselves short. Before dismissing it altogether, just consider this: quiet quitting could be about reorganising life on your own terms, not someone else’s. - anamika@khaleejtimes.com

Be a silent achiever

To those promoting, branding, and salivating virtually over quiet quitting, here’s some sage advice that stems from experience: make less noise and resign to the reality - of unemployment or being unemployable. If forecasts are any indication, there’s an economic storm coming. Keep the dream alive but dreams don't sell with employers who set targets and are hiring doers, learners, achievers, and team players who dig in when the chips are down. Even Meta and Google have spelled out the riot act to employees working from home who until recently relished the prospect of a pandemic without end.

These once mollycoddled work-at-homers turned loners have now been asked to get back to physical offices and factories. It wouldn’t be wrong to conclude here that the origins of quiet quitting stem from the state of loneliness the world is facing post the deadly days of the pandemic when remote offices sprung up in the millions. Now there's a pall of fear and uncertainty engulfing office staff who are reluctant to make a loud and cheerful return to work. I believe this is where employers should intervene and assign counselors to revive the workplaces of old. But it pains me when people spin it quietly (and dangerously) while touting some inexplicable state of balance.

I read a report this morning about someone I would, without hesitation, term a slacker who enjoys the cover of initialed anonymity to indulge in the trendy, viral passion at work - quiet quitting. This person slogged for years but found her career heading nowhere during the pandemic. So she slowed down, did less, and quiet quit. Only her initials were revealed in the report, which begs the question: is the trend sustainable when people are wary of coming on record?

I also wonder if these employees model themselves on anti-heroes, the modern prophets of Zoom who have led us to the 'great resignation' as they prepare to welcome the impending recession that experts are predicting in the short term. For now, they should spare normal quiet achievers and those struggling to find employment - both meaningful or mundane - the slow burn.

But I like that quiet quitters are drawing boundaries and having a quiet time away from work but their meddling with careers is unacceptable in a dire economic situation. Work is no place for fence-sitters setting boundaries or crying wolf when it’s a coronavirus that’s shaken our world. And if the pathogen is indeed the reason for this bout of sleep-induced labour that they call burnout, why not host a party and look at the bright side that the worst is over? I am not in favor of slaving at work and would recommend moderation with regular vacations thrown in if one can afford it. Balance in isolation will run its course; it’s about making peace with work, play and pay while spending time with family to avoid so-called monotony. It takes courage to be a silent worker or quiet achiever. So quit if you have options. Don't be a quiet quitter. It’s worse than being a mute spectator at work. - allan@khaleejtimes.com

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