Monday, August 22

Quiet quitting: Boundary protection not anti-work

 When I was growing up in the 70s into something some might call adulthood, I knew that it was my responsibility to work as hard as I could to try to "get ahead." Getting ahead meant having a "good" job with a title, preferably an expense account, and maybe even some people who reported to me. It also seemed to mean working long hours and rarely saying "no" when asked to do something that might not have been in my job description. Because, well, it kind of was in that catch-all statement "And other duties as assigned." Even if that other duty meant working later than I'd planned or having to give up some personal plans. There was always the threat of being fired, of being shamed for not being a team player, and even more so because I was a woman in a mostly male-dominated business. Although, let's be honest, in the 70s and 80s, and even now, many businesses are still male-dominated.

So when I heard and read about "quiet quitting," I gave a quiet shout and fist pump.

What my generation learned much too late is that once we said "yes" to that extra thing, with whatever enticement that was offered, we could never say "no" to that one small thing, that little extra project, that wonderful opportunity for growth. (There's a woman on TikTok who does vocabulary "pronunciation" satire videos to point out that words like "opportunity" really just mean more work.)

I think in the year 2022 PE (Pandemic Era) we're finding that people are tired on multiple fronts, and not just old people like me. We're tired of all the social media buzzing and trolling; we're tired of incivility in the grocery store and coffee shops and grown-ups screaming like toddlers when they don't get their way. We're tired of the weaponization and politicization (sometimes those terms are synonymous, which is also exhausting) of pretty much everything. We have been suffering from outrage fatigue for a number of years now, and some of us for longer than others. And many of us are so very tired of the work it takes to manage our imposter syndrome.

A lot of pundits express shock and yet celebrate that Gen Zers want their work to be meaningful. Hello! That's not new. I would imagine that most people want the work they do to be meaningful OR to be something that is constrained to specific hours so they can go do the things that are meaningful to them outside of work.

There are a lot of TikTok videos about workers responding to bosses who want employees to work a few extra hours after regular work hours or to work over the weekend. And I've done that. I've worked the 14 hours or more a day and done so 6 or 7 days a week. We can do that only for so long and then collapse from exhaustion and frustration because there is always more. Always more. And always more with less resources or fewer people.

When everyone says, "Enough!", perhaps there will be change. Perhaps employers and managers and Wall Street brokers and venture capitalists will realize that ALL of us would like to be paid a fair wage and paid for all of the hours we work.

Now I also understand the small businesses that are struggling and that are asking employees to work double shifts. Or the various service industries that are asking, expecting, and even demanding the same of their employees. I know the pandemic has eroded the bottom line of many organizations so they take drastic actions to halt the falling bottom line.

But I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that organizations have to reset a lot of expectations: their own expectations first; their stockholders, if they have them; their investors, if they have them; and their customers. For sure their customers. 

"We have reduced hours now because we are going to manage best for our employees so they are less exhausted so they can better serve you." is not the worst thing to say. 

Is it easy with rents going up? With employees pushing harder for unionization? With supply chain issues? Nope. But putting some sort of a band-aid or quick fix in place is like putting a finger in the proverbial dam. That will solve that problem for a minute or two and then several others will become evident and the problems will get worse and more severe.

The fact is that none of this is easy and none of it is simple. However, if more employees are finally willing to say "Enough!", then, again, perhaps there will be change. Of course, there will be some bosses who will try to change the work day hours, and that will get ugly. 

Here's the thing: Many of us do find fulfillment and meaning in our work, and many of us do not. Those of us who do not find meaning and fulfillment in our work do our jobs so we can afford to do the things that give us that fulfillment. And if we are allowed to do that, perhaps our attitudes doing the day-to-day work will improve because we know our managers and bosses and employers respect boundaries and prefer employees who are committed to their work during their work hours. And employees who are committed to their work while they are at work will do a better job which could mean happier and maybe even more polite customers (a girl can dream) so fewer negative reviews, etc., etc., etc.

So most definitely not anti-work. Just pro better awareness that people are not cogs in a corporate or business wheel.

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