The phrase “quiet quitting” has been blowing up all over social media, and has corporate productivity specialists freaking out. Most self-described “quiet quitters” aren’t quitting their jobs – rather they are quitting the idea of continuously going above and beyond at work. They are trying to reject the idea that their worth as a person is only defined by their workplace productivity.
It’s no coincidence that this term has gained popularity during the pandemic, when a record number of office workers shifted to working from home, and companies became increasingly obsessed with worrying about employees’ productivity scores. The immediate effect of working from home has often meant that the working day lost any clear start and end time. And at the same time, companies began to demand even more from people working at home.
So those newly working from home needed to find a way to impose some sort of separation between work life and home life. And some have latched onto the phrase “quiet quitting” to name that need to draw some sort of boundary with work, and set limits on how much work they are willing to do.
Companies, on the other hand, would prefer that there were no physical or psychological limits to productivity. Their goal is always to get more work done with fewer workers, to make workers work faster and longer. This is just the most basic goal of every corporation: to make profits by extracting more and more work out of people, without any increase in pay. So, it is no surprise that companies don’t know how to respond to the popularity of a phrase that encourages workers to try to get away with doing less.
But in reality, this isn’t new. Workers have always found ways of resisting the exploitation of work under capitalism. Sometimes this resistance is individual, and includes anything from petty theft (such as stealing some tools or paper), or sneaking in some personal time while on the clock, or even workplace sabotage, like breaking a machine.
Work is often the place where we spend most of our adult lives, constantly working, creating wealth for others just so we can survive. It is usually difficult and draining, and for most workers, it is often unfulfilling. And it leaves most workers with less and less time to enjoy their lives.
This takes its toll on workers, who often search for a way to push back against all of this exploitation – because if we didn’t, then bosses’ demands on workers would have no end.
But all these various forms of “quiet quitting” are just a first, individual step to resisting this exploitation. Resistance to exploitation takes a much more powerful form when workers are able to move from individual acts of resistance to collective ones, by organizing and fighting back together. This comes in the form of small-group acts of resistance at work to full-blown strikes.
“Quiet quitting” can be the beginning of our individual resistance to the exploitation of capitalism. But it cannot be the end of it. If we want to live fulfilling lives, and not just live only to go to work, we will have to loudly quit capitalism all together.