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Opinion
What is “quiet quitting" really about?

“A healthy separation between life and work is not resignation; people are not lazy and working from home is efficient and beneficial to employees. It's not that ‘no one wants to work’, but that ‘no one wants to work under the conditions offered by employers’,” writes Viki Auslender

Over the past week a new trend in the labor market has grabbed the attention of global media - "quiet quitting". The idea does not concern an actual resignation but rather, an effort to draw stable and clear boundaries between private life and work, to fulfill only the job requirements, not beyond. This may sound confusing, why is there a need for a concept that describes perfectly reasonable work practices? The new-old term recently went viral after several social media videos promoting the act became particularly popular. The buzz became extremely loud, as did the criticism that doing what is required, and no more, fosters laziness and hurts performance. That is, until the "New York Times", the "Wall Street Journal", and also newspapers in Israel, covered the phenomenon extensively.
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לפטופ מחשב נייד קפה עבודה מהבית
לפטופ מחשב נייד קפה עבודה מהבית
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What exactly is there to cover? There is no actual data which isn't surprising: employers aren’t rushing to measure the level of commitment of employees for fear of receiving negative reactions, and employees aren’t rushing to answer surveys (even if they are supposedly anonymous) for fear of retaliation. So why is the coverage so aggressive? The answer likely lies in the decrease in willingness to spend all our time at the workplace - without receiving any additional compensation. This is mainly relevant to companies considered to be attractive places of employment. But the essential story about the labor market does not take place there at all, in technology, finance or advertising companies, but where most of the workforce is: in low-paid jobs where they don't "take the work home" anyway.
Since the outbreak of Covid, thousands of articles have been written about the changes in the labor market. Unskilled employees were suddenly defined as essential, remote work became the norm (which was later denormalized by employers); A wave of employees who did not return to work after being fired or who left their jobs after the long periods of closures received their own term - "the great resignation" - and in recent weeks there has been much talk about the waves of layoffs experienced in the technology market as part of the tightening of the belt by companies facing a cash-strapped future.
Throughout this period, employees of all types were mainly defined in one way - spoiled and lazy, who do not want to work (or work beyond working hours), who prefer to draw unemployment benefits and receive checks from the government than actually contribute to the economy; who do not want to come to the office, which harms creativity, productivity and even company culture. These negative narratives echoed and made their way back and forth between corporate America and the White House whenever there was difficulty in explaining or responding to the market and the unique situation that the pandemic created.
For example, when the Trump administration decided to launch a program with expanded unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, Mitch McConnell, who was then the majority leader in the Senate, called the action "a crazy policy that pays people to stay unemployed." After large parts of the population had already been vaccinated, a new campaign by employers began to demand that their employees return to in-office work completely, even though this was very unpopular.
At SpaceX, Elon Musk explained in an email that those who do not come to the office are fired, while at Apple they ordered all employees to return to work in the offices, as did Google and other giant companies. In recent months, and in light of low participation rates in the labor force in low-wage jobs, the claim that "no one wants to work" and that potential employees "disappear" in the recruitment process began to be heard among employers. In a survey conducted by "Forbes" just last January, one in five managers agreed with this statement.
If it is possible to describe a common denominator for the hysterical definitions of certain changes in the labor market, then one of them is related to the fact that they are all made by managers and corporations. This is corporate rhetoric hostile to workers that ignores the main issue - working conditions. And although corporations will claim otherwise, in the U.S. there is no shortage of manpower and on the other hand there is a shortage of rewarding jobs, of attentive employers, sick and vacation days, and a shortage of risk pay and child care facilities. A healthy separation between life and work is not resignation; people are not lazy and working from home is efficient and beneficial to employees. It's not that "no one wants to work", but that "no one wants to work under the conditions offered by employers.”
The problem is not the means to provide employees with improved conditions either: Last month, profit margins of U.S. corporations reached their highest rates since 1950. According to the American Chamber of Commerce, profits of American non-financial corporations jumped in the last quarter to an all-time high. At the same time, the minimum hourly wage has not been updated in 15 years, and in the U.S. mostly low-wage jobs have been created. This dynamic created a growing gap between the median hourly wage of an employee and the output per hour of work. Simply put, the suppression of workers' wages meant that they did not share in the profits, and the levels of inequality were exacerbated to the point that two-thirds of all wealth in the U.S. is in the hands of the top 5%. Employees who do not provide managers with overproduction without compensation in an era of increasing inequality are not a "problem" " or a "phenomenon" that needs to be discussed. The problem is corporate greed and the phenomenon is the phenomenal unionization movement going on in the last year.
In recent months, over 200 Starbucks branches have unionized, despite aggressive efforts, some of them illegal, by the management of the corporation to break the union. At Amazon, warehouse employees managed to unionize for the first time since the company was founded, same at Chipotle, John Deere, REI, Trader Joe's, and even employees in Apple and Google stores and tens of thousands of teachers. In Minnesota, nurses' organizations representing 15,000 nurses who work in health care corporations have voted to go on strike so that they "put patients' lives before profits." These days, thousands of employees of the railway companies are close to suspending train traffic because since the pandemic they are only allowed to take two days off a month.
Even those who haven’t joined, have not remained indifferent. According to a survey by the Bureau of Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, about two-thirds of Americans support labor unions. This is the highest figure since 1965. And although only a low percentage of workers in the U.S. are unionized - just 10.3%, in the first half of 2022 there was a 58% increase in official attempts to unionize, which is already more than the increase in all of 2021.
The data also shows that union membership pays off: union workers earn an average of 16.6% more than non-union workers, amounting to an average of almost $200 per week.
Persistent labor shortages and what appears to be persistent dissatisfaction on the part of employees from a variety of industries should be an opportunity for employers to fundamentally rethink their relationship with their workforce. Instead, it seems that they are waging a relentless war to return things to the way they were two years ago: packing the agenda with scared and dishonest talk about lazy workers, rather than what they really are: worn out and poor. This is a relentless war, but unfortunately for the corporations, time only moves in one direction - forward.

First published: 13:48, 30.08.22