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Opinion: If you are thinking of joining the quietting, follow this advice


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In the short story “Bartleby the Scribe” (1853) by Herman Melville, the title character works on Wall Street and, for mysterious reasons, first begins to slow down his work and then goes on strike, without leaving the office. Whenever the boss asks him to write some document, his response is the refrain “I’d rather not.”

Some of Bartleby’s current counterparts take a less challenging tactic and opt for quietting. The idea quickly gained fame after software developer Zaid Khan, 24, posted a video on TikTok that showed him sitting in a New York subway station, reflecting on his interpretation of the concept. His quiet narration, over a smooth, piano musical score, had the calming effect required.

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“You’re not giving up your job altogether; you’re just giving up the idea of ​​going above and beyond the call of duty. You continue to do your job, but you no longer adhere to the mindset of the struggling culture that makes work the most important thing you do. your life,” Khan said in July. His video seems to have resonated with viewers: it has been watched 3.4 million times so far this week and has generated countless sympathetic responses on social media.

It can be irritating for companies and managers to face a new generation of workers who just passively do their duty, do the bare minimum, and leave the office when their regular work hours are over. But the attitude has some logic: after decades in which the intensity of work has only grown, faced with increasingly ambitious goals and subject to a culture that makes fighting mandatory, young workers have now developed an efficient way to resist.

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The phenomenon is not really new. Workplaces have always been filled with both those ambitiously seeking a promotion and other workers who prefer to moderate their efforts. While management publications often offer advice on how to motivate workers and get them to become an active part of teams in order to achieve what writer Jim Collins once described as “big, hairy, audacious goals,” not everyone want to get to the moon.

But work has become more stressful for many people after the pandemic, the shift to remote work and a wave of voluntary layoffs. There is a severe shortage of personnel in transport and other industries, intensifying pressures on those who remain. Gen Z may be embracing quiet quitting, or, as one former teacher puts it, opting for “quiet working,” but in the case of many older workers, what happened was voluntary dismissal, pure and simple.

“Workers are now being asked to do more of what is sustainable,” says Sim Sitkin, a professor of business administration at Duke University. “It’s a sprint pace. You can’t keep it up for a marathon.” He mentions a doorman he recently spoke to in New York, whose work week had risen to 80 hours because of a shortage of staff.

Young professionals already have to face high expectations. In some professions, such as banking and law, junior staff have to work long hours and be intensely dedicated, in exchange for high starting salaries. There is a constant risk of burnout before they are promoted to posts where they will have greater autonomy.

Companies have also helped spark rebellions against themselves by outsourcing work and limiting job security. This has given younger workers incentives to develop side projects and split their time between work, which pays their bills, and creative projects they are passionate about. This makes them more likely to quit and devote more time and energy to their own ideas.

Quiet quitting is a moderate response compared to the “tang ping” (laying on the floor), the youth rebellion against extremely boring jobs that emerged in China last year, causing alarm in the government. The term was coined by Luo Huazhong, 26, who quit his job to travel. “I’m just riding around, and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he wrote.

But anyone considering going into quiet quitting needs to tread carefully. If a company notices that workers are stealing away from work, its reaction may be enlightened: raise wages and adopt a kinder management approach. But it could also be to impose stricter employment contracts, additional monitoring and measures to hamper people’s efforts to slow down.

Some professionals have a lot of freedom, compared to delivery service drivers or warehouse workers, whose work pace is tracked with the help of technology. This latitude is partly due to the less quantifiable nature of work in many of the professions, and partly to a deliberate strategy to foster initiative and creativity. If one side chooses to give up this implicit employment contract, the other can do so as well.

So here’s my advice for those who want to join the quietting. First, go to the office regularly and be seen in person, rather than working from home as much as you can. Offices are perfect places for those who want to create the impression that they are working, while having coffee, chatting with colleagues and taking a break from battle. Just showing up at the office is enough to send a message of dedication to work these days.

Second, try to stay away while doing your job well, for the hours that are on your contract, instead of constantly stalling (although talking at work is an exception). If you do your work for contracted hours, any additional work needs will have to be covered by the employer through new hires. If you choose to curl up instead of working, in most cases it will be up to your co-workers to fill the gap. Your attitude cannot be seen as an ethical rebellion if those most affected by it are your co-workers.

Finally, act discreetly. If you change direction too abruptly, managers will notice and things may get uncomfortable. Making it too obvious what you’re doing can also get other people to join, which is sure to set off alarm bells. If you want to embrace quietting, you need to work at it.

Translation by Paulo Migliacci

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