Hila Harary
Zeitgeist at your service

Quiet quitting actually started at the 2020′ Olympics. Guessing how?

Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law
Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law

There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

We got used to it. We got used to the hustle culture and this is exactly what we saw around us. Wherever we looked – everyone lived in these conditions, and the perfect example of this, which is perhaps also the peak, was “We Work”, and probably because of this, precisely the story of Adam Neumann and the company he founded was brought to the screens. In the Documentary film “WeWork: or the making and breaking of a $47 billion Unicorn”, you see Neumann in the trailer saying “work hard, play hard” – which was a common phrase among quite a few workplaces and their employees, especially those characterized by 24/7 working hours, and later in the trailer, he says “This is who I am, This is what I do, I will not stop”, which illustrates the total identification with his work, and he is not the only one. The clear sign of this totality is that when we are asked to introduce ourselves, the first (and sometimes the only) thing we say will be what our role is and where we work.
Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law

WeWork and its founder have provided so many headlines during the years, that the aforementioned documentary is not the only production based on its story, and this year Apple aired the television series “Wecrashed”. In the trailer, you can see the admiration of WeWork’s employees for Adam Neuman and their place of work (I leave aside the discussion of whether WeWork is a cult, aspects of which have been discussed in several places, including in the film).

Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law

The name “Wecrashed” (and most of the discussion around WeWork) refers to the crash of the company’s value, but what about its human capital (I purposely use this term and not the more common term today – manpower)? In the series, you see the company’s employees who are crushed as a result of the excessive work culture that was practiced at WeWork. WeWork employees, unlike the founder of the company, stood far from the spotlight, and in contrast to them – there are those whose “crash” was observed in real-time:

Last July, Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics after many expected her to lead the US team and pick up the gold medal. At first, there were voices against her that she was the biggest quitter on earth, who raised a white flag of surrender, and very quickly these voices were replaced by those who said that she was the one who made quitting not only acceptable but heroic.
Lindsay Crause tells the following in a video New York Times opinion column: “In our culture, perseverance is considered a virtue, we have learned that even if we suffer, we have to keep going and in the end, it will pay off. But can it be that at some point we have to quit? Could it be that sometimes, the right step is just to quit? Could it be that sometimes quitting is not cowardly at all but a smart thing to do? Could it be that there are situations where the bravest step is to quit?
The Bravest Thing You Can Do Is Quit | NYT Opinion
Simone Biles gave the opening shot to the calibration process that is happening in the labor market.
Bile’s decision to quit was, according to her, to take care of herself in the long term. And in fact, her investment in herself only increases her power.
There is a difference between quitting and surrendering. And sometimes, this break is exactly the recalibration needed to understand which ladder we want to climb. Or rest… and then go back to what we did before, only better.”
You will probably be surprised to hear which of the revered world leaders did exactly that – a break that recalibrated him, and after which he came back much better: this is none other than the one and only – Winston Churchill!
Somewhere between the two world wars, the year 1931 marked the lowest point in his career, and the years between 1931 and the outbreak of the Second World War are known as “Churchill’s desert years”, he spent most of them under the radar in his estate, immersed in writing and painting – an occupation that he found peace in, even though he did not excel in it as much as he excelled in writing.
In Israel, the real essential employees – i.e. the doctors – are now joining the trend. Hila Korach (a famous news moderator in Israel and a medicine practitioner) published a post at the end of August on her Facebook profile called “Recalculation of the route”: tl;dr for the impatient ones: I’m taking a break from medicine”.
Since I have no personal acquaintance with her, I put aside for the moment the discussion that developed around whether she rode a wave to do what she really wanted to do a long time ago and focus on her television career. I will only bring the main points of what she wrote because in my opinion they best describe many of the changing mindsets of the work world:
At the beginning of the month, I announced that I was leaving the internship. A hard blow to someone who does not know what it means to say ‘no’ in her life and prefers to spit blood, literally, than to give up or not complete a task.‎ ‎I won’t go into too much detail, but a few months ago I realized that the day before I was on duty, I was becoming a person I didn’t want to be. I can’t smile, impatient, unforgiving towards myself, walking around with a lump in my throat at best, or crying a lot at worst.
The perception of quitting as a failure and setting unreasonable standards for myself delayed the decision. I started psychological therapy, I tried mindfulness, I took comfort in carbohydrates, and I talked to other interns about coping methods. I discovered that an unreasonable percentage of them need or are in therapy or couples therapy, lonely and depressed. The rest are repressive or leave. A lot of people leave. ‎
We don’t deserve it, you don’t deserve it. They call us spoiled, whiners, leave us out of the negotiation table and endlessly bother us with plans for human service conditions that do not come to fruition. ‎ These are the people who take care of you, your parents, your children. ‎They are finished. ‎I’m finished.
It’s already getting emotional, but I have to say one more thing: along the way, I met many people who just explained to me why it’s impossible to change, and why I can’t succeed. Along with them, I met many more who pushed and believed in me on a personal level, and on a national level – they don’t give up and strive for change. My current life ambition is to be the second type. You should too. They made this period bearable and also gave me the courage to stop when I needed to. You know who you are and I love you and thank you more than words can express!”
Two weeks ago, when the phrase “quiet quitting” started to go viral, I published in several Facebook groups an article of mine from a few months ago about the swap in attitudes between white and blue-collar workers. This topic is charged and brings out a lot of emotions in people. The article received hundreds of likes and comments in total, and I sat down to read them all. I decided to bring some of them here, which expressed the zeitgeist in the best way in my opinion:
“Unfortunately, not all organizations think like that. It really doesn’t interest them. They want you to work as many hours as possible.”
“Wow, for a long time this feeling has been driving me and even creating discomfort and sadness in me that I am no longer what I was yesterday, the crazy ambition is slowly being replaced by an understanding of what is really important…‎ In Corona, the decision only moved the curtain, but this picture has been on the wall for quite some time. And again, job searches for the perfect job, but not the perfect one of 2019, but perfect, considerate, hybrid, flexible, undemanding, examining the quality of work and not the quantity… of 2022. It’s strange that the employers haven’t learned yet, but apparently, most of us are already there but still busy with shame, how can it be that the level of ambition has decreased? Or the tendency to please the environment or a constant fear of earning a living…‎ I’m also still trying to understand these feelings, I hope we’ll manage to find a balance and not give up our center because it’s the most important thing.”
“Until when will we dedicate those extra hours to work? A good and efficient employee is not necessarily an employee who works long hours. This model encourages hidden unemployment… More than once in organizations I have seen people who hang out half the day for coffee, chats, and cigarettes and then stay to work late, the managers see those workers and think that they are good and committed workers when in reality they just wasted a working day in inaction. A good worker is a worker who knows how to manage their time properly, tick off work during working hours and then disconnect for themselves and their family. Yes, surprises will happen and they will sometimes need an immediate response. It must not be a standard, we must not sanctify work at the expense of our personal time.”
“That organization needs to examine what it is doing wrong that causes employees to behave in this way, nothing happens without a reason. Employers recently think that employees are slaves. And since COVID, they have realized that employees can work sick from home and they are not given time to rest and recover even when they are sick. Rest hours outside of working hours are not respected. The number of hours is measured and not quality. Workers are worn out and not paid enough for all the accompanying requirements, no wonder there is no motivation.”
“It is so strange to me the name of this phenomenon, the quiet quitting when the employees simply do what is expected, and not beyond. Almost every employee has experienced the feeling that they worked crazy overtime on some project and did not receive financial compensation or appreciation beyond a kind word here and there. That they lost or reduced significant aspects of their lives, relationships or hobbies only to discover that it was obvious, that they received more and more powers and responsibilities without it being expressed in a salary or title and were fired without sentiments despite all the statements “we are like a family”. So why? Why stay until seven and miss precious time with those close to us? Why be in tension and stress with a physical effect on our health? It’s not resignation, it’s setting healthy boundaries in a relationship where the employee has little power and a lot of bad experience.”
“Someone has moved the cheese to the senior managers. Until now they have enjoyed bonuses due to surplus yields that no one has paid to the employees, which were achieved due to initiatives and volunteering (tasks employees have taken on themselves in order to prove themselves), and “excellence”. Does excellence mean employees who give up boundaries and personal lives? Is excellence a grind and a never-ending race? The problem is probably in the definition of what is excellence? And does only the value of excellence deserve to be a leading value of a company? After all, how can you go against a value like “joy” or “passion for action” or “a balanced place” – in themselves these are wonderful words. But if we compare them to “excellence” – they are obviously less worthy. Why? Because excellence in our eyes is seen as something completely different than happy employees. We have gotten used to “excellence” characterizing people who work 24 hours a day, leave the office later than the boss, volunteer for every task, and have no life. Seriously???”
I will also note that each of the above comments garnered dozens of likes, which indicates that they represent a much broader public opinion than their authors alone.
People are fed up with the phenomenon’s name. Those people are mainly the good employees (who feel unappreciated) – the kind who give one hundred percent of themselves during working hours but remember that they are supposed to work 8-9 hours a day. Not 12 and certainly not 24/7. Many of those who were totally invested were disappointed. They realized two critical things: one – that they are not being rewarded properly or at all for their behavior, and second – what they are losing during this time, and therefore are slowing down and now setting boundaries for the employers – those listed in their employment contract, and in general trying to move the needle in the direction of what they committed to in the first place.
In the article “Future employers will award you for power-naps” which talks about the phenomenon of a lack of sleeping hours and the addiction of a growing number of people to sleeping pills, I wrote as follows: “They say that history repeats itself: until about 150 years ago, people worked countless hours a day until, in the 70s and 80s of the 1800s, demonstrations began in Canada and the USA demanding that the working day be limited to eight hours. We celebrate the success of these demonstrations to this day on the first of May – Labor Day. The success of blue-collar employees in reducing the work day to eight hours is today enshrined in the official labor laws in many Western countries. It seems that the blue-collar revolution has won and the real slaves today are us – the white-collar employees (when the factor that confuses us is, as usual, money – in this case, the level of wages) only this time we won’t see the slaves taking it to the streets, because the town’s square has been replaced by social media networks which are bubbling with posts testifying about burnout of the employees.
Marx said to the workers “You have nothing to lose but your chains.” And that is probably true even today. Money is a means, not an end goal, and work is a means to achieve it – to achieve things that a person desires. As soon as the workers have no time left to breathe, they cannot achieve their goals, money loses its meaning and is being the chains that Marx talks about (jumping the gun and adding that even those who have a lot of money and can achieve their goals, achieve them but have not much time left to enjoy them).
The quiet quitting reduces the working hours, allows the employees to use their money, and by doing so – returns the value to the money (beyond the “survival” aspect of course). In this way, they can be more satisfied with their lives, and as a result – most likely, also better and more satisfied employees.
If I already mentioned Churchill – he was a leader who led to a great victory in extremely difficult conditions but knew how to talk to the people. Contrary to him, many managers apparently refuse to see the reality, therefore we suffer from a lack of leadership (in all areas), and therefore the workers started to develop a “collective leadership” that will lead the new order in the world of work, and the managers who refuse to change with the reality will be left behind. ,
The tectonic plates shift in a fairly clear direction. What does your organization plan to do regarding the changing reality in order to retain good employees in the organization?
About the Author
Hila is a trendologist (future forecaster) @ Tectonic Shift & a social entrepreneur. In parallel to building her own venture, she's helping b2b companies, governments, and organizations with their biz dev and creative marketing strategies, using trends and content, and has a great specialization on the German market.
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