I Was a Quiet Quitter Before Quiet Quitting Was Cool

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Dick Taylor is a veteran broadcaster who writes an interesting and worthwhile blog. Recently, he wrote about “the great resignation,” in which millions of people post-COVID realized that there can be more to life than going to work every day. Then he wrote:

In 2022, American business owners were confronted with a new kind of quitting by their employees; quiet quitting. Quiet quitting is defined as people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job.

That reminds me of what we used to call “not my job” people, who had the attitude of doing the least they could get away with and still get a paycheck.

Quiet quitters are estimated to make up 50% of today’s workforce and that should be alarming to all employers.

On Twitter, I responded to Dick by saying, “Quiet quitting: doing the job you were hired for, not doing extra work for free, and keeping emotional distance from work. Sounds like a healthy relationship with one’s career. It’s ok if a job is just a job and your life is elsewhere.”

Dick responded to me: “The term ‘quiet quitting’ refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. Not the kind of employee I am, nor the kind I would hire to be part of my team. Doing what you love is never having to work a day in your life.”

I was gonna tweet back but I decided to write this instead.

If half of the workforce is “quiet quitting,” that’s not a pathology that employers can eradicate. It’s a full-blown paradigm shift they’re going to have to accommodate.

For decades, American workers bought into the idea—perpetuated by employers, for obvious reasons—that a good employee is one who shows up for work eager, busts their ass, and does more than is expected of them. But when you step back from it, as COVID permitted millions to do, reasonable questions manifest: Why isn’t doing the job enough? Why should I have to do more than I was hired for? Why should I have to love my work?

Over 20 years ago, at my corporate cubicle job, I became a quiet quitter. I still hit every target and passed every evaluation, but I stopped giving the slightest fractional damn about anything not directly connected to my job description. (That stuff was, by definition, “not my job.” It was stuff other people were being paid to care about, so I didn’t.) I never interfered with colleagues getting their own jobs done, and I would go “above and beyond” if a particular task left me no choice. But otherwise, I stayed strictly in my lane. I worked this way for over two years, and nobody ever found out. When I quit for real, it was in my own time.

During the first dozen years of my radio career, I loved it and it didn’t seem like work, but the love I gave got me nowhere. It left me unemployed and burned out. From the ashes, I made a life in which radio was not The Only Thing That Matters: writing, teaching, and also doing radio, but on my terms.

Flash forward to the third decade of the 21st century, where I am unexpectedly back in full-time radio. I’m better at the job, on the air and off, than I have ever been. I hit every target and pass every evaluation. The stuff that is part of my job description gets 100 percent of my attention and effort, and I’m proud of the results, most days.

But my job description doesn’t say anything about love, and I’ll bet yours doesn’t, either. Maybe this is what the Great Resigners and Quiet Quitters have realized. The Only Thing That Matters is making a decent life for ourselves and those closest to us, however we choose to define it. If that includes loving your job, good for you. If it doesn’t, you aren’t wrong, just different. If you prefer to stay in your lane, or to be emotionally attached to something else in your life first, that’s your right.

If we fall in love with our work, that’s extra. If our love is expected, then employers should make it measurable and put it in the job description. And if it’s not, then showing up every day, hitting every target, and passing every evaluation ought to be enough.

Will say again: that’s not quiet quitting. That’s a healthy relationship with your career.

9 thoughts on “I Was a Quiet Quitter Before Quiet Quitting Was Cool

  1. mikehagerty

    Glad you shared this with us, JB.

    Dick Taylor’s attitude is a common one among folks of a certain age in broadcasting —especially those in management, who depended on young people with a dream buying enough of the “sweat equity” and “work ethic” stuff they push to not connect the dots and realize what’s really happening is wage theft.

    I still love my job and the great news is that I now work for people who don’t abuse that enthusiasm.

    American business, broadcasting included, shot itself in the foot when it gave away the secret—even by going above and beyond and giving 110%, you’re buying yourself exactly zero job security when the company misses its target or your manager gets a wild hair and decides someone else should have your benefits package and a fraction of your salary.

    1. My wife works from home for a company with 150,000 employees worldwide, and I have a perpetual low-lying fear that some vice-president six levels above her will wake up one day and decide to reorganize her division, lay off a few hundred people who are merely numbers on a spreadsheet to him, and thereby collect a bonus that allows him to buy the boat he’s had his eye on. I have said to her more than once over the years that she owes the company no more loyalty than they would demonstrate to her, which is 100% transactional.

  2. Tim M.

    So well-said, JB. It’s just like Mike (above) said in his last paragraph. Death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.

  3. Leo Edelstein

    What a lucky little world I live in. Worked for three Wisconsin-owned radio broadcasters: Mid-West Family, Midwest Communications, Bliss. They cared about me and my family.

  4. I find LinkedIn annoying because I feel like it offers the 110-percenters, or those who want to be seen that way, a platform to performatively let the rest of the world know just *how much* they love their job.

    1. Wesley

      Agree 100%, kblumenau. The negative way some of the supposed “experts” on there react to anything that can benefit employees or hold managers responsible for their own mistakes grates on me. LinkedIn can be a great tool, but like all social media, it offers unfortunate side effects to users, and this is one of its chief ones.

  5. Wesley—they’re making themselves attractive to the next old-school boss or consulting client who’ll hire them. kblumenau’s right—it’s performative (and in a lot of cases, likely insincere).

  6. mackdaddyg

    “Dick responded to me: “The term ‘quiet quitting’ refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. Not the kind of employee I am, nor the kind I would hire to be part of my team. Doing what you love is never having to work a day in your life.””

    To quote Colonel Potter, horse hockey. If this dude wants a different kind of employee than that, then pay them more money and give them better benefits. Anybody in radio who says their employees aren’t doing enough are either willingly obtuse about what they give back to the employee or are just selfish jerks. You can decide which one.

    This is a sore point for me. I grew up with a love for radio, but within a couple of years of graduating college, and after working in a couple of different radio stations, both big and small, I got out of the business because it already looked like a dicey way to make a long term living unless you worked in the sales department. This was in the mid 1990s.

    A good friend of mine has been working at the same station for three decades. I’m not sure how much he makes now, but it is not much above minimum wage. As other employees have quit or retired, rather than hire a replacement, more work was delegated to the remaining employees, including him, with the same rate of pay. I’m pretty sure he’s salaried, so he doesn’t get paid extra. He also works another job to make ends meet.

    So yeah, he does what he’s required to do, and nothing more. You get what you pay for.

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