Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"Quiet Quitting" is a Fundamentally Terrible and Inaccurate Term


Enjoying Some Work/Life Balance!

Ok, so this one should definitely be filed under opinion "Scribbles", and it could potentially stir up some varied and "colorful" responses. I'm willing to take that risk.

Over the past year or so, I've felt compelled to put some thoughts down on "paper" regarding this topic. More and more, I've seen this term, "Quiet Quitting", making its way around various forums, social media platforms, and mainstream media outlets. And the time has come to write about it. Allow me to come right out and say it now....

I absolutely loathe this term.

If you don't know what this is, and/or haven't heard of it, let me first congratulate you for likely spending more time doing the various things you love, and less time on social media or tuning into to the news. Let's get this in the open right off the bat....the term "Quiet Quitting" absolutely carries with it a negative connotation. If you've seen anyone interviewed, or read any articles about it, then you likely already feel some sense of bias or distaste towards those "practicing" it. This apparent "trend" is often described in such a manner that it paints a picture of apathy, of self-loathing, of being unfulfilled, or even of depression. In many cases it's also presented as a form of intentional deceit on the part of an employee with their employer. As if they are screwing over their employer. If you still don't know for what I'm referring, allow me to paint a hypothetical picture as it might be presented by a local media outlet or news channel....

Suzie works for a local private company in a corporate office. By all measures, the job is pretty good. There's good pay, nice/friendly environment, great co-workers, offers flex and remote work, and excellent benefits. Most people in Suzie's position would be incredibly grateful for such a position. Well...not Suzie. Despite not hating her job per se, she realizes it is not her 100% perfect dream job. Plus, Suzie feels a little tired of the "corporate/cubicle" life, so decides to "Quiet Quit!". Suzie begins to take a new approach. She decides to put in zero extra effort on any project and only do what's asked of her. She decides not to take any initiative on anything, volunteer for nothing, and only complete discrete tasks as they are given, and only working her minimum required hours. many Americans, has 'checked out'...and Quiet Quit her job! What an entitled and lazy brat!

I feel like I'm at least partially qualified to speak on this topic as I've experienced many different work environments over the years, as well as many major "life changes". Before going back to grad school to study advanced geoscience topics like paleoclimatology and glaciology, I worked in a corporate ("cubicle") environment for over 7 years. When I left that job, I spent an entire summer hiking the Appalachian Trail to try something different. 

Today, I'm a full-time professor at a University and work with hundreds of students on a daily basis. I direct a Climate Science graduate program that prepares students for various careers in climate science solutions across sectors. Many go on to private industry, many to non-profits, and many, to government (at various levels). I work one-on-one with many students (Millennials through Gen-Z) with regards to professional development and career planning. When I ask students to tell me what the most important thing is for them when planning for their future careers, they almost all have the same answer: A Good Work/Life Balance

Now I am a member of the awkward Generation X and have the pleasure of sort-of bridging generations, but this Work/Life Balance sentiment is likely off-putting to many of those in the older generations. I can imagine some of my older late-relatives saying things like, "kids these days are so entitled and spoiled. They should be grateful to have a secure and stable job!" Well...most of the students today DO NOT CARE about securing that one job that they stay in for life. It doesn't matter how perfect the job is, how flexible the job is, how good the pay is, or how amazing the benefits are. No amount of 401k matching is going to keep these current students at one place for life. They move around. They try different things, and they value, more than anything, that life is about EXPERIENCES NOT THINGS. Most of the current students here at university are vocal anti-capitalist, and anti-commercialism. They are empathetic, caring, compassionate, care about climate change, and what to genuinely make the world a better place. Many don't have or ever want cars, and would prefer to use bicycles or public transport. More than a third of all my students are vegan because they know that it has an enormous impact on carbon emissions and is healthier by all measures. They want to start movements, be activists for important causes, and feel empowered. They want to live a life experienced. Most bring their own tumblers in for coffee, keep their own compost bins at home, and always use canvas bags when shopping. They buy books from the local bookstore and not online retailers. I listen to them speak about their passions, and it is genuinely inspiring. They all want to work, but their motivation to work is typically to make a difference, not to make money.

I can already see the steam rising from some of your ears. "They're all socialist, woke, brats! They'll care about money once they get out in to the real world!....grumble grumble..."

But here's the thing...they all end up still getting great jobs....many of which come with salaries well into the six figures too. All of the alumni from the program I direct have gone on to incredible careers. But, of the over 100 graduate students that have completed our Climate Science program, only a handful are still at the same place they were then they first  graduated. This is typically not because they disliked their current or first job, they just wanted to expand into something else, or simply change trajectories. And I'm all for it! But, as I noted above, there is always one thing in common. They all stress the importance of a good work/life balance.

I consistently bring in alumni to speak with current students and they always speak to the importance of this. A job can be wonderful and fulfilling, but it will always be in many ways, just a job. This doesn't mean you can't ever feel passionate about it, and love what you do, but ultimately, it's the life we live, and the experiences we have, that typically truly fulfill us. I can absolutely understand this mentality. I can recall some minor things from my previous corporate job to some extent, but I can tell you specific daily details of my Appalachian Trail Thru-hike or my deployments to Antarctica.

Students today will absolutely not tolerate working for a company that does not value employee work/life balance. It's because of this, that I believe most younger employees of Twitter are likely going to leave in the coming weeks. People don't want to work overtime because it's "expected". They'd rather use those hours to mountain bike, or explore, or adventure, or hunt, or travel, learn a new hobby, or to simply experience the world. 

...Which leads me back to "Quiet Quitting" and why I categorically abhor the term. Working what is required of you, and no more, is not "quitting" a job, nor does it mean you no longer care about your work. It simply means, that you dedicate one discrete portion of your life, your mind, and your time to your job, and no more. Are there occasions where you may have to work a little extra? Of course. A tight deadline coming up...gotta pull some late hours? Yep. But those should not be assumed. They should be exceptions.  

People wanting to value a life of experiences does not mean they are "checking out" and "quitting" their jobs. It also doesn't mean they are "getting by doing the absolute minimum", or lack any initiative. A person can be an exceptional employee and be incredible passionate about their job, but ALSO be incredibly passionate about their life outside of work. If a job creeps into your outside life, that's when it can lead to "burn out" or a distaste for the work.  We should ALL be doing our best to encourage people to enjoy their life experiences and not shame them if they don't want to work more than 40 hours a week. 

I have recent students that have set up their new work patterns such that they work 6 month consulting jobs, so that they can backpack and travel the world during the other 6 months....and I'm absolutely all about it. I wholeheartedly support them and encourage it. 

And, if an employee is doing well at their job, meeting expectations, but maybe not putting in extra hours or showing incredible initiative beyond the scope fo their doesn't mean they are apathetic and "Quiet Quitting"! So please, stop using this term as one of shame. 

For the record, I absolutely adore my job. I love working with students, and helping in whatever way I can to guide them along on their paths. BUT....I prioritize my life outside of work equally and won't go out of my way to work long hours outside of the week. I would rather go on an adventure....whether on two feet or two wheels. In other words, I enjoy hiking up a mountain just as much as working with my students. I feel like my life is in good balance. But I see so many of my colleagues in academia stressed to the gills about getting in "one more paper", or "one more proposal", or serving on "one more committee"...sometimes even after getting tenure! I would rather have one less publication, or one less grant funded, if it means I can live primarily stress free and enjoy my life. Will I put in the extra hours from time to time...of course! But I don't do it to the point where it disrupts that balance. 

So....this post is starting to creep into Hallmark cliché territory....with the whole "life is too short" I will end by simply saying. Whether we all like it or not, younger people are more and more embracing the experiences in life, and valuing their work/life balances. WE NEED TO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE THIS.  

I've seen too many people go through life and never figure this out.  So if you're reading this, don't wait, find that balance now....