The Dark Side of Quiet Quitting

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You’ve all heard of the Great Resignation, but recently, there’s a more fashionable, inconspicuous quitting style called “quiet quitting”.

Instead of quitting your job and losing out on a severance package, why not just do the bare minimum? Welcome to Quiet Quitting.

Inspired by the Chinese Lying Flat (躺平) movement, this idea came about after employee burn-out during the pandemic. Employees grew sick and tired of not getting paid to do extra work outside their responsibilities or taking on the double load from their ex-colleagues after the Great Resignation. This was their way of fighting back.

Some argue quiet quitting isn’t about doing the bare minimum, it’s about just doing your job, but not going above and beyond and/or climbing the corporate ladder.

Employers may see it differently though. In their eyes, “not going above and beyond” and “doing the bare minimum” are no different. Back when I was working, saying “I’m happy where I am” when asked to take on extra work to get to the next level was seen as slacking rather than choosing work/life balance. Because, let’s face it, you’re not at your job to be happy. You’re there to make the company money. And if they can replace you with an outsourced worker working twice as hard for ½ your pay and missing the birth of their own child (yup, this happened), they will.

Even Wanderer, who loved his job, boss, and co-workers, was still being pushed to “get to the next level” even when he’d just gotten a promotion. So, this was not unique to my job.   

You might be wondering then, how do employers deal with the rising popularity of “quiet quitting”?

Well, here’s the thing. Employers can be just as passive aggressive and retaliate with something called “quiet firing”.

This is when the employer creates an intolerable work environment to force the employee to quit on their own rather than risk a wrongful dismissal lawsuit or paying severance. 

You may have been “quiet fired” if…

  • You’ve had important responsibilities re-assigned to other co-workers without being consulted.
  • You’ve been set up to fail with unattainable performance targets
  • You’ve been passed over for raises and promotions regardless of your performance
  • You’ve had new opportunities to advance your career withheld
  • You’ve been forced to relocate to an undesirable office location, forced to commute or had other perks like a corner office or a parking spot taken away
  • You’ve been excluded from important meetings

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Usually, when you’ve been “quiet fired” there’s so much evidence you just know it.  

For example, a friend of mine realized she’d been “quiet fired” when all her direct reports got moved to another manager and she was only managing one person. Also, when everyone else was called back into the office after the pandemic, she was told to continue working from home. And finally, her boss told her not to bother aiming for any performance rating above “satisfactory” because it won’t happen.

If this all sounds like an episode of Mean Girls where everyone’s acting like passive aggressive 14-year-olds high schoolers fake-liking each other on social media while trying to steal each other’s boyfriends in real life, that’s exactly what it is. And it isn’t new. The legal term for “quiet quitting” is “constructive dismissal” and it’s been around for a long time.

I remember one director trying to “quiet fire” me in my last job. I’d dared to question her advice of forcing everyone at work to get rid of their desktop in favor of a laptop and “efficiently multitasking” by answering e-mails while walking to meetings, literally by balancing the laptop with one hand and typing with the other as you walked. I thought that was stupid and said so.

At the time, she had just transferred to the department and was trying to assert her authority. Naturally, she saw an opinionated employee unafraid to speak her mind as a threat. So, she tried to get rid of me.

Soon, I found myself excluded from important client meetings and listening to passive aggressive comments about my colleague who she’d fired the week before, about “corporate restructuring” rumours coming down the pipe, trying to instill fear.

Unfortunately for her, I was too useful to the projects I was on and my clients kept asking where I was since no work was being done. Eventually, she had no choice but to relent and add me back.

Also unfortunately for her, at that point I was less than a year from FI and had one foot out the door. So the worst she could do was send me off with enough Employment Insurance payments to get me across the finish line. So, I honestly could not give a crap about her intimidation tactics.

Unless you’re close to FI, don’t show your cards and don’t “quiet quit.” You might just end up “quiet fired” rather than FIRE’d. A better way is to switch to a more tolerable job and keep building your portfolio until you’re less than a year from FIRE. Then quiet quitting is like getting a company-sponsored paid vacation!

Just be aware that switching your identity isn’t going to be easy. Quiet quitting could be mentally challenging unless you have Teflon skin and are confident enough to deal with the ego blow. That’s why it makes sense to start thinking about your next identity 3-5 years out from becoming FI. And if you like your job, there’s no need to quit. You’re simply building your portfolio so that you’re invincible.

But remember, no matter how much you love your job, you have no control over who buys it and takes it over.

Case in point, here’s what happened at Twitter recently:

“…To build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0…we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

This was the ultimatum given by Elon Musk, top contender for world’s worst boss and the newest owner of Twitter, to his employees, with a careful, considerate, and well thought-out 24 hours to respond. The message was clear: “give up your relationships, health, and sanity to work for me, or get the hell out.”

This sparked a mass exodus, but even many of the employees who choose to stay were still fired. Hopefully many of those fired Twitter engineers were close to FI, but who knows?

This is why you need to build your portfolio and work towards FI so that if Elon ever buys your company and asks you to be “hardcore” you can choose to be “softcore or ex-hardcore engineers” instead, get that sweet sweet severance package, and flip him the bird (buh-dum CHING!) on the way out.

What do you think? Have you ever “quiet quit” or been “quiet fired”?

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