If you’re quiet quitting, you are part of a long and honored tradition of choosing mediocrity

Published by Peter on

Everyone seems aghast at this concept of “quiet quitting” that has been sweeping the workforce.

People are feeling overworked, stressed, under-appreciated, and pulled in many directions. Statisticians and pundits talk about talent scarcity, cost of living, and lots of other factors that drive people to this thing called “quiet quitting.”

Quiet quitting, just in case you’ve been living under a rock or immersed in rewatching Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, is the trend where some people have decided to stop working 80 hours a week for companies that pay them too little and lay them off at the first sign of the stock price softening.

It’s the trend of workers learning to—*gasp*—set personal boundaries and demand their worth.

scales of work-life-balance looking balanced but completely out of whack
Work-life balance is a destructive myth. What role does work play in your life? How much weight do you want to give it? What else matters to you?

It’s the lazy Millennials! Or the entitled Gen Z?

For the last ten years, we in Gen X have watched generational trash talking between Boomers and Millennials.

Boomers blame Millennials for being lazy, entitled, overeducated, and under-motivated. They could all get ahead and buy houses if they just stopped eating avocado toast, stopped demanding their participation trophies, and tried actually working for a living.

Meanwhile, Millennials came out of college into a dystopia of dysfunctional workplaces, climate change, financial crises, housing shortages, global conflict, predatory student debt, divisive politics, and pretty much every other bad thing Boomers have caused.

Earlier today I heard an HR expert blame Gen Z for the quiet quitting trend.

The speaker referred to the “Millennial grind” and the Millennials’ unparalleled work ethic, and then indicated that Gen Z is having none of it.

I am not making this up. Apparently, the Millennial generation has become the standard bearer for hard work, dedication to career, and perseverance.

Then here comes Gen Z, daring to defy capitalism by not wanting to be underpaid, trapped in terrible jobs, and working evenings and weekends, only to get dumped the minute the stock price softens.

Every generation thinks this is something new

People feel trapped in terrible jobs. They think they can’t afford to lose the job they have, but the job they have is slowly sucking their soul from their body.

The experts all talk like this is a new thing, like it’s never happened before.

I bet if you went back to the 1100s in Europe, you’d find peasants complaining about their bosses and doing the bare minimum to get by.

My first exposure to the wisdom of quiet quitting was the movie Big in 1988, nearly 35 years ago.

Gen X rolls our eyes with a sigh… ignored again

Although Gen Z may be quiet quitting, the actual tragedy of the workforce may be the invisible Gen X.

It turns out that unemployment for “prime age men” is only 3%. That sounds great, right?

But a lot of people are simply dropping out of the workforce. This is happening at an alarmingly high rate.

These “not in labor force” men, who now outnumber the formally unemployed by more than 4 to 1, are the main reason that the country’s prime male work rate has been driven below its 1940 level — when national unemployment rates were nearly 15 percent.

Washington Post opinion piece

Even more interesting, most post-pandemic workforce dropouts are 55 or older.

peter belaying during a rock climbing escapade
I’m belaying my son. He is where he should be—on the rock—and I am where I should be…feet firmly planted at the bottom of the cliff. The point here is about dropping out of the workforce, maybe to follow your passion. Keep reading.

Why is Gen X dropping out of the workforce?

Gen X, smaller than both the Boomer and Millennial generations, feel we’ve made our mark in the professional world.

We came into work at the beginning of the internet, during unprecedented globalization. We drove innovation and progress, created entire new industries and ways of working and living.

Now our nests are emptying, our parents are aging or passing away, and we’re rethinking everything about our lives.

So we’re leaving the workforce and not returning.

My non-scientific, anecdotal research over the past several years has led me to believe there are three factors driving this trend:

  • We want to do something meaningful.
    We’re sick of working hard to make rich stockholders richer while corporations trash the planet. We see the traumas of the world, division among people, inequities and oppression. We want to do something that means more before we die than just buying a bigger house.
  • We’re bottled up and stifled.
    We are a creative, restless generation. We want to keep learning, keep doing interesting things. We’re leaving corporations to pursue our passions—start a company, travel the world, write a novel, help others, care for ailing family members.
  • Ageism sucks.
    Some of us actually want to continue to work, but we want to slow down. We’d love to downgrade—get paid a little less for a job we’re way overqualified for. But American capitalism doesn’t trust a 50-something who wants the right-fit job, rather than the step-up job.

What “quiet quitting” really is

When you pull back at work for whatever reason, it’s likely a symptom of being in the wrong role. It could be due to external factors (health concerns or caregiving burden, for example), but if it’s not, then whatever time you recover from pulling back should be put into finding your next role.

Like many in Gen X, your next role may not be a job at another company.

Or, maybe your next role is a few cubicles over, doing a different job under a different manager.

If you know the reason you’re disengaged at work, you’re one of the lucky ones. You can move into solution mode.

But if you are unsure, or you feel a gnawing ambivalence all the time, then you probably need to do something disruptive in your routine so you can get a whole different view of yourself.

Here are a few suggestions (YMMV):

  • Start journaling. Or stop journaling.
  • Take classes in a new field like digital marketing, then start a TikTok.
  • Join a nonprofit board.
  • Hire a coach, or just find a good friend you trust who will listen to you break yourself down.
  • Apply for other jobs. The act of updating your resume and interviewing will force you to recognize your own accomplishments… and maybe your own limitations and gaps.
  • Find a mentor and start up a formal mentorship relationship with someone in your field, or in a new field you might enjoy.
  • Talk to your manager about how you’re feeling. You might get fired, or you might create a great new ally in your personal growth and progress.
  • Go back to school for a degree.

You can find a billion suggestions with a few quick internet searches.

There’s only one right suggestion, though: the one you actually do.

I often tell people that what you do matters a lot less than actually doing something. Only by trying can you find out if it’s the right thing. Sitting around wishing never gets anyone anywhere.

(That should be, like, the Gen X motto.)

And when you look back 10 years from now, will you be more proud of yourself for keeping your head down and doing the minimum just to get by, or will you be more proud of yourself for busting out and taking a chance and failing spectacularly?

I know my answer to that question.

But what is your answer?


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