For a generation born into hustle culture, the idea that work shouldn’t consume our lives is new
The work-from-home boom kickstarted by the pandemic has become an integral part of corporate culture, with more and more jobs across the country allowing employees to work remotely part- or full-time. But when a bedroom doubles as an office and a personal laptop becomes a work laptop, the boundaries between personal and professional become increasingly blurry. Enter: “quiet quitting,” a term popularized by a viral TikTok and the subsequent discourse the video spurred on the internet. Quiet quitting is rooted in the idea that workers shouldn’t do more than they need to for a job, and should instead do the bare minimum to get by.
Of course, the act of quiet quitting has been around for a long time—probably as long as jobs have. But the advent of the phrase goes to show how ingrained capitalistic work culture is in the US; the idea that the concept is abnormal means that overworking and crossing personal boundaries are expected. Jobs have become the strongest identity makers for Americans; there’s a reason why the first question we often ask strangers is, “What do you do?”
To many, the term seems silly and unnecessary; after all, it’s likely that for a majority of the workforce, quiet quitting is just the way they’ve always done their job. But the idea is novel for people who have never worked in a way that doesn’t consume their life. Being raised into the hustle culture of the 2000s meant I took every job I had growing up seriously—even my after-school, minimum wage gigs tossing pizzas and pulling espresso shots. Not taking legally-obligated lunch breaks was the norm. I grew frustrated when people would slack off and even talked shit about lazy coworkers with my more like-minded friends. I bought into the idea that my managers were my friends, and that this was a family; it didn’t help that both of my earliest jobs were at small, locally-owned businesses instead of corporations. But this attitude carried over when I joined my student newspaper—as an editor, it felt like I needed to be available to my staff every waking hour that I wasn’t in classes, despite the fact I was paid only a small stipend for the semester. And when I started to dive deeper into my career path, my job became my identity.
But over the course of the pandemic, I (and many others) have pondered what all this extra work had gotten me. These jobs were put above everything else, all for the validation of my superiors and the occasional praise for my hard work. The extremities of this were brought to a climax during the pandemic, as we were all pushed to work without a break through the trauma of deaths across the country (anything to ensure the wheels of capitalism kept rolling, right?) Essential workers put themselves at risk for minimum wage (which was temporarily, barely raised at some workplaces, likely due to fear of a labor shortage). Workers are collectively coming to the realization that we don’t owe our jobs that much of ourselves; in fact, we owe them the bare minimum. After all, it’s the minimum that we’re being paid for.