Don't Be Resigned to Quiet Quitting
For a phenomenon whose name implies otherwise, “quiet quitting” sends a loud and clear message to all of us sharing responsibility for society’s well-being.
We need to be concerned about the physical, psychological, spiritual, and economic implications when millions of Americans are said to be minimizing their effort and engagement in the nation’s workplaces.
And our concern should increase when this quiescence is accompanied by other developments, such as the Great Resignation and continued weakness in labor force participation.
Evidence of that resignation trend comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that over 20 million workers quit during the second half of 2021.
The third ingredient in our stew pertains to long-term worker willingness. Here’s evidence for that:
Last month, a piece in Forbes reminded us that the official U.S. unemployment rate has remained low partly because the data count only persons who are seeking jobs, not people who are out of the labor force.
The percentage of civilians over 16 who are working or actively looking for work hit a high of 67% in the 1990s, but this “labor force participation rate” slid to a low of 60.1% as the pandemic hit in April 2020, and it is still below 62.5%, according to investment firm “Q.ai.” As a result, many employers have seen a labor shortage and are unable to hire all the people they want.
What’s going on? Much of the explanation appears benign, or at least it is not entirely new.
Regarding quiet quitting, Forbes points out that businesses have always had their share of less-than-fervent staffers who were “phoning it in.” One rule of thumb, true or not, is that 20% of employees accomplish about 80% of the work.
Some reluctance to put in extra effort or extra hours can be traced to various kinds of personal disorientation from the pandemic, disenchantment over bosses who expect workers to be available 24/7 through smartphones and easy messaging, and employees’ desire to take advantage of the gig economy for extra income.
As for the Great Resignation, much of the workplace shrinkage throughout the Covid-19 days was neither voluntary nor temporary. Now, we see people remain reluctant to return to office environments because of health factors or other frustrations. They opt for part-time jobs or virtual-office (even long-distance) connections.
The rate of labor force participation also has been reduced by cushions of payments from government Covid benefits—and by all of the symptoms already mentioned.
Another key component: The Baby Boom generation is retiring or semi-retiring, relocating or withdrawing from workloads. Meanwhile, by one account, members of one in five U.S. households need to take care of ill or aged family members. And post-Covid viewpoints (including financial circumstances) have discouraged long commutes, raised the bar for acceptable salaries or workplace conditions, and encouraged people to rethink their job-life balance.
Such factors add up to major shifts in how individuals in this society think, act, and interact. Many of the stories could have happy endings.
But let me add several other observations, either as expansions of the list or as inclinations operating in the background. These may be causes for immediate concern or simply radar blips to monitor. This awareness can build our practical wisdom about the evolving needs of our brothers and sisters:
· Recall the survey reported by NBC News in late January that revealed 71% of Americans believe the country is “on the wrong track.” With this dismay holding relatively steady since October 2021, NBC said, “We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the 30-year-plus history of the poll.”
· Such a loss of hope or resilience makes it difficult to summon up enthusiasm for workplaces and projects. When your country is on the wrong track, the same might be true of your finances, your family, your career expectations, and your sense of well-being. These considerations could fuel the upward trend in such problems as anxiety, depression, addiction, even suicidal or nihilistic thoughts.
· Meanwhile, we tend to have less confidence in key institutions as admirable, trustworthy resources. We hesitate to sign on to an organization’s mission, or we have less confidence in the structures that anchored us in the past. That can threaten our self-confidence, too.
· Incentives for personal excellence have been diminished in some people’s eyes by a sense that meritocracy now matters less in performance metrics. This prompts fears that managers and colleagues judge us based on the “baggage” we carry—or on the baggage they carry.
· Organizations with a muddled sense of purpose are less equipped to give people a sense of accomplishment, progress, and dignity. Purpose is especially hard to identify in enterprises where nothing of inherent value and genuine interest is manufactured or imagined. Plenty of office jobs focus on repetition, statistics, and bureaucracy, rather than people, and these staff members may feel more replaceable.
· When a company cannot reward us with the appreciation of important work done well, with talents activated and needs met, we will insist that the company reward us in other ways, perhaps with an on-site spa or extra “headroom” for our separate pursuits of meaning and happiness.
· Many Americans have become increasingly addicted to their social-media communities, video games, and other forms of digital distraction. It is easy to retreat into artificial or virtual realities where our views will be confirmed and our “victories” will yield dopamine hits. Entertainment addicts may prefer to work in offices with lots of free time and fun time.
· People of all ages, especially young adults, feel less comfortable in face-to-face circumstances where the different views and backgrounds of others make it more difficult to trust, converse, and work as a team.
Except for these things, everything is fine! I believe it was pulpit-pundit Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said many years ago, “Modern man has achieved half the requirement for salvation. He’s miserable.”
Of course, our best guess is that this country is teeming with meaningful, rewarding jobs and engaged, productive workers.
But any shrinkage in our collective sense of the purposeful workplace is food for thought. It clues us into the need for transcendent goals—and a transcendent God whose truth, beauty, and goodness elevate our everyday activities. When we answer to a loving and just judge (and Savior), when the clear criterion is virtuous vigor for His sake, even mundane work becomes more worthy of our best efforts.
In a community fed by the Holy Spirit, we can avoid the contagion of quiet quitting that already erodes the diligence in our religious practices, classrooms, criminal justice efforts, civic life, caring accompaniment of the marginalized, and adherence to moral disciplines.
Structures and relationships of fairness and fruitfulness can help us find our balance. They remind us that we are pilgrims on this earth, with charity and co-responsibility as the metrics. If we are doing a job for the sake of supporting a spouse and a family, in the context of neighbors and institutions with shared values, we find that our daily bread is a joy to earn, receive, and share.
To the degree that fear, idleness, isolation, and frustration have replaced this ethos, the economic and social developments discussed here are bad news for the culture as a whole.
They point to the vice of “acedia”—quiet quitting that has metastasized at the spiritual level. Thomas Aquinas called acedia “disgust with activity.”
CatholicEducation.org describes how all-encompassing this stance of withdrawal can be. One author defines acedia as “spiritual sloth.” A litany of its symptoms includes: weariness, fatigue, melancholy, gloominess, feeling overworked, discouragement, dejection, instability, boredom, disenchantment, depression, mediocrity, laziness, loss of interest, lack of fervor, compromise, a repulsion to the things of God, a deprivation of the meaning of life, despair of attaining salvation, and, “above all, an overall compelling absence of joy and hope.”
This wide net captures the scope of the risk we run if we leave God home when we go to work. If more people are drifting away from our contributory structures and institutional anchors, especially the Church, if we try to go it alone or “just get by,” individuals and society can lose their balance as stewards of today’s fast-moving marketplace. The virus of acedia hurts its host, and it is highly contagious.
Seekers of practical wisdom for the sake of the common good must guard against society’s drift from quiet quitting to full-blown acedia. We must remind our brothers and sisters in the workplace and in the public square that we desire a purpose-driven community in which everyone plays a meaningful role.
The world needs more champions of enthusiastic investment in good works, echoing Jesus’ parable of the talents. And there’s this Epistle message:
“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ. ” (Colossians 3:23-24)
Add to that Jesus’ message that we are our brothers’ keepers, with a responsibility to mentor our fellow workers in the field. We’re called to remind others that their whole life has value. We should appreciate their skills, as well as nurture their highest aspirations when they look for jobs—or, even better, discern their vocations.
We can debate about jobs-report data, but the motivation to rein in quiet quitting will come from actions of accompaniment. These enhance everyone’s spiritual resume.
Evangelizing the culture, we must spread the news that our unique contributions can receive great rewards—in the form of daily bread for now, but finally in advancement to the saintly labor force modeling the business of love.
Image from ClipSafari.com, a collection of Creative Commons designs
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