The 'Quiet Quitting' Phenomenon | Roundup #2
Plus: Minor League Baseball Players Unionize
This is a weekly roundup where I share the 2-3 most interesting articles, quotes, charts, or other tidbits from what I’ve read in the past week. If you’re trying to quickly come up-to-date on news in labor policy, economics, and how technology is affecting workers, this is for you. I’ll be trawling Twitter, proposed legislation, and the latest NBER labor papers so you don’t have to.
On to the roundup!
‘Quiet Quitting’: Is it Actually Happening?
Last week, Gallup categorized 50% of workers as ‘quiet quitters,’ based on the regular employee engagement survey it has run since 2000. A far less conspicuous cousin of rage quitting, quiet quitting is the phenomenon of workers choosing to do the bare minimum at work that they are paid for — no more, no less. The term became viral earlier in the summer on TikTok (as these things do), with a good summary posted by user @zaidleppelin: “you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to hustle culture.”
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And why should workers work harder without commensurate compensation for their added work? Fulfilling the bare minimum work obligations outlined in an employment contract isn’t quite ‘shirking responsibility.’ Workers are simply flexing the negotiating power they have, which has increased for both economic and cultural reasons.
Yet this idea of ‘quiet quitting’ is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Take it from this scene from “Office Space” (released in 1999), where the protagonist, Peter, decides he’s not going to quit but is just going to stop showing up to work every day.
Quiet quitting has generated a bit of backlash, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Arianna Huffington thinks that young people choosing to coast on the job are missing out on an opportunity to find more meaningful work. Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank is more blunt: “if you’re a quiet quitter, you are a loser.”
But is this whole debate over quiet quitting getting a bit overblown? Looking closer at Gallup’s own survey results, it might be. The percentage of workers that are neither actively engaged nor disengaged at work (which Gallup uses as a proxy for levels of quiet quitting) hasn’t actually budged during the pandemic. It isn’t even close the peak it hit immediately prior to the Great Recession:
So what’s with all the hype? It could be that the quiet quitting days are very early and the data hasn’t updated to represent the growing desire for workers to coast. Alternatively, it could be that the TikTok trend is overblown, and tired workers don’t really care about staging a quiet resistance at their current job. Instead, they might just leave to find a better job where they are more satisfied (which, of course, means they wouldn’t show up in the Gallup chart above). After all, a record labor market has given workers more options than they’ve had in decades.
Whatever the story is with quiet quitting, the levels of actively disengaged workers (getting into rage quitting territory) have been steadily on the rise since 2019.
For people under the age of 35, the disengaged proportion has risen 6 percentage points from 2019 to 2022. The overall disengaged rate hasn’t yet exceeded its record highs which it saw during the Great Recession. But especially if we slump into another recession — as some expect we will — we may have a disengaged worker base of 20% or more on our hands. That’s no good for anyone involved.
The Takeaway: What can companies do to mitigate concerns from employee disengagement? A lot of their success may hinge on more proactive managers. Managers are the best positioned to know if workers are close to burnout, if they don’t feel they are compensated well enough, or would be more engaged if they were in a different role at the company. Managers that can advocate for their reports’ interests may end up ahead in terms of less employee attrition and better performance from an overall more engaged team. [Edit: Stowe Boyd brings up the fact that managers are also disengaging, and indeed the problem may be more systemic than I imply here. I tend to agree. Read his post here.]
Minor League Baseball Players Unionize
On the heels of major union announcements, like the first Chipotle location voting to unionize a couple weeks ago, this one is minor. That’s because Major League Baseball (MLB) is choosing to recognize minor league players’ efforts to unionize without requiring a union election. Over half of the 5,400 minor leaguers indicated they want be represented by the MLB Players Association (MLBPA), which until now was the union just for major league players.
This is a huge outcome for minor leaguers, most of whom earn less than the federal poverty line, $13,590 annually. That’s because they get paid around $400 to $700 a week, and only during the regular season. In addition to staying in shape in the offseason, minor league players are often working several jobs just to make ends meet. Meanwhile, major league players on average earn a cool $4 million each year.
The Takeaway: It’s a surprisingly pro-union move from the MLB. Typically, more adversarial employers like Amazon and Starbucks force each unionizing location to run a union election. Setting an election date off in the future gives employers time to set up mandatory captive audience meetings, during which outside consultants present to employees a biased view of why they shouldn’t join a union, often using fear-mongering rhetoric. Instead, the MLB simply allowed players to sign authorization cards on their own time, and only verified that over 50% signed their cards. It’s a bit out of left field, but perhaps a sign to come of more accommodative policies towards voluntary union recognition…
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