188. Quiet Quitting: The Next Phase of Freedom
Have you already quit your job without telling anybody?
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If history shows us anything accurately, it’s that pandemics trigger tectonic shifts in the structure of the global workforce. Each subsequent pandemic leads to more freedom for the worker.
This is going to help explain the current rash of quiet quitting and what the future has in store.
But first, bare with me as I dust off your 7th-grade social studies book for a speedy synopsis of pandemics from years gone by.
The Plague of Cyprian
It was around 250 AD when the Plague of Cyprian appeared. The plague decimated the Roman Empire, killing as many as half of the population - which was a crapload of people.
Prior to the plague, the Roman Empire relied on slavery for almost everything. From manual laborers to domestic servants and even skilled roles (like doctors and accountants), slavery was the vehicle that kept the Roman Empire’s economy moving forward.
Plagues, however, usually kill more poor people than the wealthy. The Cyprian Plague was no different. By the time the plague was done with its devastation, a lot of slaves had died, resulting in a meaningful shortage of labor to help with food production.
That was a problem.
Workforce Change #1: Slave —> Indentured Servant
It’s really hard to recruit people to be slaves, so that economic model didn’t work so well anymore. Compensation had to be used to entice people to work.
Goodbye slaves, hello indentured servants.
This new model for servitude provided room, board and protection - which was pretty critical back then - in exchange for manual labor. The idea was that, after a set number of years of “debt repayment”, the worker would then be free.
Better than slavery? Sure. At least it had the perception of pending freedom.
Either way, it would change again with the next ravishing.
<Cue the Black Plague.>
The Black Plague
Sure, the Plague of Cyprian was bad, but the Black Plague was the plague to end all plagues.
The year was 1350-ish and powerful societies were built on the backs of indentured servitude, thanks to Cyprian. The Black Plague, however, was bad. Really bad. It killed nearly 200 million people in just a few years (this is a per capita equivalent to 2.4 billion people in 2022 numbers).
Like other pandemics, it was mostly poor people that died (hashtag healthcare), so as the Black Plague faded into the background what remained was a meaningful lack of qualified workers.
How do you find people to do the work? That’s easy, you increase salaries.
And this is what led to the next phase of workers’ freedom.
Workforce Change #2: Indentured Servitude —> Free Man
With increased salaries, those serfs who were stuck in indentured servitude could suddenly afford to pay for their freedom. And they did.
Freedom is good.
Unless you’ve been cryogenically frozen for the last three years, you know that COVID ain’t just a company that sells computer cables (www.COVID.com).
The pandemic, and the consequent shutting down of the economy, have devastated the employment market.
And so we find ourselves here amidst…
Workforce Change #3: Freedom —> Life Balance
Naturally, a pandemic will stimulate self-reflection. The realization that life can end in an instant, will trigger the desire to focus less on work and more on pleasurable experiences.
Few people come out of a global pandemic thinking “I just need to work harder”
In the pre-pandemic US, work and life had become synonymous. Work was most of people’s lives. People defined themselves by the work they did.
But now, post-ish pandemic, work and life are becoming mutually exclusive. There is work and there is life and never the twain shall meet.
<Enter quiet quitting.>
If you don’t know what quiet quitting is, it isn’t as much physically quitting as it is emotionally quitting. People still need money. They still need their job.
Quiet quitting is about saying “no thanks” to the societal expectation of working long hard hours or going above and beyond the call of duty.
Quiet quitting is about making a conscious decision to only do what is expected of your job - no more, no less - and to live the rest of your life the way you want.
I know more than a handful of people who have quietly quit this year.
They have scaled back their efforts to do only what’s expected - and only during regular work hours. They are traveling more and delving into their hobbies. They are creating side hustles and passive income streams.
Kristie creates opportunities for people to work and travel at the same time. Instead of using valuable vacation time to visit a new country, she enables remote work in exotic places.
How about living in Croatia for a month? Work during office hours with more than enough time to explore the country on weekends and off hours.
It’s the Quiet Quitter’s dream.
The Next Phase of Freedom
The mindset of the workforce is changing very rapidly, as it has after other pandemics. Businesses, as a result, must change with them.
The most popular companies of tomorrow will be the ones that embrace different types of work behaviors. Some people work best coming to a common office, while others thrive on the go.
Do you know who your quiet quitters are? What are you doing to keep them engaged?
How will your leadership adjust based on the productivity habits of others?
These questions are becoming increasingly more important to consider.
To help you think through this, you may want to check out these two articles about the two types of workers and how to keep them productive. Which one are you?
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A Somewhat Relevant Quote
“You don’t want work life balance. You want work life freedom."