If you have ever uttered the phrase “People just don’t want to work anymore”, please SHUT. UP. That sentiment has been dribbling out of the mouth of troglodytes since they crawled out of the cave… or at least provably in print since 1894.
Recently, the term “Quiet Quitting” has gone viral across our linguistic zeitgeist. On the September 8th episode of The Daily Show, US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh even admitted misconstruing its meaning when he first heard it. For those of you also bamboozled by its misleading connotation, it refers to employees who have stopped working outside of the time and duties that they are, well, paid for. In other words, it is the long-overdue pushback of employees refusing to participate in their own exploitation.
When the pandemic began, I said we would find our humanity again. We saw loved ones die, sometimes en masse. We were forced to examine our values. We changed the way we spent or were able to spend money, often due to outside forces beyond our control. We changed how and with whom we spent time. Like Neo escaping the Matrix, workers began to reject their own exploitation that had gone on far too long. If you truly like “a competitive marketplace”, you should be enjoying every minute of it. People are not commodities, but the labor they provide is.
Fifty years ago, a myriad of cultural and economic shifts were crashing into each other. Interest rates sky-rocketed. Low wages and the high cost of living birthed the two-income household. The Civil Rights movement was met with insidious power brokers who created subversive barriers that hurt everyone. The dramatic increase in the price of a college education and subsequent student debt did not happen by accident.
Ironically, the pandemic allowed a smokescreen to clear, and we were able to see landscape now referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The dominating CRM SaaS platform Salesforce defines it as “the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds.” As we began poking our heads out of our homes in late 2020 and early 2021, we were vastly different people. We have revalued our personal commoditization. People were sick and tired of being exploited. “Frontline workers” were told they were indispensable and worked through horrific conditions, often risking illness and death, only to find no payoff or pat on the back. After all of that, many got a pink slip.
Since 2020, economists have identified three major events: The Great Resignation, The Great Reallocation, and The Great Retirement. Unlike “quite quitting”, those titles reflect their meaning. I would like to propose a new term that encompasses ALL these phenomena, The Great Revaluation, and these are the major drivers behind it:
Pandemic-Perpetuated Penny Pinching
Early into the pandemic and accompanying corporate closures, people were told to “just cut back”. “Stop wasting money on avocado toast and Starbucks.” Well. They did. People moved-in together, with family, or downsized due to financial hardship or general fears of an uncertain economy. Sacrificing former “everyday luxuries” meant reconnecting with each other. People learned to cook instead of eating out. Vacations weren’t an option, so stay-cations meant a jello-covered slip n’ slide in the backyard.
Quiet Quitting Corporate Comeuppance
If you’re not paying a living wage, you’re paying a dying wage. Wages have been stagnant in the US since the 1970s. Remember those wage disparities I mentioned? CEO pay has increased 1,322% since 1978. That is 351 times more than the typical worker in 2020 (EPI, 2021). For better or worse, the first nine months of the pandemic showed people they could survive on less. We told them to. Why is anyone shocked that people aren’t RACING back to a job that literally does not pay enough to sustain a single human in today’s world? If you own a business but can’t afford to pay your employees appropriately, then you can’t have a business, Boo. #SorryNotSorry
Businesses that pay their employees less than a living wage are the largest proponents of reliance on public assistance programs.
The Great Reallocation
Simply put, the pandemic forced jobs into virtual/remote workspaces, catching up with demand for them. Before the pandemic, remote job postings were relegated to sketchy “opportunities” on Craigslist. Professional job boards such as Indeed.com, LinkedIn.com, and Flexjobs.com did a great job responding to the shift to remote work.
For the first eight years my company was in operation, I would have 1 to 3 Teachers (out of all my clients) seeking to transition out of the classroom, annually. In 2021, that number shot up to 17… well I stopped counting at 17. I proudly helped Teachers pivot their dynamic, robust, and ridiculously honed skillsets into UX designers (user experience), content creators, project managers, LMS Client Service Managers, and on and on.
By the way, don’t tell a teacher they “should have negotiated a better salary”. That’s like telling an ear of corn it should advocate for itself. Corn is the commodity. We are its consumers. The local community and its citizens (even those without children in school) are both the investors and consumers of what Teachers produce. WE should be the ones demanding better pay for them.
The Great Retirement
Uncertainty of the pandemic accelerated retirement with 3 million additional Baby Boomers choosing to retire in 2020, almost 29 million in all. While Baby Boomer retirement is easily predictable, the additional exodus of retirees created a vacuum filled by millions of those we have historically called “underemployed”. An all-to-common typography of an underemployed American worker is the bartender with a bachelor’s or even graduate degree. Boomers occupied the associate to upper-level positions for so long that the service industry benefitted. As Boomers exited, the underemployed stepped up. Last year, I spoke with a recruiter-friend who had tapped into that market and was backfilling positions like crazy.
On that note, we must eradicate the false notion that service workers are “just teenagers”. If they are, who the hell do you think is making your McMuffin at 8:30am on a Thursday? There seems to be a strong correlation between people who espouse the notion of the “lowly service worker” also being someone who would never be caught dead doing that job. Minimum wage is not a living wage. I am quite passionate about this topic, so before I give myself an aneurism, I’ll just let you read more in the articles below by the Economic Policy Institute and Teen Vogue.
The Toxic Workplace
Ten years ago last month, I left the world of staffing to open my company. My original business plan included 3 hours a day for lead generation. In that time, I have never had to make a single sales call. Somewhat ironically, toxic workplaces and #BadBosses have kept me gainfully employed more than 40-hours a week for over a decade. Managerial abuse, worker exploitation, sexual harassment, racism, and pay inequities are alive and well. Those who can do something, should.
After hearing horror stories from clients around the world, across all industries and functional roles, I deliberately try to patronize companies that treat their employees well and avoid those that don’t. When we needed a plumber for a major renovation of our historic home, I told her she was not allowed to use any Kohler products in our home because of how horribly they treat their employees. It is okay for bad businesses to fail.
If you don’t believe there is an epidemic of toxic workplaces, let me tell you about a few terms and concepts resulting from them…
Opioid Epidemic – One of the biggest driving factors in opioid addiction is lack of a social safety net for injured workers. Opioid abuse disproportionately affects “blue collar” workers. The cycle begins when an employee gets hurt but is not given enough, if any, resources to sustain them through proper recovery. So, they medicate. Back at work, their injuries worsen requiring the need for more drugs.
Karoshi – “a Japanese term meaning ‘overwork death’, related to the vast numbers of people literally dying at their desk typically from heart attacks and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet.”
996 Work Hour System – a work schedule primarily perpetuated by IT companies in China, who require an employee to work 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.
The Great Revaluation is a long overdue reconning of who we want to be as a society, individual, friend, partner, parent, neighbor, and steward of our own labor. One of my more indelicate but favorite sayings is, “I’m a whore not a slut. I get paid” Why is it such a radical notion that people get paid, much less paid appropriately, for the work they do? And finally, do me a favor. Next time you hear someone say “people don’t want to work anymore”, shut that shit down. Like a newspaper columnist from 1894, that sentiment should have died a long time ago.
· Raising wages would significantly reduce reliance on public assistance: Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would reduce public assistance spending by $17 billion | Economic Policy Institute (epi.org)