Making Noise About “Quiet Quitting”

Is it really a thing, especially for Black people?

Once upon a time, I got fired for asking for help. I was overextended, under-resourced, and completely burned out. I sounded the SOS to the person to whom I reported. Instead of being supported, I was dismissed.

I also once lost my job after a white woman was racist towards me in front of others and was (surprisingly) made to apologize. She Karened, cried, leveraged her contacts, and I was left unemployed.

Some of you know that I was hit by a car a few years back. I took a couple of days off to try and recuperate because that is all that I could take at the time. When I returned to work, the person to whom I reported did not even inquire as to my well being, or suggest a slow ramp-up until I was back to full strength. Instead, they brought over a pile of folders, dumped them on my desk, and said snidely “This is everything that I’ve been taking care of since you’ve been out.”

At another company, I requested some time off for mental health reasons. Just a couple of days. The request was denied, and I was told that I needed to “be present at all meetings and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.” They took time to emphasize, however, that they “prioritize the well-being of their employees.” Riiiight.

Over the course of my career I have moved from pet to threat. I’ve been micro-aggressed. I’ve been bullied, harassed, sidelined, underpaid, threatened, denied promotions, and at times treated as less than a human being. I’ve also had way too many people assault me by putting their hands in my hair.

I Know I’m Not Alone

None of this is unique or unusual. I’m pretty sure that a large percentage of my friends and connections of color have similar stories. Probably worse. Working while Black – working while marginalized – is an experience that is not for the faint of heart. (For more insight into the Black experience in corporate spaces, read Sharon Hurley Hall‘s  upcoming book “I’m Tired of Racism.”)

So I share these stories not to elicit sympathy, but to start a discussion about how disturbingly common this kind of mistreatment is, especially if one is Black or brown. Especially in these companies that boilerplately “put their people first,” and “care about diversity.”  They – and I cannot stress this enough – Do. Not. Care.

What I have shared exemplifies the kinds of experiences that so many of us go through every day at work. Different cast. Similar script.

And So, Here We Are…

As you can imagine, after these experiences (the ones where I actually kept my job 😑) my entire approach to work changed. Early in my career I was the “go above and beyond” person. I still kind of am, because it is a part of my personality. I can’t seem to help it. 😫 BUT in the spirit of strong boundaries and self-preservation I push back against my natural bent. I try my best to make my 9-5 exactly that. Now, I: 

✅ Say no.

✅ Avoid starting early.

✅ Avoid working late.

✅ Enforce boundaries.

✅ Mute notifications.

✅ Push back against unnecessary urgency.

✅ Take an actual lunch.

✅ Take meditation breaks.

✅ Set alarms to remind me to log off.

✅ Prioritize health.

✅ Prioritize happiness.

✅ Prioritize rest.

✅ Dedicate time to my self, family, friends, and interests.

Because, as a reminder:

These companies do not care. 

These companies do not care. 

These companies do not care. 

The same organizations and leaders that inflict mistreatment on their employees, and make ever more stringent demands of them are also:

❌ paying the rank and file the bare minimum.

❌ doubling down on the racial pay gap. (Black women earn 57 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns.)

❌ not providing useful benefits, such as health care.

❌ providing benefits, but making it almost impossible for employees to use them.

❌ guilting employees for taking their PTO.

❌ refusing to provide accommodations to employees who need them.

❌ tracking their employees via keystroke monitors, intrusive cameras, mouse clicks, and pressure-sensitive chairs.

❌ laying off staff via email and Zoom.

❌ expecting the remaining employees to perform more work for the same pay.

❌ posting tear-filled selfies about how hard their life is–after they just laid off most of their workforce. 😑

❌ legitimately trying to collectively gaslight us for not doing more. For not giving more. For not sacrificing more. 

Wow.

To these companies I say: You want more? Lead by example. Do.👏🏾 Right. 👏🏾 By. 👏🏾 Your. 👏🏾 People. 👏🏾

You want “above and beyond” work? Pay “above and beyond” money. Provide “above and beyond” benefits. Display “above and beyond” humanity.

Stop creating a culture of overwork as a baseline.

Which leads us to this:

“QUIET QUITTING” IS NOT A THING… 

In the metaphysical space, it’s called matching energy. In the legal space, it’s called “working to rule.”

“Quiet quitting” is doing exactly what you were hired to do. You signed a contract, and it is perfectly acceptable to operate within the boundaries of that contract. Because rest assured, when the company is ready to lay you off with no notice, they will be referring to, and abiding by, that very same contract.

Doing what you were actually hired to do is not coasting, being lazy, phoning it in, or lacking ambition.

✅ “Quiet quitting” is having strong boundaries.

✅ “Quiet quitting” is having a healthy life-work balance.

✅ “Quiet quitting” is not letting yourself become burned out.

✅ “Quiet quitting” is putting yourself and your family first. As you should. 

“Quiet quitting” as a concept is brought to us by the same cohort of capitalists who are insisting that people who don’t need to work in an office commute there every day and get stale pizza as a prize. It is brought to us by the same cohort of people who are angry that some student debt has been forgiven. Whew.

❌  Don’t fall for the mind trick.

❌  Don’t fall for the gaslighting.

❌  Don’t fall for the DARVO.

…ESPECIALLY NOT FOR BLACK PEOPLE

The truth is that for a lot of Black people, “quiet quitting” is not an option. Epigenetics is a real phenomenon, and the overseer gene is still strong in certain people. 👀 #IYKYK. We are always being watched. We are always being whipped into producing more, while others coast on by and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Black folks tend to be simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible; ignored and over-surveilled; last hired and first fired. So what is being framed as “doing the least” is not a possibility in our world. It is in our nature, and is often a necessity, to do the most. 

We don’t get to “fail up.” We don’t get to tank entire companies and receive millions of dollars in funding thereafter. We are held to a higher standard. As Janelle Benjamin reveals in her excellent YouTube series, we typically have to work Twice As Hard to be perceived as half as valuable. So yeah…realistically, working to rule might not be an option for many of us. One small slip, real or not, and we’re perp walked out the door by one of our “we’re like a family” colleagues.

So do what is right for you and your situation. I am at a stage in my life and career where I am more inclined to speak up, opt out, and prioritize me. But in the past I have had to make compromises in order to keep my salary rolling in, so no judgements here. 

To all the gurus, pundits, and companies railing against “quiet quitting,” you literally said the quiet part out loud.

Your privilege is showing. Your toxicity is showing. Your narcissism is showing. Your abusiveness is showing. Your supremacy is showing. Do better.


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Unless otherwise stated, text and images ©Lisa Hurley

Comments

  1. First, you made me have to look up DARVO and IYKYK; that’s the problem with being a boomer, I don’t know almost any of these acronyms. lol

    Second, I’ve also lost my job twice, but it had nothing to do with being black, but being superior to the people I was reporting to and making them look bad. The thing is, I was almost always in a leadership position, and I knew what would benefit me most was to learn as much as I could about as much as I could; in that regard, at a certain point I knew how to do the job of every department in my circle. When I moved to other positions (always leadership), I learned more jobs that weren’t my responsibility because I figured they’d come in handy. Eventually, they put me in a position where I could go self employed, where I’ve made lots of money.

    But… as a consultant it’s been a slightly different story. I’ve been to a few places where I could honestly say that racism was rampant, but never directly towards me because they needed me. At the same time, I’ve lost out on a lot of gigs (and possibly a lot of opportunities) because I blatantly put my picture on my website’s bio page; I see the traffic but almost never get called, and my bio & articles proves I can do the job.

    Where am I going with this? I started in 1983 at a job paying $4.63… which was a raise from a job I was doing elsewhere paying $3.55 at hour. I didn’t put in all my extra time to impress anyone else; I put it in to learn as much as I could so I could hopefully keep improving and have an opportunity to work for myself. In my first job I was initially the only minority and only male, and over time that changed a bit, and I like to take credit for that. At another job I was the only black employee in the entire hospital… until a year later when there were two others, one of them in a director position… and I take credit for that. The last hospital I was an employee at I wasn’t the only black person there, but I was the only one who wasn’t working in housekeeping or the cafeteria. I ended up hiring the first “regular” black employee, who I eventually had to fire because it turned out she wasn’t ready to work. Still, by the time I lost that job, there were not only black people but other minorities working in different positions across two hospitals I was over… and I take credit for that as well.

    I’m not saying it’s not hard; far from the truth. What I’m saying is that I refused to let racism, blatant or unintentional, stop me from doing what I needed to do to become better than everyone else. I even called out racism at all 3 facilities I worked at; I won two of those, and I’m proud of that… even if I still lost my job later on (that wasn’t because of racism, but this comment’s getting too long lol). It was always my intention to prove that black people weren’t just equal to white people, but that we could often be much better. I took on that role because it was needed at the time; I’m not sure I could get away with it as easily now as I did then, but I’d hope I could overcome and help the next generation as much as possible. I don’t advocate for quiet quitting, but I do advocate for many of the things you highlighted. I didn’t do any of those things, and I wish I had, but I felt a different responsibility was needed, I made Dad proud, and I guess I can live with that.

    But you’ll always have my support! 🙂

    1. Hey Mitch,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, and for taking the time to comment! And thanks (retroactively) for doing what you could when you could to push back against racism, and/or elevate others. Interesting to hear about the differences between “employee life” and “consultant life.”

      I think “quiet quitting” is a) not really an accurate description, and b) often not an option for most Black and brown people. I just want people who might not be clear to become clear: that it is (like so many things) a capitalist construct. The framing is flawed.

      Many people will not be able to work to rule (which is what “quiet quitting” actually is), because the expectation has become that one must work 18-hour days, only hang out with one’s co-workers, etc. etc. That is toxic and abusive, but it is the system in which we operate. For me, so-called “quiet quitting” is doing one’s job, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      I choose to work to rule (often, not always) because most companies do not care about their employees, and so we have to care about and prioritize ourselves. I do understand, however, that a lot of people do not have a choice. So I am advocating for people doing what works best for them–with full clarity and eyes wide open.

  2. Cyril says:

    Hey my friend. LinkedIn have cutoff and blocked my account, so I’m in an absurd limbo on there, as they refuse to close it, but also make it impossible for me to comment, share, or for anything I post to be visible, except to them. So I’m here to say what I can’t say there — what you’ve said here is as excellent as it is necessary. Thank you for proclaiming our truth! I’m for loud fighting, because quiet quitting is just another iteration of white supremacy and the arrogance of the rich, presuming to tell ordinary people what to do to keep their coffers overflowing.

    1. Hi there! I’m not sure who this is, but thanks so much for commenting and supporting! Hope your account gets reinstated soon.

  3. Kathleen Hurley says:

    You say it like it is, Lisa. Always!! Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much, Mama!

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