With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Bosses Know Why Workers are "Quiet Quitting"

“Quiet quitting” is the latest panic in boardrooms and amongst employers. The phenomenon is nothing other than workers setting work-life boundaries. That’s it. Employees are still doing their jobs. They’re clocking in on time and working during work hours — exactly in line with the responsibilities set by their job titles. It’s just that they’re refusing to do unpaid work. They’re no longer willing to go that extra mile for “experience” or to show the boss how keen they are to move up the corporate ladder.

Bosses and right-wing media prefer to frame the phenomenon as the slacking off of an entitled workforce. This is especially true, so we are told, of younger generations, who are scrolling their phones instead of folding shirts double time. In reality, quiet quitting is workers pushing back against job creep and the pressure to do more for less.

Two and a half years into the pandemic, everybody is exhausted. But no one is more exhausted than the workers who’ve worked throughout the crisis, put at risk in unsafe working conditions, given limited time off, and have been poorly paid. Of course, the pandemic significantly exacerbated worksite challenges, but it didn’t create them.


Doing more for less has been the hallmark of labor in North America for decades. As economist James Uguccioni writes in his study of the productivity-wage gap in Canada between 1976 and 2014, “Median real hourly earnings grew by only 0.09 per cent per year, compared to labor productivity growth of 1.12 percent per year.” So as workers became more productive, they produced more profit but received comparatively lower compensation for that surplus value.

In the United States, the Economic Policy Institute notes the same phenomenon alongside an equality gap between workers and managers. In 2021, looking at wage growth compared to income generated per hour of work, Lawrence Mishel noted

Between 1979 and 2019, net productivity grew 59.7 percent while a typical (median) worker’s compensation grew by 15.8 percent, a 43.9 percentage point divergence driven by inequality. The effects have been felt broadly: During this period, 90 percent of US workers experienced wage growth (26 percent) far slower than the economy-wide average, while workers in the top 1 percent (mostly highly credentialed professionals and corporate managers) saw 160 percent wage growth (Mishel and Kandra 2020) and owners of capital reaped large rewards made possible only by this anemic wage growth for the bottom 90 percent.

Once again, with feeling, workers are doing more for less and have been for a long time. The more they work, the more surplus value they produce, the more owners, managers, and executives take from them without adequate and proportionate remuneration. It’s a bad deal. And industry knows it. Indeed, some are so desperate as to allegedly threaten workers with jail time if they don’t work overtime.

Read entire article at Jacobin