The COVID-19 pandemic has created some lasting impacts on today’s society. The workplace is one area that certainly is no exception to this. People have become much more aware of the time they spend on work. A need for a response to the rigorous demands of the hustle and bustle of work life has very much been highlighted. One potential response to this workload that has been floating around social media is “quiet quitting.” This analysis will attempt to look at how Marx’s theories about labor and capitalism can be applied to quiet quitting as a solution to the workload many are experiencing today.
Marxian Theory of Capitalism
Karl Marx was a notable Prussian sociologist and writer in the mid-1800s. He is best known for his views on capitalism. He believed the proletariat (the working class) is always in constant conflict with the bourgeoisie (capitalists) under capitalism. He also believed that without a revolution, the working class would always be exploited by capitalists.
Capitalists attempt to make as much of a profit as possible. Capitalists create more profit through exploitation. This exploitation can be understood as workers not receiving the wages they fairly deserve for the labor they have worked. Capitalists can achieve this by reducing the wages of their laborers, reducing the number of laborers that they use in their company (replacing them with machines), or even raising the amount of expected labor to be finished within a workday. Therefore, competition is essential to capitalism. Workers become pitted against each other because there are only so many available jobs and only so many livable wages. Capitalists treat workers as a means of profit rather than people.
False consciousness refers to when workers believe that other workers are the problem rather than the system of capitalism. For Marx’s ideal revolution to happen, the working class must realize that capitalism is the problem and not individual people. This includes bosses. While they may make more than regular workers, they are not the problem if they do not own the means of production. They are a part of the problematic system rather than being the root of the problem themselves. Capitalists who own the means of production exploit bosses as well.
Changes in the Workforce
Labor today does not resemble what it used to in the past. For example, most businesses today have a system that specializes workers in certain aspects of product building. Workers no longer follow a product all the way through its creation to the very end. During the time that Marx was writing, he focused on blue-collar, hourly-based work. While we still have hourly-based jobs today, this analysis will focus on more white-collar, knowledge positions that are salary-based. Capitalists exploit workers more with salary-based jobs because they may keep people at work longer without changing their pay.
Quiet Quitting in the Workplace
Quiet quitting is a trend that is taking over “work-tok” or Tik-Toks that are about work. It may sound like workers who quit without telling their bosses, but it does not actually embody fully quitting your job. It more is related to workers not going above and beyond in their job anymore. Instead, they work diligently during their contracted hours. However, they do not lose their sanity over their work. Instead, they do satisfactory work without losing their sanity. Quiet quitters hold work boundaries, only finish tasks they are fairly compensated for, and stop participating in toxic work culture. To find more information about quiet quitting, search “quiet quitting” on Tik Tok.
This quiet quitting is trending now because workers have become so burnt out from their jobs. The pandemic gave many people a glimpse of what the slow life is like. Quiet quitting attempts to respond to an unsustainable way of life that work has become.
Quiet Quitting as a Solution to Capitalism
For so long, workers have been encouraged to jump through all the hoops to make it to a decent job. These include working very hard, going to college, and continuing to move up the ladder to have the job that makes the most money. However, this rewards workers who do not take breaks or take care of themselves. Resting is viewed as something lazy, while workers who do the absolute most receive praise.
To encourage even more competitive working, bosses will incentivize workers with small bonuses or promotions. These rewards appear to be great at the moment, but they are just a small piece of what bosses could really be giving to their workers. Other workers look like the enemies with this competitive incentivization. Marx would refer to this as the false consciousness mentioned earlier because workers believe the enemy is other workers.
I am confident to say that quiet quitting will not be greeted with open arms by capitalists. It is already being looked down upon by bosses in a Wall Street Journal article (known for being liked by capitalists) who explain that it will not outlast layoffs that are soon to come. However, a CNN article (more left-leaning) explains it as a way for workers to do what they were hired for and get fairly compensated for it. It rids the workplace of competition that makes so much profit for capitalists.
Setbacks of Quiet Quitting
Quiet quitting hopes to end the exploitative nature of workplaces. Some may say that everyone must partake in quiet quitting for it to work or make a statement. Marxian theory agrees with this. If not everyone is on board, the people who are not participating in quiet quitting will just be given even more work to do.
Marx would see quiet quitting as a temporary solution to the ongoing problem of capitalism. Even though people are beginning to realize the failures of capitalism, still working for capitalists will not ever fully fix the problem (even if you are only working contracted hours). Marxian theorists would still like to see a revolution that is not occurring currently. However, a step in the right direction is still a good step even if the end goal of the revolution has not been met yet.
Quiet quitting is a worker’s response to a capitalist lifestyle that rewards competition described by Karl Marx. Now, quiet quitters are actively only doing good work they are fairly compensated for. Since this term is fairly new, I am interested to see how bosses and capitalists will respond to this phenomenon as it carries on. Is the working class finally attempting to respond to an unsustainable relationship with work?