One of the more loathsome inventions of the business press in this pandemic-impacted era of work is the term “quiet quitting”. Ed Zitron is far more eloquent than I in expressing his fury regarding the term. But here is my own response to an article about a CEO complaining about the backlash he received to a LinkedIn post about firing 2 engineers who were working multiple full-time jobs:
“The Business Insider piece is kinda trash because they let the CEO posture and moralize. There’s an obvious double standard for what CEOs are allowed to do versus regular workers and they didn’t interrogate that at all. Perhaps some people work parallel jobs to make ends meet, but there are definitely folks taking advantage as well. The collusion of the press with business to invent this concept of “quiet quitting” still makes me angry. Having seen and been subject to layoffs [myself], stingy benefits, and being underpaid relative to my experience and skillset for a good chunk of my career, it’s laughable to me that these companies expect loyalty for how little they offer in return. Even though I wouldn’t do the parallel jobs thing myself, I can see how people rationalize it. They’re just being as transactional with employers as employers have been with workers for decades now.me in an online chat with friends from October 2022
Fast-forward to today and the news is filled with layoff announcements. PagerDuty literally quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as part of a blog post laying off some 7% of their workforce. Friends of mine at 2 other companies regularly in the news are now out of work. My own employer laid off a little over 2% of the workforce. While I am still employed, a number of people I’ve done great work with over the past 5 years are now out of jobs. As far as I can see, these layoffs do not have a thing to do with performance. And given the profit numbers some of the most prominent companies in layoff news have posted over the past couple of years, these are not cuts needed to ensure the survival of these companies.
Ed Zitron’s take on what should happen to the CEOs laying off all these people seems extreme at first, but is it really? Microsoft posted record results for fiscal 2022, but they’re still laying off thousands. Is it really the fault of all those workers Google, Facebook, and others hired during the depths of the pandemic (as if consumer habits were going to remain that way forever) that the pandemic loosened its grip and consumer behavior moved back toward pre-pandemic norms? Perhaps we aren’t being skeptical enough, or critical enough of cuts of this size and scale. As often as we’ve heard about and/or read about “the business cycle”, CEOs who make the kind of money they do ought to know better than to assume that
I survived more than a few layoffs back when the internet bubble burst (leaving an internet consulting firm for a new role just months before it declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy). The company I joined, a telecom equipment manufacturer, turned out to be at the height of its headcount. Over the 4 years I was there, they shed well over half their workforce (even as they acquired failing competitors). The friends of mine at those companies that lost jobs never seemed to lose them because of performance. The RIFs I would be on the wrong side of in later years never seemed to be either. In a world of work that long ago replaced pensions with 401(k)s, we are just numbers when push comes to shove.
Not every company is as honest as Netflix in modeling themselves after a professional sports team, and all that entails about the short shelf life of the average player. I’ve been working more than long enough to know that any company that refers to itself as a “family” is a company not to be trusted. This season of layoffs is just the latest reminder that what matters most in life are the people who matter to you and the people who treat you like you matter in return–regardless of the work you do for a living, be they family or friends. When it comes to work, we should enjoy it and do it well, but not at the expense of what matters most. If we’re going to give loyalty, let it be to people who have earned it and reciprocate it, not to institutions.