This year Equal Pay Day falls on Tuesday, March 14. This day, in theory, symbolizes how far women have to work into 2023 to “catch up” to the earnings of men in 2022, because women (in aggregate) earn 18% less money than men (in aggregate).
But how many women, on the day before March 14, participated in a new trend called “Bare Minimum Monday”? This is part of a broader movement called “Quiet Quitting”—and it will not help women achieve pay parity with men.
Most charitably, quiet quitting means workers are encouraged to avoid taking on additional responsibilities or going above and beyond what’s required in their job description, in an effort to guard their mental health. Less charitably, quiet quitting sounds like an excuse for workers to slack off. Another older term is “phoning it in” at work.
Quiet quitting is most popular among workers under the age of 35. One survey showed that as many as 50% of people in the workforce identify as quiet quitters, although interpretations of the label certainly vary from person to person. Of course, setting healthy boundaries around our jobs and establishing a good work-life balance are good things. But these things are better done “out loud,” in clear communication with one’s employer … not quietly through underperformance.
But what happens when women quiet-quit at work? Supervisors will take notice. Women, especially working moms, have fought hard against stereotypes that we can’t get the job done, that we are emotionally fragile, that we are too distracted with home life to be rockstars in the workplace. When women quiet-quit, I fear they are rolling back the clock on this progress.
And this won’t help women reach pay parity with men. Of course, raw pay parity is not a good public policy goal or societal goal, because the raw (uncorrected) wage gap between men and women depends on a host of variables. It’s not a metric for discrimination, and many women are happy to accept the tradeoff of lower pay for more flexible jobs, safer jobs, or reduced hours.
But for those who see an earlier and earlier Equal Pay Day each year as social progress, quiet quitting could be a concern. If you’re doing the “bare minimum” on Mondays, and possibly other days of the week, how can you expect to get maximum pay? Or opportunities for advancement?
We should also question the advertised mental health benefits of quiet quitting. The trend is very likely undermining workers’ mental health, not helping it. Arthur Brooks, a happiness scholar (what a title), has studied the effect of “earned success” on people’s life satisfaction, or happiness. Not surprisingly, when people feel that they’ve done a good job, they can take pride in their work—no matter what job they have—and feel good about it.
The opposite of “earned success” is “learned helplessness.” It’s possible that the quiet quitting trend is a result—not so much the cause—of widespread learned helplessness in our culture. Many people feel like their choices and their hard work don’t matter. This is at the root of much unhappiness, and it makes people feel burned out, and like they want to give up.
How do we break this cycle? We should encourage everyone to give their best effort at work. How about “Maximum Effort Monday” instead of the bare minimum, followed by “Try Harder Tuesday,” and so on? Everyone, especially young people, wants more opportunities. But as the old saying goes: “Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”