Quiet Quitting: Exposes Chasm Between ‘Job’ and ‘Vocation’

COMMENTARY: To be or not to be in the workplace, that is the question.

The recent pandemic and subsequent shift to working from home has exacerbated generational divides in the workplace.
The recent pandemic and subsequent shift to working from home has exacerbated generational divides in the workplace. (photo: 2010 AVAVA / Shutterstock)

Have you heard of “quiet quitting”? 

The latest media buzz phrase, on both sides of the Atlantic, has media outlets running handwringing articles about this phenomenon in the workplace. 

So, what is it? Well, to sum up: It is being a full-time employee but doing enough at work, but little more, so as not to incur the wrath of the boss. Employees spending just enough time around the workplace, remotely or in real time, so as to ensure timekeeping is never questioned but, in reality, being only partly there: mentally and emotionally. 

So why has this practice at work of quietly quitting come to the fore now? 

“Quiet quitting” is identified as being practiced predominately by millennials. The sector of the workforce one would expect to be most engaged in their careers are checking out. 

As a trend, it does appear to fit with the latest research. Nearly a quarter, 21% of working Americans, say they are “quiet quitters,” according to an August 2022 ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 workers. Gallup’s global workplace report for 2022 showed that only 9% of U.K. workers were engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries surveyed.

Is this just an outbreak of indifference to work or something more sinister impacting upon one’s spiritual life? 

The recent pandemic and subsequent shift to working from home has exacerbated generational divides in the workplace. For many white-collar occupations in Europe and North America, once busy offices are today barely recognizable. As a result, for some younger people, their experience of work has been one of isolated home working and empty, rather forlorn office space, if they ever go there. Perhaps this is why they check out, both mentally and emotionally? 

A generation brought up to socialize, shop and amuse itself online sees working online, as opposed to being in a physical environment, as a logical progression of the new world inhabited increasingly by digital natives. They have a point. For some at least, in terms of output, work can be as productive online as it is in person. What is becoming clearer, however, is that there is — and always has been — more to work than simply getting paid for it. 

The Christian understanding of work is that it is part of God’s plan. And it is much more personal than some may realize. In the world of work, God’s plan is custom-made for each of us, as individual as we are. And it is very much part of the divine plan: Remember, Adam was placed in the Garden to work prior to the Fall. 

There is one word missing from all the recent breast-beating writings on the subject of work and the quiet quitting taking place. It is a word that provides the key to the mystery of work in our lives; and once understood, it is the equivalent of a “light going on.”  

That word is: Vocation. 

Vocation is a word that has been falsely appropriated for years to denote one thing only: vocation to the priestly or religious life. In recent times, thankfully, that has changed. The word’s proper meaning has been restored. It denotes, namely, a God-given calling to work or series of works. Our vocation — and this can take on a number of forms over a lifetime — represents our God-given place in creation, contribution to it, and the way in which we cooperate with God’s will for the common good. St. John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (Human Work) says this: “Work is a good thing for man — a good thing for his humanity — because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’”

Our lives are time-limited. St. Benedict has said idleness is one of humanity’s greatest enemies. In any event, time is too precious to waste. So, too, are the opportunities that time affords us. We need, therefore, to choose our work wisely. To that end, we need to pray, in particular, to the Holy Spirit in order to enlighten us. We also need to love truth. The truth about who we are and upon what our hearts have been set. For example, so many young people are encouraged to seek a financially rewarding career — say, in banking, or law, or medicine — while their hearts are given to teaching, or music, or something else that pays less. 

One’s vocation, given that it comes from the hand of the Lord, is also a major source of our happiness. “Work! When you are engrossed in professional work, the life of your soul will improve, and you’ll become more of a man, for you’ll get rid of that ‘carping spirit’ that consumes you,” wrote St. Josemaría Escrivá. 

Going to work with the knowledge of our vocational calling turns the 9-5 grind into a means of holiness. In fact, recognizing this stops us from ever again “going to work”; instead, we become engrossed in something we love, and, therefore, are never again to “clock on and off.” 

In light of this, perhaps work and, by extension, the workplace is less complicated than we have made it. A job is often the way in which a person joins the wider society and has a place in it. Our sense of self, to some extent at least, flows from this and, of course, the financial means to participate in society. Furthermore, by revealing someone’s vocation, you have not only given them all of the above, but also opened a doorway that potentially leads to eternity. This is because the truth of a vocation is that it has an eternal dimension. Therefore, one’s vocation is never time-limited. Responding to it is, however, as it requires a daily response to whatever is being asked of one by the Lord. 

Looking at our society’s pervasive attitudes to work, “quiet quitting” comes as no surprise. If one is working simply for money, well, then, that is all you are going to get out of it. Consequently, you will give just enough to complete that transaction. Any subsequent lack of interest in the task at hand results from that reductive view of the workplace and one’s place in it. Other, perhaps unforeseen, outcomes will flow from this, too, however. As one grows to despise one’s work, inevitably, there will also grow a disdain for the person so engaged. As G.K. Chesterton observed: “It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating.”

In contrast, seeking and finding one’s God-given vocation looks like a wild and joyous ride, one ultimately leading heavenward. The true Christian approach to work ultimately refutes the lie that God’s will for us is sad and depressive; in fact, it is the opposite. Remember Who came so that we may have life and have it to the full? Well, why not in the workplace, too? 


Pope Francis: ‘Work Is Sacred’

At Aug. 19 audience, the Holy Father said the world needs a true understanding of ‘the identity of man and woman and the bond they share, their call to bring children into the world, and the gift of work in making the world ever more fruitful and hospitable.’