From the Left



Old and Quiet

Marc Munroe Dion on

Thirty years ago, I interviewed a former factory owner who was pushing 80. I was working for a midsize daily newspaper and the story was that, every few years, he'd give a party for his former employees. He rented a function room at a local restaurant, paid for a buffet and mingled with his former workers, reminiscing about the days before the Chinese put him out of his business.

"What the hell," he told me. "Some of these people worked for me a long time. I went to their weddings and when they baptized their kids."

It was a cute feature story.

He and I talked about the industry he'd been in, back when he'd employed maybe 200 people, and he said one thing that surprised me with its truth, because it was a cute feature story. I wasn't supposed to learn anything.

"If you're a boss, one of the facts you have to face is that you don't decide how much work gets done," he said. "Your workers do."

"You want people to be afraid to lose the job," he said, "but you don't want them to be scared to come to work."


I'm willing to bet that old man never wrote a "mission statement" in his life, and it was just as well, because a genuine corporate mission statement has no truck with the truth about how people work.

And now that old factory owner's spirit stalks the offices of America in a short-sleeved shirt with a pen in the pocket.

"I told you," he says, lighting a ghostly cigar as people "quiet quit."

"Quiet quitting" is the act of doing exactly what your job demands and nothing more. It is what union members call "work to rule," which is when a union tells its members not to do anything outside their job classification. It's done to remind a company that the workers are not lazy malcontents, and the work will slow down hugely if everyone quits doing "just a little extra" from time to time.


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