The Sunday Express Magazine carried two interesting articles this morning, October 30, 2022. ‘Who’s the Boss’ by Rinku Ghosh and ‘Farming on Fallow Lands’ by Shelja Sen. The first was about the work culture and aspirations of the Millennials and the second was about the rather raw deal that Millennials get in school. The title of the second article was a little misleading. I started to read it because of the blurb: ‘Imagine if schools could be spaces where children were allowed to think, be curious, be non-conventional, and most importantly, ask questions and sustain a sense of agency’.
I was left wondering whether it is the latter, the treatment and space that children get or do not get in school, that makes Millennials behave and negotiate as they do at their job? And us? In the University system, particularly the teachers, are left in the middle of the two. We get the riff-raff and the brilliant, well-adjusted variety of students from the schools. Professors in the University are assigned the task of polishing this raw material and making them presentable and suitable for the job market. Was that the primary task that we had signed up for? Not necessarily, we thought we were assigned to convey ideas, thoughts and expected the students to be thirsting for knowledge.
To get back to the articles in question, quotes from students in school in Shelja’s article (Eye, The Sunday Express Magazine, October 30, 2022) are sadly revealing of a culture of running in a rat race. As a seventeen year old is quoted as saying ‘It is as if I have to keep running, otherwise I will be left behind. There is a constant guilt nagging me that I am not doing enough and even in my dreams I am desperately trying to speed up to keep up.’ Is this a student in school speaking or is it me, a senior professor struggling to keep pace with teaching and publication in ‘A’ grade journals?
The top students, who were either polished before they reached us in the University, or were polished by us, are able to survive the rat race rather well. They land ‘good jobs’, but not necessarily ‘decent jobs’. Deadlines and work hours are demanding and in a few years it is ‘burn out’. They soon begin to feel that they are losing out on the ‘work-life balance’! The pandemic period and work from home gave the idea that there are alternatives. As quoted in Rinku’s article (Eye, The Sunday Express Magazine, October 30, 2022): ‘The last two years made me feel how much my daughter needs me and I have chosen not to go back to my crazy schedule’.
Rinku describes the concept of ‘quiet quitting’ where ‘millennials have decided to disengage from an overwrought work culture because it consumes their personal time’. The millennials then re-negotiate their terms of engagement with the company. Obviously talent and skills acquired at the University and on-the-job is the bargaining chip that allows for such a bold move. This is different from the ‘big resignation’, more common among the older cohorts, where senior managers decide to quit the rat race all together.
The ‘quiet quitting’ movement has become a reality also because of the options offered by the new technology of remote work and gig work. In my earlier post on this blog I had written about ‘Moonlighting’, the new concern of IT companies. Given this reality companies may also want to become flexible and allow their talented employees more options. One option is re-negotiating the contract where the employee does not feel he has to sell his soul to the company!
If the schooling and university systems were able to provide the millennials with the confidence to take the step of re-negotiating the contract, we are in a safe place in the future of work. But, unfortunately this is not the story for the majority of the millennials. The harassed seventeen year old student, quoted above, might not make it to this envious position of ‘quiet quitting’.
Another view of ‘quiet quitting’ is that it implies laziness, lack of initiative, untrustworthiness or misplaced arrogance. As was expressed by Manish Sabharwal (Teamlease) ‘There cannot be a Diet Coke approach to work, where you want all the goodies without the heavy duty calories.’ It is unlikely that ‘quiet quitting’ will become the mainstream form of engagement with work, but as pointed out by RInku, the terms of recruitment will no longer be dominated by the employer, but a negotiated customized package.