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The Corporate Workweek Is Broken, So Why Do We Keep Going In?

Are we being complacent or are we on the “quiet” verge of a total upheaval?

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“We spend more time with each other than we do our families,” Our CEO announced the day they mandated a full 3-day return to the office, “So, let’s really lean into that time.”


I was stunned. Scrolling through the faces on the company-wide Zoom chat, I scoured for any visible reaction from other colleagues. But, there were none. No one said anything. At least in that meeting…


“How am I the only one in this whole company that thinks there is something fundamentally wrong with that statement?” I wondered.


I don’t need more time with my colleagues, I need more time for myself and my family. How is that single truth slipping through the cracks, yet again, in our society?


Days after that company-wide meeting, as I spoke to fellow colleagues about the new mandate, I ran up against the same thing: People didn’t like it. It’s inconvenient, the office is too loud, they don’t feel as productive, and their personal life suffers. Even those who didn’t mind coming into the office felt frustrated by a sudden lack of autonomy in their decision on when they would come and go. While others were shrugging it off and joking about coming in late and leaving early to offset commute frustrations or to quietly take some control back, I was feeling a fundamental opposition to the whole thing on a cellular level.


This clearly isn’t right for me but is this framework for working really right for anyone anymore? Company or employee?


Is this framework for working really right for anyone anymore?

***

I love my job. It’s my dream job. I worked hard to get here and if I could picture any job I’d want to have in UX, it’s this one! But the following things about modern corporate workweeks don’t make any sense to me. There is a fusion of work and personal life control that I feel crosses a delicate line.

  • The goal is the work to do, not where it’s done — We’re grown adults with specific skill sets which we are hired for. We sign contracts where we agree to the terms of work. The job is to complete the work. Anything outside of that regarding where the work is completed, what we do on lunch breaks or after hours, isn’t part of the work at all and should be on our own terms.

  • Corporations control personal time and individual needs — From how many days off a year you can take, whether you can take time to rest from being sick, or to be home with your child on a holiday, is time outside the scope of work output. Why does a company get to dictate how much personal time off you take off? They hired you to do a job, if you do the job, why do they have any say in what you need to do in your personal life to maintain your health and well-being? As long as the job is done, shouldn’t that be up to the individual?

  • “Let people do what they wanna do, so you see what they’d rather do.” — I love this quote because it pinpoints exactly where the disconnect is. If you have a company full of employees who don’t produce, don’t do the work, and are not engaged….maybe they don’t really want to be there. This may not be their life direction. So, we can keep them in control, or, retrain them for more meaningful work that ties to their deeper passions and inspires them again. The employees who are engaged and participate will naturally want to stay, there is no need to put limits on them. They are willingly there, they want to be there. Treat them well and they will stay. Give them autonomy and their work will benefit the company because it will be out of natural passion, not forced focus.

Give them autonomy and their work will benefit your company because it will be out of natural passion, not forced focus.

***

What if we gave employees back their autonomy? What if we hired them for a job and let them decide the rest, what would happen? Some people would quit — but they are quiet-quitting anyway. Some people would stay — and with more autonomy, they’d be better able to maintain mental health and wellness to continue to contribute with passion and purpose.


“Quiet quitters” constitute at least 50% of the U.S. workforce as of 2022 — according to Gallup. Isn’t it interesting that just as employees are hitting record-breaking disengagement, corporate offices are enforcing back-to-office mandates? Even in the Gallup article, they talk about quiet-quitting being due to poor management. I argue they have missed the point entirely.


Quiet-quitting isn’t about the company at all. It’s about the employee.

Quiet-quitting isn’t about the company at all. It’s about the employee. It’s about a deeper change that happened to us all during the COVID-19 pandemic. We relearned the value of time and had, for once, autonomy over our personal lives. We learned the value of our mental and physical well-being over non-stop productivity. We have new awareness and enlightenment about our lives because of this. We can’t unsee that. We’re still tired…but it’s not because we need more rest, it’s because we learned that what really fuels us is connecting to something deeper and more meaningful within ourselves.


COVID taught us that life is short and unpredictable and that our mental well-being matters. No management change, free coffee or lunch, or a pool table in the office is going to change that. Back-to-office mandates will only make it worse.


As a UX Designer who studies human behavior, I know that people deeply want to contribute, they want to feel useful and they want purpose. When they connect to those things authentically, they willingly and predictably follow the avenues that fill those desires.


The working business model is fundamentally broken. Employees need more freedom over their time and their work to be happy now. Period. We’re adults with human needs and we’re capable of taking care of our work and ourselves without our jobs controlling our entire lives. The more a company invades that space, the more we quietly step back to be able to reclaim what we need to protect what little of our mental health and well-being may still exist. This is quiet-quitting.


It might be quiet now, but the quiet will only last for so long until it forces a very loud change.


***

If you’re a professional who feels disengaged and burnt out, check out our free resources at rebelsouldigital.com. Get back to finding purpose and direction in your life and build the skills you need to apply them to a new, inspired direction.

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