Ashley Hales, quiet quitting, work, work/life balance,

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If the Heart of Work Is Good, Then What Is Quiet Quitting All About?

Today’s conversation on wisdom at work.

Of all things in the news, work is what has gone viral these past few weeks. While the term has been around since at least 2009, it’s everywhere now. From TikTok to The Wall Street Journal to The Atlantic, everyone is covering some aspect of “quiet quitting.” 

From the perspective of many employers, quiet quitting indicates that employees are choosing to perform only the bare minimum tasks their job requires — no overtime, no overwork, no staying late without compensation. Employees are enraged by this assumption, saying their quiet quitting isn’t about quitting at all. It’s simply doing one’s job, they say — and not serving one’s job to the exclusion of other areas of life. 

So what’s the big deal? And why does everyone seem to be getting so worked up about it? 

What is work for?

The debates around quiet quitting get at the heart of what work is for.

They get at the existence of human agency (i.e., “Am I able to make a difference in the world?”), and they question who holds power and authority over an individual — all questions that strike at one’s identity. In North America particularly, work’s questions are less to do with how to make a living, and more often about an individual’s value, dignity, and worth. 

Work, in the very first chapters of Genesis, was meant to be a response to God’s relationship with his creation. Work was meant to be something stewarded, something that emerged out of connection to God, creation, and others — rather than something basely transactional or exploitative. Work was meant to be part of worship. 

In this discussion on quiet quitting, much of what distresses employees is that the authorities of their workplaces — whether a boss or a wider consumer-driven system — are not there for their flourishing. Rather, the authorities require (as many employees believe) more work, more hours, and more sacrifice on the part of the employee for the larger institution. And such duty-driven language or communal identity seems particularly gauche in this cultural moment.

Work is a success story

Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, describes authority as the capacity for meaningful (not exploitative) action. He writes: 

What makes action meaningful? Above all, meaningful action participates in a story. It has a past and a future. Meaningful action does not just come from nowhere, and it does not just vanish in an instant — it takes place in the midst of a story that matters. 

For work to be meaningful and stewarded well — in the same way Crouch speaks of authority — it must be a part of a wider story.

And the story of unbridled monetary gains is no longer appealing enough for employees to overwork and to come home too late to see one’s family. Yet the story of unboundaried freedom to do whatever one see’s fit, to grasp after leisure and a never-achievable “balance,” doesn’t satisfy either. 

Crouch’s “meaningful action” of leadership only makes sense if we place ourselves and our work within the redemptive arc of the gospel. We tell ourselves stories about our work lives and about time more generally. How might the gospel story change that conversation so it revolves less around false views of the human person or authority and more around redemption and stewardship? 

We can choose to bring meaningful action to our places of work; even in work conditions that are broken by the fall, we can be faithful. Even if more is required of us, we can set boundaries as appropriate. We’re able to ask our family and friends for grace when we’re in a work-heavy season or transition, and at times, we may need to leave work to care for our families. The point is, rather than only giving our all to work or only giving our all to the idea of balance or leisure, we’re able to steward them both, able to flex and to give grace. 

This isn’t about what’s owed to a person or company. This is about wisdom. 

It’s wisdom we need, not outrage

The most practical step to being a faithful person who stewards her or his work well is to recognize that all work requires limits. We only have so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, and so much capacity. Jesus shows us how to embrace our limits in our callings and work. We see Jesus throughout the Gospels choosing to prioritize time spent alone in prayer as much as in his healing and teaching ministry. We see him napping on a boat. We don’t see him fight for his rights about what was owed him — whether bread, gratitude, or a place to lay his head. And we see him not reacting out of hurry or hustle when walking and teaching, but responding to the people at hand, their needs at hand, and the will of the Father. 

To do good work, to be capable of meaningful action, we enfold ourselves into that gospel story. We realize we are not machines with consistent output. Things like a walk or nap — rest, recreation, movement — can actually help us do our work better (and they’re ways to glorify God and enjoy him forever!). It’s then, as we walk the path of wisdom, that “quiet quitting” will provoke less outrage and more curiosity.

Yes, work is complicated. When it’s primarily housed within a story where our productivity and efficiency determines our worth (and where we measure our worth in monetary compensation), we’re bound to fail. When we see the limits of our humanity instead, as Jesus did in his human body, and, more importantly, when we see his finished work on the cross as the work he did for us that we could never do, we will begin to practice wisdom.

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