November 4, 2022
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A couple of months ago, I wrote about quiet quitting and made some people mad (other people were happy, FWIW). That wasn’t necessarily my intention because “quiet quitting,” generally speaking, is a good idea (with a terrible name). People can do their jobs well and then close their laptops at the end of the day so they can do other things that aren’t work. “Quiet quitting” as a creature of social media, on the other hand, is reductive, divisive, and a little silly.
Generally speaking, the social media “quiet quitting” makes many people mad because they understand it to mean that people were either a) choosing to be lazy or b) actually quitting their jobs. It’s repulsive, the thinking goes, that some people were tired of working and didn’t feel like doing it anymore. People understandably take pride in their work and get a lot of fulfillment from it. But this is America, after all, and finding middle ground is for losers. So lots of us gave more of ourselves to work than we had to offer—we lived our lives for many years like this. Decades, even. As accountants, you know this. As advisors to entrepreneurs, you know this.
Then the pandemic forced countless people to reassess the role of work in their lives, and what they came up with is: I can do what’s expected of me, and that’s enough. But even that idea makes a fair number of people mad. The notion that anyone would be satisfied by “doing the bare minimum” suggests that they are unmotivated and not a desirable employee.
But there’s a big difference between phoning it in—what “quiet quitting” used to be called—and doing your job and having boundaries. Whether work is at the center of one’s life is another matter entirely, and that’s what “quiet quitting” is supposed to be about. Which is fine, by the way. If people choose to put work at the center of their lives, that’s their choice; but ideally, they’d make this choice with their eyes open and not try to impose it on anyone else.
Anyway, none of this is new. Derek Thompson wrote recently:
As a workplace phenomenon, workers’ mild disengagement is about as novel as cubicles, lunch breaks, and bleary-eyed colleagues stopping by your workstation to mutter, “Mondays, amirite?” What the kids are now calling “quiet quitting” was, in previous and simpler decades, simply known as “having a job.”
But now, with a looming recession and businesses preparing with layoffs and other cost-cutting, Business Insider has published a quiet quitting obituary. Still, it allows that the aftereffects will stick for some:
Freed temporarily from the shackles of hustle culture, millions of Americans have glimpsed a new way of ordering their lives. “I don’t think that people can forget this reevaluation that they’ve done,” Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture at the consultancy Culture Partners, told me. “We’re never going back to pre-pandemic norms.”
I don’t know if “quiet quitting,” the old work trend given new life on social media with annoying alliteration will have a lasting impact on our attitudes about work. But if “quiet quitting” the idea that gets people to realign the role of work in their lives to something more sustainable actually takes hold, all the hate mail will be worth it.
People are worried about accountants
The predominant worry about accounting right now is that there aren’t enough people doing it. Why aren’t people interested in accounting? Some say it’s because it’s boring. Some say it’s because the pay is crap. Some say it’s because they’re overworked. Some people say there’s simply too much work. Some say it’s because it’s too difficult to become a CPA. Some people say there are better opportunities out there. And so on and so forth.
But why is accounting important in the first place? This question also has many potential answers, but maybe you aren’t familiar with some of the more weighty reasons:
Capitalism can’t function without a healthy system of accounting. The breakthrough from feudalism to capitalism in Renaissance and Reformation Europe was only made possible by the emergence of professional accountants. And a dearth of accountants — or a dearth of respect for accountants — has spelled trouble ever since. “Over and over again,” Jacob Soll wrote in his fascinating history of accounting, “The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Making and Breaking of Nations,” “good accounting practices have produced the levels of trust necessary to fund stable governments and vital capitalist societies, and poor accounting and its attendant lack of accountability have led to financial chaos, economic crimes, civil unrest and worse.”
It probably isn’t news to most accountants that their work is taken for granted. However, the idea that it’s critical to the rise and fall of empires may be new to you. Read Jacob Soll’s book and you’ll have fun at your next dinner party telling people just how important your work really is.
At the outset, though, most of us who pursued this field were probably being practical—steady work, decent living, and whatnot. You know, stuff the profession has been marketing for years. But what if this “saving capitalism” approach gets some traction? I’ll be excited to see the recruiting videos about how accountants protect us from societal collapse.
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