Industry Trends

Is Quiet Quitting the Right Amount of Work?

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
toxic workplaces

August 25, 2022

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Quiet quitting

Occasionally around here, we’ll discuss caring too much about work. While it’s been a widespread problem in American work culture more recently, it’s been a real problem in the accounting profession for a long time. I remember listening to people brag about the hours they billed, the sleep they didn’t get, the lives they didn’t have. They sincerely believed they were cool for this.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been many people pushing back on the whole going-above-and-beyond-HUSTLE-productivity thing. It has caught on, especially with younger millennial and Gen Z workers, and it’s been exhaustively documented on—where else—TikTok. 

Not taking your job too seriously has a new name: quiet quitting.

The phrase is generating millions of views on TikTok as some young professionals reject the idea of going above and beyond in their careers, labeling their lesser enthusiasm a form of “quitting.” It isn’t about getting off the company payroll, these employees say. In fact, the idea is to stay on it—but focus your time on the things you do outside of the office.

Quiet quitting might be the thing that gets me on TikTok. Might be.

As I read this article, the quotes from workers made complete sense to me.

“I still work just as hard. I still get just as much accomplished. I just don’t stress and internally rip myself to shreds.”

And:

“I took a step back and said, ‘I’m just going to work the hours I’m supposed to work, that I’m really getting paid to work,’”

And:

“I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more.”

Ok, that last one isn’t in there, but you get the idea. What’s a little weird is that the real quotes in the article can be summed up by: “I go to work, do my work, and at the end of the workday, I stop working,” and that somehow… isn’t enough? That it’s equivalent to slacking.

Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace and well-being research, said workers’ descriptions of “quiet quitting” align with a large group of survey respondents that he classifies as “not engaged”—those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else. More than half of workers surveyed by Gallup who were born after 1989—54%—fall into this category.

Again, I’m confused. If the “minimum required” isn’t enough, then what’s enough? The whole reason we got into this toxic culture of overwork in the first place was that people kept thinking that all they were doing was NEVER enough. We were all chasing approval from work, and work would never give it to us. Work doesn’t care about your dignity, your family and friends, or your health. Work assumes we always have more to give. 

Rather than hearing people brag about how much they work, isn’t it nice to hear people bragging about the boundaries they set around work? Yes. It is.

Everything’s older

A widely circulated statistic from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) claims that 75% of its members would be eligible for retirement in 2020. It’s 2022 now, and while it’s common knowledge that there aren’t enough accountants, it’s not evident that the retirement wave has hit yet. 

The explanation for that is complicated, but a recent column by Derek Thompson tries to make sense of why virtually every field is full of not-ready-to-retire folks:

As older workers remain in advanced positions in politics and business, younger workers who would have ascended the ranks in previous decades are getting stuck in the purgatory of upper-middle management.

If one wanted to frame things more generously, one could say that declining ageism has allowed older Americans to stay in jobs that they really like and don’t want to leave. These folks could retire, but they love their work and draw an enormous amount of pride from their careers.

This certainly explains part of the reason why we haven’t seen CPAs retiring in droves. Many still enjoy the intellectual challenge, collaborating with colleagues and clients, and you can’t discount having a reason to get up in the morning. Also, the money. 

And while it’s obvious that the people at the top of their respective arenas are remarkably old, whose cognitive abilities might be slipping, that doesn’t really seem to be the case in accounting. For starters, I don’t even know who you’d designate as being at the top of the field. There are countless people doing innovative and exciting things that won’t be found on an influencer list. Likewise, if many older practitioners continue to work, you have to imagine that many of their older clients are continuing to work too. Over the last several years, the aging elite in the profession (if there even is one) hasn’t stopped younger accountants from starting firms to serve new and growing businesses.  

So yes, accounting, like everything else, is older. And in some ways, that’s ok. Still, mortality will have its way eventually. 

IRS conspiracy theories

The Internal Revenue Service, as has been noted, is not a well-oiled machine. This remains true despite the fact, as I’m fond of saying, that it’s responsible for overseeing the financing of the largest, most complex government of the world’s largest, most complex economy. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act appropriated a lot of money to the IRS to shore things up. That should be good news if you’re an accountant or a small business that has to work with the agency on anything. No one’s asking you to get excited about it. But the possibility that, in the near future, the IRS will answer the phone in a timely fashion is a good thing.

Still, while the IRS has endured endless scapegoating for decades from opportunistic bad actors, the mere fact that the IRS will have more money to use has set off a torrent of laughable conspiracy theories about “a shadow army” of heavily armed agents auditing every nickel earned by ordinary people. 

John Koskinen, who served as I.R.S. commissioner in the Obama and Trump administrations, said that he thought the attacks on the agency […] were irresponsible and that he worried that they could lead to violence against members of the agency. He suggested that the only taxpayers who would end up having to pay more were those who were not paying their taxes, and said that agents do not wield their weapons without good reason.

“The idea that the I.R.S. is going to show up and audit all sorts of people for the fun of it are [sic] either ignoring reality or just don’t know how the I.R.S. operates,” Mr. Koskinen said. “Honest taxpayers, who are the vast majority, aren’t going to be bothered at all.”

Right. Does anyone really believe that the federal government agency that can’t get its scanners in order will somehow orchestrate nationwide audits of every mom ‘n’ pop business in the country? Come on.

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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