The Scumbag Economy

Ed Zitron 5 min read

Got a Quiet Quitting problem? Don’t worry. According to the Wall Street Journal, you can hire a $10,000-a-day cretin to “goose morale, foster connection, boost buy-in and make various other jargon-studded dreams come true.” And because it’s another  Borcher Scorcher, there is no further detail about what this person does, or what it is he charges for, beyond “[running] rousing workshops full of motivational mnemonics,” a sentence that makes no sense, one that should be followed with a question of “what in the god damn world are you talking about?”

The piece generally focuses on how companies are dealing with Quiet Quitting, by which I mean the Wall Street Journal is guiding companies on how to do anything other than what would actually help:

Still others offer to set up employee-driven charitable campaigns, using company dollars, to make people feel better about where they work.

Rising Team, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup that sells camaraderie-building software designed to reduce quitting (quiet or otherwise), just closed a second venture-capital round, bringing total investments to $6 million.

For human-resources leaders, the pitches can seem endless.

Priti Patel, chief people officer at G2, a technology marketplace, says she gets daily emails about solving burnout and quiet quitting.

“I don’t even count anymore,” she says.

As I’ve said, the real solution to Quiet Quitting (or any bad business) is managerial. If someone is doing exactly what they are meant to at work, that’s good. If they do more, you should be grateful. If you need them to be more, you should be finding a way to incentivize them, ideally through paying them more or making their lives better. While companies may argue that they “can’t afford” to pay people more - and that may be the case! - they should also not be surprised when people do only what they’re told or have to do, and be grateful that they have not Normal Volume Quit the job in question.

The reason that the idea of a “quiet quitting consultant” or “HR expert” is so alluring to businesspeople that want to deal with this problem is that it gives the illusion of a solution without having to make any real changes. “Employee-driven charitable campaigns” are not going to help someone whois stressed because they have too much work to do, have been burned out by a terrible manager, or who hates their job because doing it sucks. The Wall Street Journal claims that “less experienced consultants advertise youth as an advantage, saying they can get through to millennials and Gen Z” specifically so that their bird-brained manager readership can smile, nod and not experience a moment of introspection, despite millennials and Gen Z also wanting more money and better working conditions.

And that’s the problem. Reporters are writing comfortable fairy tales for a management sect that wants to sustain the status quo perpetually, all while finding new and inventive ways to empower the powerful and enrich the already wealthy. Despite Borchers’ title and the opening body of the piece, there is no actual analysis of what these consultants do, only the validation that these consultants exist, that you can contact them, and that they’re open for business.

That’s because these consultants are playing the same game that the Journal’s workplace section has been for a year - the deliberate obfuscation and convolution of problems that have relatively straightforward solutions. I’ve been running a consultancy-based business for years, and I know that there are an alarming amount of people who want to be sold ideas that confirm their biases rather than do the thing they want to do and I believe that the Journal - especially Borchers - participates in the same thing.

If the Journal had a single ounce of class, they would have written this piece with real venom, a scathing evisceration of overpaid consultants and the ideas - like Quiet Quitting - that they make money off of. Instead, Borchers is no better than someone charging $10,000 a day to “fix” Quiet Quitting - a person espousing ideas that tell rich people what they want to hear as a means of extracting capital in some form. I’m not arguing that he’s on the take - I am sure Callum is a nice person with no malevolent intent - but I imagine his weekly column is well-trafficked by the worst kind of wealthy shit-heel, with the crucial remit that absolutely no responsibility is laid at the feet of the powerful for anything that’s happened in the last three years.

If “Quiet Quitting” is real, and people are disengaged from their work and not going the extra mile, it’s probably because they’ve watched millions of people die from a pandemic, all while living in crushing fear that they themselves might day,  while watching the majority of aid go to companies (companies that then posted record profits, none of which seemed actually to trickle down to the majority of people. Workers have been told they’re demanding for wanting to work from home, entitled for wanting better pay and seeking it out through other employment, and then lazy for feeling burned out as every new day in the world produces some new macro-economic or social nightmare. And yet if you were to read the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the workplace, you would think that every worker is some kind of oafish, workshy cartoon character.

All of this happened while an entirely different part of the media seized upon the opportunity to blindly cover the cryptocurrency industry as prices skyrocketed in a nakedly-rigged system. When people felt hope laced with desperation, dreaming of leaving the house and having a “normal” life again, the media helped push people toward making speculative investments in manipulated, unregulated securities. The suffering that these people have faced is hard to quantify, but it’s important to understand that so much of retail crypto investing came from people that just wanted to get ahead, people who have now seen that the world is deeply unfair and that wealth generation isn’t a case of “working hard” but “getting lucky.”

While I’m not saying every burned-out worker is a penniless victim of cryptocurrency, I am saying there has never been a more graphic, merciless vision of how deeply rigged and unfair the world is in the last two or three years. Office workers seemed as if they’d have a chance at a better work/life balance, and for years the news has done everything it can to try and attack remote work based on dogma and flimflam. When workers began to quit their jobs and take their business - the business of providing labor for money - elsewhere, they were accused of a lack of loyalty, and for participating in a pandemic-level “great resignation.” Leaders accused workers of “staying at home in their pajamas” with no justification, all while the companies they worked for made large amounts of money.

And when they were done making money, they kicked the same workers out the front door, claiming that “tough times required tough decisions and efficiency,” a thing that didn’t seem to matter when it came to remote work, or over-hiring to scoop up profits, or massive marketing spends.

I’m not trying to be unnecessarily dour, I’m just sick and tired of the confusion from businesses about why the workforce may be depressed. While businesses may have received significant relief from COVID, immediately followed by a legendary year of profits, regular people existed in an alternate universe where their money didn’t go as far and things were harder to find. Want to know why people are “quiet quitting”? It’s probably because working for you sucks, and recent world history has shown that the people who work hard are not the same ones that succeed.

Modern society has adulation for the CEO but little respect for the people that actually do the work.

If you want a solution to “Quiet Quitting,” or employee engagement, or whatever lame duck term you’ve adopted, it’s quite simple: if you want people to work hard you should pay them and treat them well. Sadly, this doesn’t make for great headlines, and is precisely the opposite of what most bosses want to hear, because it requires them to take responsibility for the people who work for them. Acknowledging that many of these problems are solved by a combination of empathy and cold hard cash does not make for a sizzling headline, a gripping trend or a moral panic you can turn into 49 different newsletters. If “people don’t want to work hard,” ask them why. If people “aren’t going above and beyond,” ask them what it would take to make them, and make it clear that’s not a threat.

Or don’t, and stop complaining.

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