What is quiet quitting? How about productivity paranoia? Or career cushioning? Today, I want to talk about some essential vocabulary terms from 2022 that describe the way we work and our workplaces!
The Way We Work Is Changing
I’m self-employed right now. I work for myself – Thinking in English, the conversation club and Patreon, occasional proofreading, and a little bit of online teaching are currently my jobs!
This was a big change in my life at the end of 2022. The way that I work and organise my time is now completely different… I no longer have a boss (or in my case a supervising professor at a university) to tell me what to do and advise me that I’m making a mistake.
For me, I experienced major changes in the way I work in 2022. And I know I am not alone.
Across the world, and in a variety of different industries, work and workplace activity has changed. The location where people work, the flexibility of work hours, and the commitment people have to work are among the things that have started to change.
One key theme that had developed over the past few years is a growing divide or conflict between employers and employees over work expectations. After years of letting employees work flexibility at home or remotely, 2022 saw companies try to persuade their employees to return to their offices.
There is tension between workers who want hybrid work arrangements with more flexible hours, and employers who want a return to the traditional office-based work schedule. There were record numbers of people quitting jobs last year and increasing cases of work-related burnout and stress.
We are witnessing changes in workplace culture as they happen. And one of the best ways to understand these changes are through the new, or newly popular, vocabulary that developed in 2022.
I found these words in articles by the Washington Post and Economist magazine – (I’ll link the articles in the blog but both are behind paywalls). What I want to do is give a more thorough explanation of the vocabulary, their meanings, and usage to help you all improve your English and describe work better in your own words!
And if you enjoy this episode, I have a few very similar episodes available for my Patreon supporters – I’ll also leave links to them in the blog!
Vocabulary From the Changing Workplace
One of the most high-profile workplace trends and new vocabulary in 2022 was quiet quitting. There were articles all across the internet and media about quiet quitting, TikTok was full of videos of people discussing the trend, and Collins English Dictionary even included quiet quitting as one of its 2022 Words of the Year!
In the words of Collins dictionary, quiet quitting is the “practice of doing no more work than one is contractually obliged to do.” Another defintion I found online defined quiet quitting as “Doing the minimum requirements of one’s job and putting no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary.”
One of the strangest things about quiet quitting is that it doesn’t actually involve quitting your job – this is what we call a misnomer in English. Quiet quitters continue to work and collect their salary… but the way they work has changed!
In a Harvard Business Review article a few months ago, two professors from the USA tried to explain the idea of quiet quitting. They wrote that quiet quitters continue to work and do their primary job responsibilities – the work that they were hired to do in their contract. However, a quiet quitter is unwilling to do activities called citizenship behaviours.
What is a citizenship behaviour? Turning up to work early or staying late. Attending a meeting that is not in work hours. Volunteering to do extra projects or take on extra responsibilities. All of these things are examples of citizenship behaviour. They are not part of the job description, but many companies expect their employees to be dedicated and work harder than the advertised job.
Some countries, including Portugal and France, now have strong laws protecting the rights of workers. It is sometimes known as the right to disconnect – if your boss asks you to stay late or sends you emails after work hours, you shouldn’t have to do them. But in other countries, like the USA and Japan, work culture is not as protected. Your compnay may expect you to work incredibly long hours and do extra work even if you are not being paid.
This is why quiet quitting has become such a big topic. It is related to making a good work-life balance and ensuring your job is not your life!
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, millions of people around the world started to work from home. And for workers this often has a lot of advantages – no commute, less stressful work environment, and less distractions from work colleagues.
A lot of employees also say they feel more productive. According to some data I found in the Economist magazine, 87% of remote workers (so people who work from home) believe they were just as efficient, or even more efficient, at home.
So, workers believe that they can be very productive at home. What about bosses? Well… that same data suggested that only 12% of bosses had full confidence in their teams and employees when they were not in the office.
This is one of the key factors behind productivity paranoia. As our global economy weakens and recessions look likely, companies are becoming increasingly focused on productivity. Paranoia, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is an “unjustified suspicion or mistrust of other people or their actions.” Productivity paranoia is therefore a suspicion or worry about being productive.
There are two sides to productivity paranoia. A worker can be paranoid – scared of being seen as unproductive, inefficient, or lazy. And bosses can be paranoid – scared that their workers are not working hard enough or being productive enough out of the office.
There is reason for this. While productivity hit record levels in 2020 and early 2021, 2022 saw some of the lowest levels of economic productivity in history. With more people working from home, this has made it more difficult for managers and bosses to check on their employees progress – they can’t physically or visibly walk and look at some work. And this has led to bosses feeling anxious that their team is not doing enough at home.
Productivity paranoia can lead to a number of bad practices from bosses. Putting surveillance or tracking technology on computers and laptops is one example. Another example would be forcing employees back into their offices!
RTO, or return to office, was chosen by Glassdoor (a company that allows you to review jobs and workplaces) as its word of the year for 2022. There was good reason for this.
Fears of the pandemic and coronavirus forced companies to shut their offices and send employees home for months, even years. In 2022, companies started to recall those employees back into the cities and into the offices – either full time or in hybrid arrangements.
Elon Musk gave his employees an ultimatum – return to the office or lose your job, Other large corporations, banks, and companies similarly pushed their workforces to return.
Employees, however, are not always happy with RTO. People have got used to working from home, have moved further away from the city centre, and enjoy avoiding busy commutes. Employees seem to enjoy flexibility, and fear a return to office may cost them all their flexibility!
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After the pandemic, there were suggestions that workers would never return to the office, but this was not the case. While workers have returned to offices across the world, they are not necessarily returning as often as before.
A new pattern has developed: work at home on Mondays and Fridays, and go to the city Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Hence the term, TWaT city – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday city (it is also a curse word in British English… so don’t call someone it).
This trend of working part at home and part in the office is going to force cities to change and adapt. Restaurants, cafes, and bars in city centres will need to change staff and opening hours. Office buildings will also need to think of ways to deal with less usage – it is expensive to pay rent on a large office if people are only working there a few days a week.
On November 17th 2021 I released an episode on the Great Resignation – this was before Thinking in English was popular so don’t worry if you never listened to it! In a nutshell, the Great Resignation referred to record numbers of people resigning or quitting their jobs in search for something new or better. Apparently around 48 million people in the USA quit a job in 2021!
In the year after the Great Resignation, a related phenomenon occurred: boomerang employees. A boomerang is a curved piece of wood that returns to the thrower when thrown and was traditionally used by Australian Aboriginal peoples. A boomerang employee is an employee who returns to their original workplace after quitting.
In the past, companies have been reluctant to rehire past employees – they didn’t want to reword people for quitting the office. However, in a difficult labour market, boomerang employees can be quite useful. They already know about the work culture and need less training than completely new hires.
People may quit their job in search of better opportunities, but sometimes the best opportunity is actually with the company they quit. This… is the reason for boomerang employees!
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The final workplace word from 2022 I want to talk about is career cushioning. In the simplest terms, career cushioning could be defined as having a “plan B” … a backup plan for if you career goes wrong!
As we approach recessions and financial difficulties, companies are likely to struggle and need to layoff or fire employees. Career cushioning is a term used to describe preparing for an alternative job if you don’t like your current one or you fear layoffs!
Maybe you learn new skills – like taking language classes or computer coding courses to make yourself more employable in the future. Maybe you search for new jobs and apply for openings at more stable companies. Or maybe you start a side hustle – another way of making money separate to your main job! All of these are examples of career cushioning.
And career cushioning is incredibly important for a lot of workers today. A friend of mine cofounded a start-up company which became really popular during the pandemic – they gained hundreds of thousands of new customers during the first months of 2020 and hired hundreds of new employees. Now the company has lost most of those new customers and they have had to layoff many employees.
This is not a unique story – it has happened to people all across the world as companies struggle to adjust to the post-Covid world. Career cushioning is about having a backup plan, so that if something goes wrong and you lose your job, you have the skills, plans, or finances to stay successful!
From quiet quitting to career cushioning, 2022 saw the emergence of a lot of new workplace vocabulary. Most of this vocabulary was related to the changing way we work – as companies struggle to adapt to the impact of remote working and the changing desires of employees!
What do you think? Which of these six words did you find most relevant to yourself? Are there any words I missed from my list?