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Why Companies Secretly Love Quiet Quitting

Quiet quitting has been quite the story this year. It’s known by various terms, of course. Mailing it in. Phoning it in. Corporate coasting. Acting your wage. Reverse hustle. Going through the motions. Whatever the zeitgeist wants to call it, I believe that a good amount of the way we talk about it is completely wrong. I keep reading that quiet quitting is about productivity, requirements, and metrics, but it’s not. It’s a story of ambiguity, identity, and rejection.


It’s a human story. It’s something we all do, to some extent, everyday. In fact, quiet quitting (or at least shades of it) is the byproduct of white collar work itself. The office needs the unspoken system that allows quiet quitting, otherwise the whole enterprise wouldn’t function. It’s one part of the checks and balances that keep people coming to work every day. Understanding why it exists and how it actually works can help us be better bosses, better employees, and live happier lives.


To convince you of this, we’re going to go on a bit of a journey. We’ll have to deconstruct some things you thought were true, we’ll have to give names to strange human behavior, and we’ll have to define what a unit of white collar work even is.


Of course, you have to trust that I know what I’m talking about. The good news is that I’ve spent over 20 years in various industries and organizations. From working with unions, to being employed by the government. From fancy offices to job site trailers. I’ve done engineering, marketing, banking, construction management, business strategy, and consulting. From big cities to small towns, with Fortune 100 companies and startups. I’ve been an employee and a manager. I’ve coached executives and the rank and file.


I’ve seen the machine from inside and out, and I’ve lived to tell this tale.

The Workplace Bazaar


The first thing we need to get clear on? Work is a marketplace where employees are buying and selling value with their bosses/companies, 24/7.


Let’s start with an analogy.


Say someone was trying to sell a ticket to a concert they couldn’t attend. They paid $30 for the ticket. If they are offered anything below $20, they’ll just give it to one of their friends. On the other end of the spectrum, the maximum they’d take is infinity dollars.


Now, let’s say you want those tickets. You would love to have them for free, but you won’t go above $100. So, the only way these tickets get sold to you is if the final price is somewhere between $20 (the lower bound) and $100 (the upper bound). If the price ends up closer to $20, you benefit; closer to $100, the seller benefits.


Let’s say you end up getting the ticket for $50. I’m guessing you’d consider that a win because it was $50 less than you would’ve paid. But would you still consider it a win if I told you that you left $30 on the table; that you could have spent less for the thing you agreed to pay more for?


Conversely, for the seller, would they still consider getting $50 a win if they found out they could have gotten $100?


A deal loses a bit of its sparkle if you were to find out what the real threshold was, doesn’t it? But that’s not how this transaction would work. No side is going to openly share their own threshold.


The lesson here is that the value of the ticket is what you paid for it, not what you could have paid. For the seller, the value of the ticket is what they got, not what they could have got.


This idea is key in understanding the marketplace of work.


Yes, the relationship between employers and employees is a marketplace, because there is something companies and bosses can offer that an employee wants (salary, benefits, opportunity, prestige, status, access, flexibility, experience, community, etc.), and there is something a prospective employee can offer that companies and bosses want (time, energy, know-how, leadership, potential, output, results, etc). Each side wants to maximize what it gets while not feeling like they’ve “overspent.”


For the most part, the value of the work you provide the company is worth as much or more to them than what they actually pay you in salary & benefits. The salary & benefits you get are worth as much or more to you than the time and energy you put in to get them. It’s Capitalism 101.


There are two important drivers that usually dictate where on a spectrum a price, or an agreement, lands in any marketplace:


Market factors. Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? Or, who has leverage in any given moment? For example, in the housing market interest rates, inventory, and the state of the economy usually give leverage to either the buyer or the seller.


At work, who has more leverage in how you spend your time? Are you a unicorn at what you do or are you a dime a dozen? Do you have the trust of your superiors or do they watch you like a hawk? Do you know company secrets? Does your client love you, or are they underwhelmed? Do you feel like you are constantly competing with your colleagues?


Personal desires/values. In the ticket example, outside of how the market values it, maybe the musician is someone you were dying to see. Or maybe you want the ticket because your crush was at the show. Or maybe there was a business opportunity inside. Conversely, maybe the seller is short on time and needs to get the deal done quickly, or maybe they need the cash to pay for gas.


In the office, maybe you love the mission or the money. Maybe you love every opportunity you’re getting, and the camaraderie and the growth and the learning. Maybe you feel like you would do this job for $20,000 less. Or maybe you’re at this job because it provides you a whole lot of free time to work on your hobbies, and no one bothers you about it. Or maybe… it’s just a paycheck and you need to eat.


Typically, a buyer or seller isn’t going to tip their hand on their personal desires if that would give leverage to the other party.


It’s with this backdrop that we can try to define what you owe your employer and what your employer owes you in the game that’s played between you not losing your job, and you not leaving your job.


I say “game,” because unlike the ticket analogy, which was a one-time transaction, work is an ongoing exchange called a conditional relationship between you and your boss/employer.


Earlier I had said that in a negotiation no side is going to openly share their own threshold. But, in any relationship, the longer you get to know someone, the more you learn their tendencies and thresholds. (Imagine negotiating a ticket sale with the same person 50 or 100 times). Conversely, the longer you’re with someone, the greater chance their thresholds may change due to personal desires or outside factors. (Imagine negotiating a ticket sale with the same person in your 20’s, 30’s or 60’s. How might thresholds change?)


The key here is that at work—unlike a concert ticket sale—expectations are always fluctuating, forcing both parties to constantly recalibrate their side of the ledger if they want to stay in the relationship.


This is where actual “work” comes in.


If it was hard enough to ascribe the worth of a static ticket that already had a face value in dollars written on it, imagine trying to define what “20 units”, “100 units” or “face value” of work even is?


But we have to try.


Let’s ignore the job hunt process, since that’s its own game of leverage and negotiations. I want to stick to the idea of already having a job, and the two questions every employee asks themselves everyday, consciously or subconsciously:

  • What is it costing me for my company to deem me as valuable?

  • What is it costing me to stay loyal to my company?


Here are the four things we need to answer in work-speak in order to move forward:

  1. What is a unit value of work?

  2. What impacts the size of the gap between the least amount of work an employer expects and the most an employee will do?

  3. How are upper and lower bounds defined?

  4. How do those bounds move over time?

Let’s go through this step by step.

What Is A Unit Of Work?

For the concert ticket we know that it was valued in money, and a unit of that money was a dollar. For a company to keep selling you the “ticket” of a salary, you have to “pay” in some form of work.


We’d probably all agree that to do work, you have to enact a verb (thinking, typing, negotiating, creating, milling, sewing, etc.) over a period of time, which eventually changes the state of something (a car, a balance sheet, a strategy, a status report, a plot of land, a piece of software, an opinion, a sentiment, etc.), hopefully resulting in a favorable position for your company (increased profit, additional clients, more inventory, less liabilities, greater prestige, etc.).


Contributions (inputs/verbs) over time create something (outputs/nouns) that presumably leads to a desired company reality (success/nouns).


Intuitively, this is much easier to imagine in a blue collar example because the input is directly related to the output and the success. For example, time spent milling holes, cleaning rooms or plucking apples leads to a bunch of holes milled, rooms cleaned or apples plucked, which are definitive examples of how a company is measuring an employee’s success.


Inputs are clear and outputs are tangible.


This means that the gap between how much work an employer expects and the most you’re willing to do is much narrower in the blue collar world because—and this is critical—the market value of a cleaned room and how long it takes to clean it is easily benchmarked, measured, and taught. There is not much wiggle room.


This is a far cry from the complex and flim flam world of office work where, in addition to some inputs and outputs, “getting the job done” depends on your ability to persuade and collaborate, and “doing a good job” depends on someone else’s judgment and perception.


Therefore, value becomes arguable. To do work in the modern world is to campaign that you have done it.


This is where the fun begins.


Two important side notes and one small digression before we go deeper.


One, please know that I do not deem blue collar work any less taxing, intelligent, skilled, or noble than white collar work. Quite the contrary, actually. Blue collar work built modern civilization. If plumbers quit tomorrow, society collapses. If marketers quit tomorrow, we’d be fine, if not measurably happier. I’ve spent the majority of my white collar career in companies that work directly with the trades and blue collar workers. I prefer it.


Two, there are some white collar jobs that have similar clarity on inputs (and therefore have value tied closely to a specific verb) to most blue collar jobs—graphic designers and coders, for instance. The main difference between the collar hues? There is likely more creative agency—and less physical exertion—in the expression of the white collar verb.


Three, I have a theory. The closer your job title is to the verb it represents, the better you have to be at the thing. The further your job title is to the verb it represents, the better you have to be at dealing with people. (Think: welder vs. managing director). But these are ideas to extrapolate on another day.

What Is A Unit Of Work In The White Collar World?


Where blue collar work has a clear definition of the inputs that lead to a specific outcome, white collar work does not.


Try it. What is input in an office job?


Time sitting at your desk?

Time mashing on a keyboard?

Time in a meeting?

Time on the phone?

Time laughing at a co-worker’s jokes?

Time being available?

Time being active on Slack?

Time “putting that strategy together”?

Time positioning yourself favorably with your boss?

Time walking around the office with purpose?


For blue collar input, I can see that you’re doing work. For white collar input, I can only see that you're doing something. There’s a big difference.


Thinking about a problem looks awfully similar to thinking about your fantasy football team. Collaborating looks a lot like shooting the shit.


It’s part of the reason why, on average, white collar workers are only doing about 3 hours of useful work a day. Being at work (the noun) is not the same thing as doing work (the verb), but it sure seems like the same thing most of the time.


What about output/outcomes?


Usually there is an outcome that is aimed for, of which numerous inputs could get you there, but this outcome is either:

  • Lofty, pot riddled with dependencies, and derailed by unknowns and unforeseens far out of anyone’s control—a whole bunch of input/output might not lead to any real progress

  • In the hands of one person’s ultimate opinion, where barely any input can get you the result you wanted if you can find quick ways to change someone’s mind

Crucially, this ever-changing landscape includes people. Lots of people. It would be great if all these humans rowed in the same direction, but no, success relies on the sentiments of, and interactions between, folks of various backgrounds, value systems, motivations, and communication styles bundled under some corporate mission, or departmental charge, that only 34% of the folks involved marginally care about at any given time.


And yet, in this murky romper room of corporate expectations employees must find ways to provide value in the eyes of their boss and peers. Some will show you the slide decks they’ve created. Others will circle client satisfaction. Some will talk about how they “just got it done,” while others will point to “how much they got done” even though they didn’t get it done. Others will chatter about how they did the best they could. Some will go on and on about 12-hour days, or how they moved the needle on this one specific thing, or how they kept morale high. Others will highlight the bottom line, or simply be a fan favorite of someone important.


The issue here is currency.


Since the office is part Turkish bazaar, part swap meet, and part duty-free zone at an airport, it accepts employee contributions (or “work”) in all kinds of forms or combinations: input, output, outcomes, perception, impact, teamwork, enthusiasm, etc. Further, each type of contribution has its own currency, and therefore, its own value, to your boss.


This, unsurprisingly, leads to quite the marketplace.


Here's what I mean.


Let’s say as an employee you've built up a store of various "contribution currencies" over a period of time. And let's say that the combined value of all those contribution currencies equals some amount of “work points" in your boss's mind. "Work points" being a representation of the sentiment your boss has of you and your ability to do your job.


It's like after a multi-country trip, you go to the currency exchange at the airport to trade all the foreign cash you have back into your home currency. You want to know what all these strange coins and bills are worth to you, practically speaking. Same idea in the office except here, you're trading various contribution currencies for work points; and it's work points that really define your worth.


Naturally, there is a minimum amount of work points you need to earn in order to not be fired. Above that baseline, the more you earn the better opinion your boss has of you, and you can continue getting the things you want out of your job.


To summarize: as an employee, you accrue work points by trading distinct currencies of contribution (like input, output, outcomes, collaboration) that your boss accepts explicitly or implicitly.


That would be fine if there was a publicly accepted exchange rate between each currency and the work points they’re worth, but you probably sensed the big conundrum: there isn't one.


This leads to two big problems.

  1. Out of the blue, your boss might demand additional currencies from you in order to get the same work points you're getting now

  2. The exchange rate of any single currency does not remain uniform across a company or even across a team

Here's how those play out. Let's say that in your current situation, you’ve learned that you can “pay” 16 “input yen” and 23 “output liras” to get 15 work points and a “Great job!” added to your ledger by your boss.


But then your boss gets a bee in their bonnet about a particular thing and suddenly, to get the same amount of work points, you have to “pay” what you were paying plus an additional 6 “collaboration rupees” and 18 “time at your desk” dinars.


Or, say you get a new boss who doesn’t add any new currency requirements, but just wants more of what you had been doing, so that suddenly, in order for you to get the same pat on the back and 15 work points to your name, you have to up your input yen by 9 and your output lira by 12.


This happens. All. The. Time.


It happens between colleagues, between teams, and between bosses and employees. Essentially, certain currencies get devalued, while others explode in value, depending on who’s defining the impact you make, and how much of a say you have in shaping that interpretation.


It would be like one minute someone accepting your payment for the $20 ticket in 15 euros and 300 Mexican pesos, but the next minute saying the $20 ticket is now going to cost you 18 euros, 500 Mexican pesos and 90 Thai baht.


What's more, each contribution currency takes different amounts of time to accrue. Some might take seconds, others might be hours. And the cherry on top? The rates of accrual even for the same exact currency, will differ between employees. Maybe it takes you two hours to build up 10 output liras (a finished presentation, say), but it only takes your co-worker one hour to do so. This leads to the situation where the time it took you to build the requisite contribution currencies for 10 work points, might be twice as long as your compatriot.


Eesh.


When inputs are myriad, outputs are arguable, and success is arbitrary, you create a universe of nuance and ambiguity held together by the matter everyone can see (job descriptions, 5-year goals, deliverables, Slack messages, emails, meetings, presentations) and the dark matter of unwritten rules, politics, whims, and influence that they can’t—but know is there.


In this environment, people are as concerned with being valued for their contributions as they are fearful of being viewed as a sucker for working "too hard" compared to their colleagues.


In short, organizational hubris, group dynamics, and human nature render all white collar work “a shit show.” It’s by design.


It’s why a look inside a single office can find some people laboring under time-consuming, Sisyphean loads, while others cloak themselves in a cocoon of perceived busy-ness, and all of them are valued equally.


In this wild world, exactly how are you supposed to define how much needs to be done to keep your job, and how much of it is overkill? Well, we’re going to try to add these upper and lower layers on our baklava of work and see how it tastes.

What’s Out Of Bounds?


A good friend of mine told me a story that sticks with me to this day about what happened when he became a junior partner at one of the “Big 4” accounting firms. He and his newly minted cohort were brought into a room for their baptism into what being a partner was all about. To kick off the meeting, a senior partner said, “Congratulations on this achievement. You’ve earned it. Moving forward, if you want to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we’ll take it. It’s up to you to figure out how not to do that.”


This statement merely establishes one of the four bounds that exist in the marketplace of work. It’s the equivalent to the seller of the concert ticket being willing to take infinity dollars for it.


As a reminder, here were the four bounds for the ticket:


$0 - The least the buyer wants to pay

$20 - The least the seller will take

$100 - The most the buyer will pay

$Infinity - The most the seller will take


We can easily identify the $0- and $infinity-equivalent bounds for a white collar work example without needing to define what work is because the first multiplies by zero, and the other, by infinity.


0 hours/effort - The least an employee wishes they could do - Fantasy Land

$20 Equivalent of hours/effort - TBD

$100 Equivalent of hours/effort - TBD

24/7 hours/effort - The most an employer wishes they could get - Psycho Partner From Above


How, then, do we establish the least you need to do without being fired, and the most you would do before you burnt out? What are the $20 and $100 equivalents in work points?


The lower threshold, we know, has been dubbed “quiet quitting.” We’ll get to it, but first let’s name the upper bound too. What do we call the person who is addicted to work and hasn’t learned to say “no”? Or the person so drunk off corporate Kool-Aid and kumbaya that they can’t see the nervous breakdown they’re careening towards. Self-induced Stockholm Syndrome? What about “Dogged Desperation”? Let’s go with that.


Quiet Quitting and Dogged Desperation. Now, those are how an employee would describe what they need to do to satisfy those bounds, but they’re not how an employer describes them.


This is paramount to understand.

Minimum & Maximum


We have to remind ourselves who decides the bounds that the work agreement operates within.


In the ticket example, it was the seller who set the lower limit of what they would take, and it was the buyer who set the upper limit of what they would be willing to pay.


$20 - The least the seller will take

$100 - The most the buyer will pay


In the office, it’s up to the employer to set the minimum threshold of what they will accept, and it’s up to the employee to set the upper bound of what they are willing to do.


$20 Equivalent - The least the employer will accept

$100 Equivalent - The most an employee will do


There is something big that immediately pops out here. Can you see it?


On the lower end of things, for someone to continue to have a job, they are—by definition—meeting or staying above the minimum threshold of what the company expects. Let’s say it was 20 work points.


20 work points - The least the employer will accept


What the employee actually does to accrue those work points can—as we’ve described above—be any number of things.


It’s important to remember that “quiet quitting” is an internal label employees give themselves regarding their own effort. It is decoupled from the value they bring the company. For an employer to deem the work of a self-identified “quiet quitter” as adequate, it all depends on the currencies an employer takes, and on the exchange rates they have set.


In other words: any outrage over people coasting or not doing more should be aimed at the inability of companies to patrol and enforce their lower bound. It’s not the employee’s fault.


Now, I know some people might want to argue that employees should want to do more than the “bare minimum,” either because of personal pride, “work ethic,” or fairness to their colleagues. However, I would argue (in fact, I already have) that at work we are all doing the bare minimum to fulfill two thresholds: our own opinion of ourselves, and the opinion of others we deem important. Once both thresholds are reached, we stop! There is no “above and beyond.”


No animal voluntarily wastes its resources for no reason.


Lions do not go for jogs.


Employees do not do “free” work.


They do what they need to do to get the things they want: self-respect, skills, knowledge, money, respect, adoration, safety, camaraderie, etc.


Quiet quitting is merely an employee exploiting the fact that value can be paid in more than one currency. They have identified the smallest amount of time and effort that gives them enough currency to reach the threshold of “work points” that satisfies both their own work goals and their boss’s definition of adequacy.


They’ve learned that it’s not about measurable effort, it’s about perceived impact.


Optics is just as important as output.


The problem with the white collar world is that organizations want dynamic thinkers and adaptability more than ever, but then get frustrated when these versatile people use their skills to their advantage.


(Interestingly enough there’s a group at Cambridge that’s been looking at the question: “How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?” They found that for most groups of workers there was little variation in wellbeing between those who worked 1-8 hours a week compared to those who worked 44-48 hours per week. Or in other words, our addiction to work is making us miserable.)

Protecting Your Utmost


When you separate an employee’s effort from the impact they provide the business, you can quickly see that while there is a minimum they have to expend for their work to be judged as “adequate,” there is also a minimum amount of effort needed to build enough currency for their work to be deemed “great.” What would you call this person? A “Quiet Genius”? “Silent Assassin”? “Kiss Ass?” “SOB?” Someone who works smarter, not harder?


The crux of the matter here is that the effort you’d have to put in to get enough work points to be called a “great worker” is certainly more than you would expend for mere satisfactory work—but it’s also less than your utmost.


This is what drives bosses crazy, and might make them feel even rejected or used; the notion that they (the leaders) have been valuing, and possibly rewarding work that the employee admits is less than he/she could give.


But like the ticket example above, a boss doesn’t get an employee’s utmost; they get what they themselves are willing to accept in work points. The upper limit of what an employee will give, however, is set by the employee; but this limit is not measured in work points, it’s tracked in time and effort (let’s say “input yen”).


It’s just how the marketplace is set up. It’s what keeps it fair.


20 work points - The least the employer will accept

100 input yen - The most an employee will do


One thing to highlight about the decoupling between effort and impact is how it can affect those in dogged desperation, but in the negative! Just because you are grinding yourself to the bone, putting in hour after hour (100 input yen), doesn’t mean you will automatically be deemed to have done great work. That depends on how your boss values the currency you’re paying in, and how many work points that equates to.


I am sure more than some of you have felt like you have killed yourselves at a job but never got the recognition you deserve, or the sense that you had any room to advance. Or, perhaps your boss thinks that you are doing more than you need to, but like the senior partner at the Big 4 accounting firm, they’ll take it. Maybe you just enjoy overpaying for work points, they think.


Either way, it’s possible that one person’s quiet quitting might earn more work points than someone else’s dogged desperation. And it’s possible that someone’s dogged desperation doesn’t earn them enough work points to be in their boss’s good graces.


This is why employees are so protective of their time.


If your boss accepts six different currencies for the work points you want, you're going to focus your attention on the currencies that take you the least amount of time to get.


Remember, someone dubbing themselves a quiet quitter is them admitting that they could be giving more energy, time, or attention. It is not them openly admitting that they should be valued any less.


Quiet quitting can only exist when there is a gap between the energy/time it actually took you to build currency to trade for adequate work points, and the amount of energy/time that your boss/company perceived it should have taken to acquire them.


So every employee has a hidden potential energy reserve that the company is not getting, but would love to quantify and exploit.


Yes, everyone. Don’t believe me?


How would you answer the question: What’s your bandwidth like?


You’d probably say, “It depends on who’s asking.” Why? Because the only reason someone is asking is because they want to give you more stuff to do. It's like a ticket seller asking you to tell them what is the most you’re willing to pay for the ticket.


You’re not just going to bend the knee all willy-nilly. So you hedge; always careful to not give away time or attention before you figure out what contribution currency it might be, how long it would take, and how much influence this person has on you accruing work points.


One way companies try to deal with the great “bandwidth buffer” is to create a culture of shared calendars, where the easiest way to showcase that you are being useful to the company is to have time booked.


This, unsurprisingly, annoys people who know the nuances and shortcuts to getting things done.


Another way companies try to deal with the bandwidth buffer is to simply raise the minimum currency they’ll take for work points, hence reinforcing why employees never max out their bandwidth (input yen) voluntarily.


And this is where Elon comes in.


People always get hung up on the idea that we do “the least we need to do” to satisfy thresholds, but remember, “the least” someone needs to do doesn’t always mean “little.” The least you need to do to climb K2 successfully in the winter is quite a bit. The least a perfectionist needs to do to satisfy themselves is not small. The “least” Twitter employees need to do right now to keep their jobs is seemingly a lot more than they had to do before Elon took over.


Among other things, Elon has updated the exchange rates and increased the minimum currency threshold he will accept to trade for work points (essentially raising the lowest amount a ticket holder will sell the ticket for), which undoubtedly means that Twitter employees will have to spend more time and energy to get the same approval they were getting before Elon. Clearly, there were some employees who were not willing to work in those currencies, or pay that new "hardcore" exchange rate.


Elon wishes we were all robots, but someone should tell him that it’s next to impossible to actually do productive work for 8 hours a day.

The Playing Field


Success at work is a gray area of time and contribution that’s constantly fluctuating.


The conundrum white collar leaders run into is that they are really interested in output and results, but they can’t just have a Machiavellian free for all in a super ambiguous environment, unless they wanted to see what would happen if you mashed-up The Hunger Games and Lord Of The Flies.


So, they are stuck with trying to make “time doing work” as the lowest common denominator to normalize some sort of image of fairness, equality, and teamwork; but an employer is never going to really know how much effort an employee is taking to get their work done.


This leaves us with the foggy game of office chess. On one side you have the company hoping that you will be compelled to do more because: you are intrinsically motivated to do so; the culture of the office leans in that direction; or, you are unsure how many work points you have to your ledger. On the other hand, you have the employee who knows how to shrewdly trade currency for value, while creating buffers for their time by imperceptibly dragging their feet. This buffer can be used for their own personal enjoyment or to tackle the inevitable unforeseen tasks that always come their way when exchange rates change or new currency needs to be mined.


The title of this post is “Why Companies Secretly Love Quiet Quitting.” What I mean is that in the marketplace of work, companies know that for every quiet quitter out there, they probably have one person, if not two people, pointing towards dogged desperation. And companies will take it. They’ll hope their mission is enough to fuel folks, but beyond that, they'll always bet on the Calvinist work ethic, ambiguous metrics, the complexity of groups, and our yearning for status and approval to drive us to do more than we need to.


I’ll leave you with this thought that every employee has experienced in their lives many times over: you decide what is right, what you would do, and why there is a difference, if any, between the two answers.


It’s 1PM. You’ve just finished the last thing you needed to get done before the end of the day. You have yet to share or send the work you have completed. But at this moment, you feel good about yourself, your colleagues respect you, and your boss thinks you’ve done great work.


What do you do? Do you send in the work at 1PM or do you wait until 5PM? The question everyone ponders is, “Who owns my time?” If you send the work in too early, you open the door for someone to say/think, “Hey, you must have free bandwidth. Here’s some more stuff you can do.” You then lose control of your inputs, and thereby allow your attention to be gobbled up by someone else.


If you wait until 5PM, you can catch up on personal stuff while making it seem like you are still putting in time and attention to accrue work points, but that comes at the risk of being caught, of feeling guilty the whole time you’re waiting to send it in, or of being seen as someone who is sandbagging.


Does your answer change if you finished your work at 1PM on Wednesday and it is not due until 5PM on Friday?


Of course, there’s no wrong answer. It’s just how work works. Companies are always going to create an environment where they can maximize as much of your time and attention as possible, and employees will always be wary of “working smarter not harder,” if the only thing they get for “working smarter” is the prospect of doing it for just as long as they were “working harder.”


As Paul Jarvis said:


The value of work is that you get paid to do it, not that you'd do it even if you didn't get paid. I work to get work done. I work hard for short bursts so that I can finish my work, not so that I can pile more onto my plate.


Whether you're an executive, a first time employee, or anywhere in between, I hope this post has given you words to the feelings you might be experiencing, and hopefully it has given all of us a way to talk about the distance between what people have to do and what they are willing to do at work.


Now go stockpile some work points, you dynamic thinker, you.


If you want to learn more about the horribly inefficient white collar world and the crazy games that employees and employers silently play, read Bullsh*t Jobs by David Graeber (who sadly passed away a couple years ago). It will blow your mind. For more, read the online piece: The Gervais Principle: The Office According To The Office by Venkatesh Rao. It’s one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever read online about modern white collar work.

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