Thursday, August 25, 2022

"Quiet Quitting" from a Freelance Perspective

Lately there has been a lot going around on social media about "quiet quitting," and the inevitable backlash.  One side says it's a form of protest for how workers are somehow simultaneously expected to work extra, but also not recognized for doing so.  Another side says no, it's just setting healthy boundaries at work.  A third side says it actually shouldn't be confused with organized protest, which is actually called work to rule, and is intended to function as a sort of strike without any actual striking.  Work to rule is where the employees produce a significant slowdown of production by following all the rules exactly.

It's interesting to watch this debate take place not only as a freelancer, but also as a freelancer who has worked regular jobs in the past.  One of the benefits of self-employment is that if a client doesn't appreciate me or the work I give them, I have the freedom to stop working for them and find a different client who works better with me.  I can also set my own rates and refuse to work for less, especially when a client has unreasonable expectations about my time.

Fortunately I've known very few clients who weren't appreciative, but I have known some who had unreasonable expectations.  For instance, I've had a few clients who assumed that since I am a freelancer and set my own schedule, that it means I'm available any time they want.  I even had one client once who asked me to set up a chat service (I think it was AOL or some kind of Microsoft chat - back in the day before Facebook Messenger) so he could contact me any time he wanted.

I was a fairly new freelancer at the time, so I didn't realize the potential consequences.  At first I set it up, but I quickly discovered what a mistake that was.  I started not being available unless I was actually working, and when the client didn't like that, I eventually ended the relationship.

Of course that decision is a little tougher for full-time employees, many of whom get a lot of pressure to be available during off hours.  It's typically pressure that employers won't admit to, either.  For instance, at a former full-time job of mine, I was always under a lot of pressure to produce faster and faster, which initially led to me working on my off hours.  There wasn't a requirement that I do so, in fact if I asked my boss would have said not to; yet if I wanted to complete my work in time, I had to.  I still remember being so proud of my first fast turnaround, and my shock when my boss yelled at me that I was still too slow.

The natural consequences of that interaction were that I stopped giving my job anything extra, doing only what was required.  In fact, all of us employees banded together, putting forth only the minimum effort, becoming religious about taking our full lunches and breaks, and pushing back when our boss tried to cut our breaks or work us harder.  And one by one, we all found other work.

It's an important lesson for employers and clients alike: Make sure you show your appreciation for your employees.  Interestingly enough, appreciation doesn't have to mean extra money.  Most people just want to feel they are noticed and valued, and will gladly work a less lucrative job if that job also offers a healthier and more fulfilling work environment.

If you find you have a team of employees who won't do more than the minimum requirements of their job, you should probably ask yourself what kind of programs you have in place to recognize employees who go above and beyond.  If the answer is "none" or "just an employee of the month program," you will likely need to rethink how you show your appreciation for hard work and dedication.

The same goes for your freelancers, and perhaps even more so, since they can much more easily walk away from a single client.  Returning clients are usually a freelancers' bread and butter, so if you have a track record of freelancers only working for you once, I recommend honestly considering why that could be.

Ultimately, I agree with the memes circulating on social media, that "quiet quitting" makes it sound like employees are doing something wrong, when they're actually probably protecting themselves from burnout and potentially even making a bid for change in their workplace.  Our society has gotten to a point where the boundaries of a healthy work-life balance have become completely blurred, and employees are expected to give continually more and more of their lives to their jobs.  It's time we stepped back from the precipice and gave ourselves - all of us - some space to breathe and just live.

In writing this article, I've realized a couple of other topics that I want to address: what's unreasonable to expect from your freelancer, and how to show your appreciation for their work.  Stay tuned for more!

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