Let it rot? Quiet quitting? I recently came across these two new terms that are related to the great resignation / lying flat movement. Essentially the working class is unhappy with their current situation and it gives rise to these movements as a middle finger to the system. We will look at the various terms and what ideas stand behind them.
What Is Lying Flat?
Lying flat is a direct translation from a Chinese term, tang ping (躺平). To lie flat is to minimize consumption, maximize happiness and only work to have enough income to survive. By living an extremely minimalistic lifestyle, individuals can lower their consumption levels to the minimum.
This movement is China’s counterpart to America’s great resignation. They are both a form of protest against the exploitation of employees for the benefit of business owners.
What Is The Great Resignation?
The great resignation is a movement, mainly in the United States, where many individuals are quitting en masse due to bad working environments, better opportunities and being tired of the grind. These individuals realize that there is more to life than slogging for a corporation that doesn’t care about you and will prioritize profits over their well-being. With the movement, corporations are starting to see what is important to workers. This has given power back to the individual, providing them with the negotiation power for better working conditions and pay.
What Is “Let It Rot” a.k.a 摆烂?
I came across this movement via the above documentary by CNA. Although the “let it rot” movement has similar roots to the “lying flat” movement in China, I would say that they are different ways of achieving one’s minimalistic lifestyle. Instead of only working when they want to, the “let it rot” group rather stay in their job, do the minimum and get a stable salary.
They feel that there is no hope in their future, and that is why they fall back on these movements. Fresh out of school, most of them started full of hope, willing to work hard for a better life. However, the reality is that there is a lack of good jobs and/or work environments even if one works hard.
This group’s way of fighting back is to work as little as possible without getting fired. If they can get away by only doing 30% of their job scope, they will gladly do so, with no guilt whatsoever. The next time, they will push the limit by asking if they can do 25%. They will outrightly ask their bosses if they can do it later or not do it at all, without any fear of judgement.
An additional “benefit” of doing so will lead management to avoid giving responsibilities to these individuals as they are not responsible individuals. The company cannot depend on them to do important jobs so they will “arrow” other individuals that are more responsible.
If you are questioning why employers still hire these individuals, I would say that there is a lack of “normal” individuals willing to work at that wage level plus it is hard to identify such individuals during the interview. They also do the minimum so that they won’t warrant being fired.
Words From Those On Top
The labour professionals in the video say that this group is still a minority and shouldn’t be of concern at the time. Also, those older generations that have made it, state that workers nowadays are less hardworking than them. It is rich coming from them as they grew up in an era where opportunities are everywhere and the harder you work, the more you earn.
Every industry in China was still in its nascent state decades ago, therefore there is almost no competition, allowing these older generations to “make it” through brute force and luck. With survivorship bias, they don’t see how many people have failed. Nowadays, almost every market is saturated and controlled by these older generations. Once they retire, they will hand it over to their sons and daughters, not the most capable or hardworking employees. They are unable to see how entitled their words are from their ivory towers, questioning the work ethic of the younger generation.
What Is Quiet Quitting?
I first heard of this term on Reddit. “Quiet quitting” is a movement similar to the “let it rot” movement, albeit it is less extreme. By “quiet quitting”, individuals only do what is stated in their work contracts during standard working hours. They do not go above and beyond by taking on additional responsibilities or working overtime. Work shouldn’t take up all of their life outside sleeping. They feel that time should be left for their loved ones and themselves instead of spending their prime years slogging for a corporation.
Quiet Quitting Or Wage Theft?
Some bosses are complaining publicly that workers nowadays are not working hard enough and not going above and beyond for the company. By looking at another angle of “quiet quitting” by employees, we can see “wage theft” by employers. By asking employees to go above and beyond without proper remuneration, isn’t that wage theft? They are expecting you to work outside your job scope and hours while paying you the same amount.
I understand that in certain situations you cannot work harder only after a promotion/pay raise but you will only get a promotion/pay raise after management sees you working hard. However, I feel that there are nuances involved. Not everyone is looking for a promotion and for pay raises, if the amount being invoiced to clients is increasing without increasing the salaries of your workers, it just feels wrong although they are doing the same work.
The following are local terms regarding our work culture in Singapore.
“7 days of paid medical leave? Must claim!”
“Chao geng” means that a person acts sick or injured to avoid their responsibilities. This term is mainly used in the military but has since spread to the workplace. Some individuals have the mentality that if they don’t claim all their medical leave, they are losing out. This is why many companies require MCs as proof if one is sick.
Although there are definitely legitimate reasons for taking medical leave, there are also people who exploit the system, resulting in worse quality of life for everyone when the rules get stricter.
“Eat snake” is where the individual run off to do non-work stuff during working hours. This can include going for multiple smoke and tea breaks or running personal errands. To me, it looks like a more passive version of the “let it rot” movement where employees try to get away as much as they can without getting fired.
For “eating snake”, the individual will try to not do their job without detection by management. They still want to be seen as a normal worker. In comparison, the “let it rot” movement has no fear of judgement. Instead, they hope that the management recognizes that they are a mediocre worker that cannot be trusted so that they get assigned less work.
Leaving After Boss/Manager Leave
There is a toxic working culture where employees feel if they leave before their employers, they might be seen as lazy. Efficient workers are being penalized as they are seen as lazy if they leave on time, even though they have achieved the same or more than those that have to overtime every day.
This led to the mentality that “since I have to work overtime no matter what, I might as well do the minimum till it is time to leave”. Some employers want to see their employees at their desks “working”. They have the weird mentality where time in the office equals effort. Some employees surf the internet or do their things to make up time until it is time to knock off to be not seen as lazy.
This mandarin saying translates to “today is an uneventful day, it is time to knock off again”. Some of us hate it when unexpected matters pop up and we have to solve them. It knocks us out of our comfort zone, making us scramble to find solutions to put out “fires”. We would rather have an uneventful day until it is time to knock off.
Although we say that, when we do the same thing every day without any challenges, we might feel bored and start looking for new jobs to challenge ourselves. Humans really 犯贱.
What Are The Reasons For These Movements?
We will look at some of the various reasons for the rise of these movements.
Wages Not In Tandem With Rising Costs
If your wages are not going up with inflation, you are getting a pay cut. The same amount of dollars cannot buy the same basket of goods year after year due to inflation. This is especially serious due to the high inflation rates this year. When you work harder while being paid lesser in real terms, it is hard to have the motivation to continue working hard.
Remuneration Not Tied To Effort
On top of inflation, salaries and opportunities are not matching the amount of effort put in. There are no growth opportunities or slots for promotions. They are filled by the individuals that were there before you. You will only get promoted if they retire or leave, which can take longer than you have the patience for. In the meantime, you might not be paid for the extra effort you put in to be considered for promotions.
Additionally, you might go above and beyond but office politics and interpersonal relationships take precedence over hard work. If you don’t play office politics, you might lose out to an individual that knows how to please their employers.
The relationship also doesn’t go both ways sometimes. Employees might need to go above and beyond to be considered to be noticed but employers might not have the incentive to go above and beyond for the employee. However, with the various movements going on, hopefully, employers get the message of treating their employees better to retain and attract good employees.
Widening Wealth Gap
With the widening wealth gap, employees feel that the results of their hard work go unfairly to management instead of being compensated fairly. Businesses announcing record profits while workers’ pay remains stagnant or even being cut pisses off the working class. These movements are just the beginning. If it keeps getting worse, it might lead to social unrest amongst the working class, creating a lose-lose situation for everyone. Employees will lose their jobs, employers will have their businesses halted, and investors will leave the country.
Employer And Employee On Different Sides
In some companies, employers and employees don’t see themselves as on the same team. This has led to a “spy vs spy” situation where the two groups try to take advantage of each other, making it like a competition to see who takes advantage of the other party more. There is no trust between the two parties. Employers feel that employees don’t work hard enough while employees feel that employers don’t treat them well enough.
On the other side of “quiet quitting”, employers have been performing “quiet firing” for years. To avoid paying severance for firing an employee, employers make it as difficult as possible for their employees to make them quit of their own accord. They might give employees the shittiest jobs or shun them to make them feel unwelcome, making the work environment as intolerable as possible.
Tight Labour Market
The labour market is relatively tighter where there is an increased amount of job vacancies. This shifts the negotiation power to the working class. Employers are “stuck” with their current batch of employees even if they are not performing well. They can’t get a replacement and on top of that, even if they can get a replacement, it is not guaranteed that the replacement won’t be the same or even worse. These circumstances can allow “below average” employees to get away with mediocre performances.
More To Life Than Work And Money
More and more people are realizing that there is more to life than work and money. They rather earn lesser to have more work-life balance. By spending extended hours at work, health and relationships are sacrificed and can be permanently damaged. This also shows that some of us have reached a state of comfort that we don’t depend on our work as much for survival. Enough money for an ordinary standard of living, having occasional indulgences and some savings are enough for some of us.
“Let it rot” and “quiet quitting” are the newest movements to be born out of the current socioeconomic environment. It is a way of refusing to participate in the rat race. Instead, individuals are choosing their way of living their lifestyle, not succumbing to societal pressures. There are also certain work cultures that are similar and relevant in the Singapore context.
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