Values are reassessed; sometimes they are radically redefined. When values shift, it creates tension between those advocating for a new position and those defending the old. Often those maintaining traditional values experience confusion and resentment. The quiet quitting movement is no different. Traditional, American business values assert that hard work pays off through bonuses, raises, or promotions, and that by working hard one will achieve “the American dream.” Management is easier when workers believe this. If reality is inconsistent with that story, workers become skeptical and eventually demand change. When they do, they are often met with resistance from those benefitting from the current situation. Historical shifts in American labor practices provide context.
The nature of work changes. Estimates for the average number of hours worked by Americans in the manufacturing industry range between 60 to 70 hours per week in the 1800s. Through labor movements, these were reduced to 50 to 60 hours per week by the early 1900s. More recently, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, established a minimum wage along with a 40-hour work week, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, aimed to ensure that work environments were free from acknowledged hazards. For each advancement, those who benefited from a lack of employee protection decried that these labor rights would increase costs, reduce their ability to compete, and were inherently un-American.