Does fashion month make you want to ‘quiet quit’?

For UK-based journalist and social commentator Alexandra Jones – who graduated from university in 2009, a year after the onset of the financial crisis – this is not surprising. “My parents’ generation might have expected to find a job in their 20s and still be there in their 40s,” she says. “Work was at specific times and they were accumulating wealth through their pensions. After the 2008 crisis, many pensions were devalued and the technological revolution made jobs and even entire industries much more unstable. Add soaring UK house prices and you have a perfect storm for people to reassess why they are doing this.

Why are fashion workers so prone to burnout?

Quitting quietly can be a symptom of burnout, and narratives around fashion make its workers more vulnerable to it, says Arnav Malhotra, founder of Indian menswear brand No Gray Area. The popular narrative is that you have to go above and beyond to be successful. “Employees overcompensate by going out of their way to prove they deserve those coveted positions,” he says. In this context, it’s easy for brands to take advantage of enthusiastic employees because they view them as replaceable, adds Levi Palmer, co-founder of emerging brand Palmer Harding.

“Part of the problem is that older employers think younger employees have to work as hard as they do to prove their worth and get promoted,” says Drexel University professor Joseph H Hancock II, who ended her 20-year career in fashion retail for a lower-paying role in academia after a period of burnout. “We have to learn to let people rest.”

Fashion is heavily based on personal relationships, and events outside of working hours often mean that professional life turns into social life, notes a fashion journalist. “In fashion, a lot of our performance is judged on social performance. You can verify practically, but you cannot verify emotionally.

The informality of fashion also extends to contracts. “In fashion, there are a lot of cultural expectations – and contracts are a little goofy, if they even exist,” says Naomi Taylor, Negotiating Manager at Bectu, a UK union working with @fashionassistants to set pay minimum, daily rates and job specifications for freelance fashion assistants, similar to those in the television and film industry. It is not always possible to quit quietly because the work is so precarious and new jobs are often the result of personal recommendations. “If you don’t take the job, someone else will jump in and maybe even do it for less money because they have the support of their family. So keep it up,” says @fashionassistants.

In an industry where overwork is not only normalized but prized, any hint of overwork avoidance can jeopardize promotion opportunities. “I often have to quit quietly, but I don’t think that’s really an option for people who don’t have an existing financial cushion,” says a fashion editor. “Seems like having an unhealthy work ethic is a prerequisite for promotion.” Indeed, one recruiter said Bloomberg that the flip side of silent resignation is “silent dismissal”, where managers deny promotions, opportunities, and helpful feedback to employees to induce someone to quit.

What can employers do to reduce silent dropouts?

Toronto-based Laura Whaley and her unnamed, off-camera “best work friend” have gained 2.8 million TikTok followers for their satirical take on contemporary hustle culture. Limits – a key element of silent surrender – are a recurring theme. He can be heard telling fictional co-workers, “Volunteering my time and my personal devices is not part of my job description.” However, Whaley is not a fan of the term silent shutdown, because of the shame and guilt it entails. Instead, she recommends that people communicate their boundaries to their employers and continually reinforce them — with respect —. “You should decide your boundaries quietly because you need to think about what works for you personally, but implementing them needs to be collaborative,” she says.

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