Every now and then on a random Tuesday I think about the lovely, eager, energetic Lincoln Square Gap sales associate who helped me shop for new knit polo button ups in the middle of a New York summer heatwave.
I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget that he went above and beyond to get me a sale price for three shirts even though only one style was actually marked down—he even found a size online they no longer had in stores for the lower price, too. I didn’t say much to discourage the discount, but he said, “You shouldn’t be paying full price for this.” (And to think I usually wander around refusing any help and leave with nothing.)
I’ll always remember the experience because I’d just moved back to New York after having everything I own, including all my clothes, stolen from the back of a Uhaul, so I could really use the knitwear. Turns out—in the vein of quiet quitting and rage applying—there’s now a term for what my Lincoln Square Gap associate did: chaotic working, or malicious compliance.
The sort of rebellious younger sibling to quiet quitting, chaotic working would be defined as kind of using your position at work to help customers, even at whatever small detriment to the company or organization where you work.
In a TikTok video about the term, the account “The Speech Prof” gave examples of giving people employee discounts, handing out free tickets to something you maybe got through work to random people, waving overdraft fees, or upsizing a food order. The video’s garnered more than 97,000 likes and roughly 2,000 comments in a few weeks.
“I worked for a credit card company and I lowered everyone’s Apr and fixed it so it wouldn’t change,” one commenter wrote in response to the TikTok video. Another user who oversees parking enforcement said they tell people the lot has free parking that day if they’re the only one working.
The idea, much like quiet quitting, surely isn’t new, but the term appears to have originated from a screenshot in a Reddit post about someone who fudged the weight and cost of produce in WIC orders for the shoppers who came through their line when they were a grocery store cashier so the customers could get more food.
“Yeah, quiet quitting is great and all, but have you tried chaotic working?” the person wrote. “They were able to get more produce for whatever shitty max amount Indiana gave them. Anyways, be chaotic. It’s more fun that way.”
And it’s not just consumer-facing jobs that are ripe for chaotic working. A handful of comments on The Speech Prof’s TikTok are from people in management who said they either approved all time off requests, gave people raises, or advocated as a recruiter for new hires to receive higher salaries.
The “eat the rich” and anti-corporations idea has really stepped into the spotlight as of late, at the center of films like “The Menu,” “Triangle of Sadness,” and Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” That sentiment is also part of the driving force behind a recent resentment of the richest 1%, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. According to a report from Pew Research Center, the unpopularity of large corporations is shared by Americans across party lines. By and large, people view corporations more unfavorable than banks and financial institutions, tech companies, churches and religious organizations, and the military.
It wouldn’t be surprising for chaotic working to be the work term of 2023. People are already burnt out and fed up with work in general, highlighted by the fervor around quiet quitting, the Great Resignation, and an altogether push for better work-life balance. Add that to a rising, more widespread anti-corporation sentiment across the country and who knows how much we could be saving on groceries, coffee, or classically stylish menswear items.
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