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Quiet Quitting: what’s causing employees to ‘act their wage’?

Over the last few months, US businesses have become increasingly affected by the new phenomenon, ‘quiet quitting’. Currently the hottest labour narrative, ‘quiet quitting,’ is an act of work-to-rule, with young professionals performing the basics of their job role, ensuring that they bring no further initiative or betterment to the position. In the US especially, employers have found that 52% of young professionals have a taken to vow to ‘act their wage’ and simply do the bare minimum instead of going the extra mile.

What’s driving this phenomenon? Research shows that the root cause comes from the workplace:

  • Pay is the leading reason for dip in output in the face of increased cost of livingAlmost half (45%) of employees find workplace ‘unrecognisable’
  • Over a third of under 30s will do ‘bare minimum’ in their role unless pay increases or progression is on the table
  • Remote working favours quiet quitters, third of managers say flex and hybrid working makes it difficult to measure output
  • Almost half (49%) of managers claim they’re having to take on extra work due to ‘quiet quitters’

A potential silent movement of white-collar ‘quiet quitters’

According to a new poll from recruiter Robert Walters, over half of white-collar workers in the US under the age of 30yrs have stated that they only intend to do the ‘bare minimum’ of their job description if their pay or progression remains unchanged.

Peter Milne, Managing Director at Robert Walters North America expands on his findings in Fortune, “This behaviour isn’t something entirely new, there have always been less motivated individuals in the workplace. However, the real concern here is that unlike those few employees who tend to consciously be less productive at work, ‘quiet quitting’ is often a subconscious act borne out of frustrations toward the workplace.

“It is easy for managers to pull their employees up on lack of productivity, but unless they get to the bottom of the ‘why’ their motivation has dropped, then quiet quitting could well become a silent movement that has a damaging effect on businesses productivity and profitability.”

Why young professionals are ‘acting their wage’

According to recruiter Robert Walters, the leading reason for professionals in the US under the age of 30yrs choosing to ‘quit quietly’ is pay. Annual wage increases of +4.8% in the US this year have surpassed earlier predictions. A survey by Pearl Meyer found a quarter of employers offering wage increases over +6% in attempts to retain staff. Despite such wage increases employers cannot keep up with the soaring rate of inflation.

The inability for wages to match cost-of-living is creating a culture of younger professionals ‘acting their wage’, whereas younger employees suddenly feel heavily underpaid for their role due to rising costs and inflation and some are therefore refusing to do more outside the parameters of their job description.

Peter adds, “In all cases of economic hardship it is young professionals who are on lower salaries who feel the financial burden more. Their lack of experience – exasperated further by the pandemic – puts them in a much weaker position than their older, more experienced counterparts when trying to bargain for higher pay.

“Employers will be unable to increase pay at the same rate of inflation, that’s a fact, so this is where softer perks and benefits really do have a chance to make a difference. Increasingly we are seeing utility vouchers, travel cards, and streaming subscriptions all being offered to prospective employees.”

Remote Working: a Breeding Ground for Quiet Quitters

When surveying managers, more than half feel that they are taking on more workload due to a dip in productivity from younger professionals. In fact, according to the poll:

  • 41% of managers state that hybrid and remote working makes it difficult to measure the output of their team
  • 22% stating that the flexibility to choose differing work patterns and hours means that there is no universal indictor for productivity, making it easier for ‘quiet quitters’ to go under the radar

 comments, “Quiet quitting creates a real imbalance in the team, where engaged employees will find that they are having to pick up the slack or deal with the lack of output from their disengaged colleagues. This in turn will either burnout or frustrate those who are going above and beyond to deliver a high output.

“As much as we learnt new ways of working in the pandemic, we also had some great working habits before Covid. These more traditional structures and systems should not be overlooked.”

Business leaders can’t allow ‘quiet quitting’ to become a norm, accountability is a central part of this. If ‘quiet quitters’ are benefitting from being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ then employers should not hesitate to make more office facetime mandatory.

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