Millennials are frustrated–and we’re feeling their frustration with all these cynical, anti-work terms they churn out every other week. First it was “quiet quitting”; now it’s “act your wage”–what will it be next month? And like weeds that crop up in your garden, they need to be pulled out at the root. As with many productivity challenges, the “Act Your Wage” attitude is a serious threat not only to your company, but to the future of the employees themselves.
What Is “Act Your Wage”?
On the surface, Act Your Wage is one of those Tik Tok trends like the one for Sky High mascara (which blew up Maybelline), or Air Pods Shotty (which promotes Louis Vuitton). The “movement” might have been illustrated most clearly by Sarai Soto’s Tik Tok videos, such as “I’d Rather Spend Time with My Family,” which has had 2.6 million views to date. It’s hard to decide who is more obnoxious here – the chip-chewing, drink-slurping employee, or the clueless manager…
The videos illustrate that “Act Your Wage” (AKA Work Your Wage) means that you should perform your job and take on responsibilities according to how much you make. If you are not a highly paid employee, then you should reject things like:
- Working overtime
- Accepting a large assignment
- Being available for anything outside work hours
- If you watch the beginning of the video closely, you’ll notice that she rudely hangs up on a customer, so it’s safe to add “professional behavior” to the list
But why? Another video explains the basic justification: Companies don’t care about you, and don’t guarantee that you’ll get anything in return for hard work. So instead, let the bosses worry about overload. You’ll work harder when and if you get paid more. Down with Hustle Culture!
On a deeper level, the popularity of such videos shows how much they are resonating with Millennials and Gen Z people who are less-than-impressed with their careers and general future prospects. As has been noticed in the past, these generations are different, and they need a new approach.
Why Is “Work Your Wage” Happening Now?
It’s fair to say that Millennials and Gen Z have experienced more disruptions to their working lives than other generations. It started in many ways with the pandemic, leading to the Great Resignation, and now they’re looking at layoffs, inflation, and recession.
It’s no wonder that we’ve seen so many trends lately that have to do with poor motivation:
- The Great Resignation – Millions of people quit their jobs after the pandemic began to recede, many of them because they couldn’t stand the thought of going back to the grind after long months at home.
- Quiet Quitting – This trend signifies showing up for work but doing the minimum to keep your job, thus creating a serious disengagement challenge for companies to deal with.
- Work-life-balance – Almost everybody wants to enjoy life when they’re not at work, but it’s the salary from work that allows you in many ways to enjoy life; how do you balance the two? Interest in this term has more than doubled in the past five years, according to Google.
- Employee well-being – This sounds like a term that HR would use, and it shows we care. Creating programs to improve the working lives of employees is the subject of this phrase, which has almost tripled its Google stats in the past five years.
Effects on Organizational Performance
From scarfing down a latte during a conversation, to forcing others to cover for them, Act Your Wage enthusiasts come with serious consequences for a company.
The most obvious and damaging issue is low productivity. Many employees are already disengaged, even if they aren’t yet making it into a moral imperative. Act Your Wage turns disengagement into defiance that actually does financial damage. A disengaged worker costs an organization $16,000 per year on average. On the other hand, a strong level of engagement can lead to more than a 20% increase in productivity compared to poorly motivated employees.
Another effect is that a quiet quitter/act-your-wager is really bad for morale. It’s just difficult to picture a smiling, jovial employee refusing to accept a tough project. People are acting their wage because they are unhappy, and they show it through openly refusing requests from their manager. Act-your-wagers also tend to display little interest in their engaged coworkers, who might not be so overjoyed with a sourpuss in their midst.
These same coworkers will be the ones who need to accept the jobs that a quiet quitter rejects. Is someone leaving exactly at 5 o’clock today, when there is a major project that must be completed by tomorrow morning? Guess who will stay late and get it done…
Finally, acting your wage leads to a vicious circle. You won’t advance if you don’t pick up skills, prove yourself, or take courses as part of career development. But it’s the Work Your Wage concept that says: don’t try if you aren’t getting paid for it, right now.
Companies, Time to Look in the Mirror
Let’s not forget that companies aren’t the only victims here. Employees have legitimate concerns, and we should be listening. It’s a bit sad that about 80% of open positions in a company are still filled by external hires. The explanation given for this practice is to obtain access to a wider talent pool, among other things.
Oh really? Then how come, until about 40 years ago, companies used internal recruiting 90% of the time? One explanation is that the skills which employees need are changing rapidly, but companies just don’t do a good job at training their own in the latest techniques and concepts. So, the easy solution is to look outside.
But things have changed since the 80s (seen Top Gun 2 yet?). Talent development platforms now enable organizations to train employees in very precise skill areas, no matter how many people are involved. Have your cake and eat it too – with these technologies, you can save those shocking external hiring costs and give your employees the skills they need to move up in the organization.
How Organizations and Workers Can Both Win
It’s simple – give your employees valuable opportunities to advance and build their future, then stand behind your promise. Cure the “minimum wage, minimum effort” mindset by giving employees a chance to earn more. Get management on board with a focus on internal mobility, once they understand the benefits. With new L&D concepts, employers can maximize skill levels and make it easier to climb the career ladder. Of course, you should explore other employee retention ideas. Who doesn’t love decompression capsules? But addressing the number one reason for employees to quit – a lack of development opportunities – will pay off all around.
Don’t Act Your Wage – Instead, Go for Growth
Quiet quitting, the Great Resignation, and now, Act Your Wage – god only knows what trendy term will pop up next in the world of HR. We hope it will be something like “pass the personalization, please,” or, “my employees are skilling it”.
Too corny? Probably, but the point is, you can help the trend along and fight low productivity at the same time. Employees are crying out for the skills that will give them something to aim for, and GrowthSpace is the engine to power it all. Our technology delivers personalized talent development programs at scale, so that even large companies can cure the work-life balance blues through higher levels of skill and greater opportunities for advancement.