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Quiet quitting: Problem with new workplace trend amid recession fears

Scores of Aussie workers are covertly fighting back against their unappreciative bosses – but there’s a concerning reason why the latest workplace trend could end up backfiring.

In recent weeks, “quiet quitting” has become a hot new buzzword, with the term trending on social media platforms such as TikTok.

In a nutshell, it refers to workers – especially millennials and Gen Z – shunning hustle culture, and doing the bare minimum required for their job, instead of going above and beyond, and working overtime.

The movement has been driven by several factors, including stagnating wages at the same time as inflation and cost of living pressures soar, increased workloads and stress during the pandemic and incredibly low unemployment levels.

In other words, it’s now an employee’s market – and an increasing number of workers are waking up to that fact, and are refusing to go the extra mile without being fairly compensated and recognised.

A worker’s market

This week, it emerged that Australia’s unemployment rate had plummeted to the lowest level in almost half a century.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest data, in July the unemployment rate fell by 0.1 per cent from 3.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent, the lowest it has been since August 1974.

Labor shortages are being felt across all sectors, and nationally, job advertisements remain extremely high compared to pre-Covid levels, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for many Aussie workers looking for a change.

Meanwhile, Consumer Price Index inflation recently hit 6.1 per cent, with Treasurer Jim Chalmers warning it could soon rise to 7.5 per cent, while wage growth has stalled, increasing only 2.4 per cent.

According to recruitment firm Robert Half’s 2022 Salary Guide, bosses are wising up to the growing problem, with 31 per cent saying their biggest challenge this year will be hanging on to top performers, with 78 per cent of employees prepared to walk if their pay rise request is denied.

UNSW Business School associate professor Mark Humphery-Jenner told the quiet quitting trend was especially common among skilled workers who are paid a salary and not an hourly rate, whose job is KPI-focused, and who have already raised such concerns as pay and conditions with their employer, and had those concerns ignored.

“Wages are not going up, but inflation and cost of living are, so people are noticing they are in effect getting less disposable income,” he explained.

“During the pandemic, for many jobs, hours and/or stress went up … and (over that time) many workers became more senior, skilled and efficient, and it all adds up to a lot of frustration.

“Many employees feel they are now being taken advantage of, as if their employer is not recognizing them and is underappreciating them, which leads to people quiet quitting.”

Dr Humphery-Jenner said feedback from quiet quitters themselves indicated it was not a first resort, with most deciding to coast only after they began to feel their concerns weren’t being taken seriously by their bosses.

“Some are doing it as a form of revenge, and some are doing it as a form of workplace apathy – after having raised concerns and still not being taken seriously, they are at their wit’s end,” he said.

‘Risky’ strategy

While the quiet quitting trend is understandable given the current conditions, Dr Humphery-Jenner warned this golden time for employees would likely not last forever.

“Unemployment is going to get worse – the US is probably in recession … and US economic conditions could filter through to Australia,” he said.

“When people are quiet quitting, they should be delicate about the way they are expressing it, because unemployment will increase… and overtly quiet quitting might harm your long-term prospects at the company.

“You don’t want to be the person whose head is on the chopping block first when a recession comes. It’s a delicate balance and quiet quitting can be risky.”

Instead, Dr Humphery-Jenner said that employees who were frustrated in their current role and who believed they could earn more or enjoy better conditions at another firm would likely be better off “taking their business elsewhere” given the bargaining power many workers, especially skilled workers. , top-tier talent, now had.

He said workers should always be keeping an eye out for new opportunities, should stay in touch with relevant recruiters, and should try and leave their current job on good terms whenever possible, which could help them return down the track if the economic situation were to decline.


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