Are Your Employees Acting Their Wage?

Keep employees engaged
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If they’re part of this latest trend—never taking on extra work or pushing hard—it might tell you a lot about your organization’s management style. Here’s how to accomplish a win-win.

Much has been made recently about employees “acting their wage,” the practice of doing the work you’re paid for and nothing more. What began as a trend among mostly younger workers has worked its way up the corporate ladder to the ears of leadership. And, as with “quiet quitting,” many companies are sounding the alarm about this new behavior from workers who feel they’re not being fairly rewarded for doing more than their job description entails.

Leaders’ concerns about the growing acting your wage trend are twofold: first, that they’ll have to shell out more money to motivate employees to take on new and necessary work. Second (and perhaps worse), that the company is on the cusp of being invaded by legions of unambitious employees who won’t contribute to the advancement of the organization. 

However, leaders who worry only about how employees acting their wage will impact the bottom line are missing the point. What’s more, they’re missing an important opportunity to flip the practice on its head and transform it into a competitive advantage. 

What Companies Should Know About ‘Acting Your Wage’

Now, more than ever, workers are seeking employers that value their ability to set healthy boundaries at work in the name of well-being. A recent Gallup poll found only 24 percent of employees strongly agree that their organization cares about their overall well-being. Another survey from the American Psychological Association revealed 81 percent of workers will seek out a company that supports their mental health when they look for their next job. 

While these statistics may signal trouble for many workplaces, for employers who choose to support workers’ attempts to take care of their well-being, they come as a boon. Companies who understand that looking out for the holistic well-being of their employees by helping them set healthy boundaries and avoid burnout will inspire loyalty among their workers, along with better business and talent management results.

Why Are Workers Acting Their Wage?

There are plenty of reasons for employees to draw a line in the sand when it comes to their workload. And, contrary to the beliefs of some employers, it’s not just laziness or lack of ambition. 

Burnout is an issue

While employers may take a dim view of employees who refuse to go above and beyond, for employees the practice of acting their wage can be a way to set boundaries and manage stress. With mental health issues continuing to top the list of challenges employees are facing, most workplaces still don’t provide adequate support. For employees, making the decision to dial back their workload can be a coping mechanism when employer support falls short. 

Employees want to succeed in their core job responsibilities

Scope creep is a real problem in many jobs, particularly during times of economic uncertainty, when employers look for ways to do more with less. Workers may suddenly find themselves saddled with new responsibilities they haven’t asked for and don’t want. These new projects can impact their ability to carry out core job responsibilities with the same level of quality, taking a toll on their performance metrics and their self-esteem.

The nature of work is changing

With the rise of technology and remote work, many jobs now require a constant connection to work through emails and messaging apps. The increasingly blurred line between work and personal time makes it difficult for employees to disconnect and maintain healthy boundaries. Without clear guidance from employers about what’s expected and when, workers are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to creating balance.

How Can Companies Turn “Acting Your Wage” Into a Win-Win Outcome?

Clearly define job roles and responsibilities

Job descriptions that clearly outline tasks and responsibilities should be a starting point for any role. Managers should communicate regularly with their employees about any changes or additions to those responsibilities and should revisit job descriptions on a regular basis to ensure they’re still accurate. These regular conversations also give managers a chance to track employees’ growth and development and to identify talent who may be ready (and willing) to take on more.

Monitor and mitigate burnout

Consider a proactive approach to well-being by using data like lack of PTO usage or email volume after hours to track warning signs of burnout. High absenteeism, turnover rates and increased use of sick days may also indicate employees are feeling tapped out and need support. Getting ahead of these trends and seeking individualized solutions to help employees who are overworked can boost retention and engagement. 

Recognize and reward efforts

Extenuating circumstances that cause a temporary increase in workload are unavoidable, but they shouldn’t go unrecognized. Acknowledging and rewarding employees for their contributions strengthens morale and builds loyalty. And while monetary rewards like compensation or time off are always an option, recognition can come in many other forms, such as awards, one-on-one time with senior leaders or coveted assignments. 

Encourage balance and offer flexibility

Where possible, companies can explore flexible schedules and work routines to help employees get work done in ways that work best for them. Encouraging breaks and PTO usage discourages overworking and makes it clear that you value employee well-being. 

Seek feedback

Managers should regularly seek feedback from employees regarding their workload, stress levels and overall well-being. This is also an opportunity for managers to demonstrate their care and concern for workers’ well-being, and to uncover areas where they may need extra support or resources to manage their responsibilities.

While it may be easy to dismiss acting your wage as just another TikTok trend, organizations that choose to embrace it as a tool to support and encourage the employee well-being will be rewarded. Those that take a proactive approach to helping employees set healthy boundaries and avoid burnout are setting themselves up for better business and talent management results. 

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