A seventeen second post on TikTok has created a wide-ranging debate about the value of work and the aspirations of employees. This phenomenon has created new challenges for workplace negotiations.
Quiet quitting, as you may already know, is the act of doing what’s required in your workplace, but no more. Complete the hours you need to do, keep your eye on your contract and do no more. Quiet quitting has replaced the ‘giving a bit extra’ or ‘going the extra mile’ that was the traditional mantra of the past about the way up the ladder to promotion, higher pay and responsibility.
Many will say that this is not a new phenomenon with the epitaph ‘I wish I had spent more time at work’ never appearing on any gravestone. But I think this time the sentiment is real, and many people of all ages are reassessing their work-life balance.
Quiet quitting may be the pre-curser for the often-discussed recent Great Resignation.
‘Your worth as a person is not defined by your labour,’ soothes a quiet Canadian voice on TikTok. And this is particularly appealing to a generation that has watched their parents burn out and work way beyond requirements.
The work from home (WFH) and related work from anywhere (WFA) right born of the Covid-19 lockdowns has given many a taste of freedom and personal agency that they never had when commuting to work and spending their day in a sparsely furnished cubicle along with hundreds of others. The ability to better manage the complex demands of everyday life and work has proved irresistible to many.
The dilemma for managers is that there is low unemployment and a severe shortage of skills across almost all job sectors. This has increased workers’ power in negotiations about wages and conditions and, on the other hand, a reassessment of the importance of work and the value of ambition.
The problem for many managers is that they occupy the corner office today for exhibiting the behaviours their employees have rejected. They went the ‘extra yard’, they worked late, they missed the final school assembly because of work, and they travelled away from home too much.
This clash of cultures requires a new bargain between managers and workers. Covid-19 no longer provides the imperative for work from home, so a more complex bargain is required.
As negotiators it is essential to understand the difference between strategy and objectives. In this case the return to the office is a strategy - the objective being employee productivity. If managers don’t trust their employees and can’t measure productivity, then returning to the office makes sense. But if productivity is the objective, then the physical location of where that productivity occurs is irrelevant.
If we have the right objective, then the possible incentives and sanctions available to both parties become apparent. For management the possible incentives now range beyond the typical salary and conditions and include all the potential flexibility created by Covid-19. As employees the need to demonstrate productivity in WFH can be traded against the personal freedoms it allows.
As all skilled negotiators understand, flexibility by both parties can actually lead to gains for both parties in our post Covid world. TikTok has now become a source of management challenge and insight!