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In a way, this trend shows the impact of two years of hybrid office culture or work-from-home culture that has permeated all organizations.
Social media is now a public square and a quirky two word prefixed with a hashtag can make a difference almost instantly. Some go viral and stay longer than others. They sometimes highlight an important but overlooked aspect of today’s work practices.
The recent two words trending on social media, especially on TikTok, are “silent withdrawal”. The phrase has generated millions of views on the short video streaming platform. The promoters of this idea seem to be young workers who have rejected the idea of doing something extra at work. This group tries to get people to take time away from work and do something outside the office.
In a way, this trend shows the impact of the hybrid or work from home culture of office work that has permeated all organizations in the last two years. During this time, a growing number of Gen Z and Millennials are tired of not being recognized or compensated for putting in the extra hours. Now they want to end burnout and focus on work-life balance. Their online movement revolves around self-preservation and doing what they are paid to do.
According to Deloitte research, Gen Z and millennial workers are feeling “burnt out” and “many are taking on second jobs while pushing for more purposeful — and flexible — work.” A survey of 14,808 Gen Z and 8,412 Millennials in 46 countries shows that nearly half of Gen Z and Millennials are living paycheck to paycheck and are worried they won’t be able to cover their expenses. More than a quarter of respondents were not sure that they would retire comfortably.
Amid this financial turmoil, many are changing their work habits, with more opting for a second, part-time or full-time paying job in addition to their main job, the report said.
The new trend resonates with the old slowdown and wage labor strikes. The ideas, mostly raised by unions a century ago, came from workers concerned with improving working conditions and increasing the daily wage in factories and industrial units.
The idea of ”slowing down” dates back to the late nineteenth century, when organized dock workers in Glasgow, Scotland demanded a 10% wage increase. The owners refused their demand and the workers went on strike. To counter the budding movement, dock owners employed farm laborers to work for them. The dockers conceded defeat and returned to work at their old wages. The story did not end there. Dockers closely watched their exchanges and found them to be inefficient.
Edward McHugh, founder of the National Union of Dock Laborers, who led the protest for higher wages, said: “We saw that [replacement workers] could not even walk with the ship and that they dropped half the goods they were carrying; in short, that two of them could hardly do the work of one of us.” Based on this observation, McHugh told the dockers, “We can do nothing but the same. Work as the farm laborers used to work.”
Dockers followed McHugh’s order to the letter and after a few days the owners asked the union to tell the workers to complete the task as before and that they would be given a 10% pay rise.
Around the same time, a similar protest broke out in Indiana in the US after railway bosses cut workers’ wages. The protesters took shovels to the blacksmith and cut two inches off the ladles. They went back to work and told their employer, “Short pay, short shovels.”
Work in 2020
A century-old dock worker and railroad employee strikes with our time for workers’ rights, fair wages and employee benefits. But since the turn of the twenty-first century, several aspects of work have changed. A significant number of processes are now automated. Robots have replaced humans in several industrial units. A worker has also become a knowledge worker.
Their workday has gotten longer and a significant amount of time is taken up answering emails and connecting with others through collaboration tools. These tools have increased the amount of time people spend communicating with colleagues and clients in different parts of the world. More hours at work mean less personal time.
Changes in work are the result of how companies have reorganized themselves for the information age. For example, a company engaged in a single activity branched out into other verticals. This shift made it focus on new customer segments or entering new geographies. These business decisions require employees to connect with various colleagues to discuss and execute critical functions of the organization.
Workplace collaboration technology, the adoption of matrix-based structures, and the proliferation of initiatives to create a “one company” culture have created what some experts call a collaborative workload. “Too often, excessive collaboration hurts organizational performance and overburdens employees for marginal gains,” noted Rob Cross and Peter Gray of the University of Virginia School of Business in their paper, “Where Has the Time Gone?” Solving Collaboration Congestion in the Network Economy”.
The duo’s research revealed that officers spend 70-85% of their time attending meetings (virtual or in-person), fielding emails, making phone calls, or otherwise dealing with the flood of requests for their input. . Many spend so much time interacting that they take most of their work home to finish at night.
With more collaboration tools and more time demands, employee burnout has increased. Cross and Gray’s research was conducted before the pandemic. After COVID-19 and its subsequent decision to block and restrict people’s physical movement, the number of tasks performed online has increased exponentially. While the rise of digitization was seen as a blessing early in the pandemic, the widespread reliance on technology has now become a curse for several workers.
Labor analytics company Gallup said the phrase “quiet exit” has caught on as “most jobs today require some level of extra effort to work with co-workers and meet the needs of customers”. In its analysis of the US workforce, the company found that the ratio of “engaged” to “active” employees was 1.8 to 1, the lowest in nearly a decade. The decline in engagement started in the second half of 2021, around the time another hashtag – #GreatResignation – went viral.
But silent withdrawal has nothing to do with quitting. It simply means that normal everyday tasks will be carried out. While there are always a few ambitious employees who overachieve in any organization, the vast majority of employees prefer to complete the tasks they have committed to within their job description. And that doesn’t mean quit; yours