“Quiet dropouts” aren’t the problem. Save your anger for ‘noisy workers’ | Andre Spicer
Iver the past few weeks, there has been an avalanche of talk about “quiet quitters”. These are people who have become disillusioned about their workplace and have given up trying to go the extra mile; no monitoring their emails over the weekend or working on an urgent project during the evening. Quiet quitters have retreated to their job description, trying to preserve their sanity by limiting what they do.
Yet the discussion of quiet quitters has entirely ignored their noisier cousins: the “noisy workers.” If you’ve had a colleague who spends more time talking about their work than doing it, then you’ve witnessed a noisy worker first-hand. They are employees who consider it their main job to tell everyone what they have done. For these people, the actual work is a distant afterthought. They graft for the gram, toil for tweets, and work for LinkedIn likes. In fact, doing anything is just an afterthought.
Noisy work is nothing new. If you assign a task to a group of people, there will always be those who sigh the loudest. Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that moaning, groaning and sighing is a way of signaling our contribution in hopes of reaping the rewards. The hunter who emphasizes the effort he has made to catch the prey can expect a greater share of his prey, or at least more status within his group. The cook who talks about the tremendous effort he put into preparing the dish is hoping for greater rewards – even if it’s just praise. Even the growl of professional tennis players has been interpreted as a sort of competitive signal they send out in hopes of gaining an advantage over their opponents.
As the job has become increasingly complicated, so have the loud worker tactics. Sighs, moans and grunts are no longer enough. They adopted other self-promotional tactics. They know how to brag in a team meeting about the considerable energy they have invested in a project. They are good at developing detailed plans, presentations and visions of what they will achieve in the future. For the noisy worker, a task that is not talked about is an undone task.
Over the past decade, as workplaces have increasingly been replaced by virtual spaces, the efforts of many employees have felt increasingly invisible. Many feel underappreciated because there are no bosses or co-workers to see their hard work. Workers are increasingly desperate for some form of recognition. In this world of virtual work, we quickly learn that only those whose work is seen and talked about are often generously rewarded. So we demand that our efforts be visible.
Noisy workers learned a crucial lesson from performance artists. The performance artist takes almost any aspect of his life and calls it art. The noisy worker takes almost everything he does and renames it “work”. There is no experience, however fleeting, that a noisy worker cannot turn into hard work. They show their unwavering work ethic by making their whole life a never-ending task.
More than a century ago, American sociologist Thorstein Veblen identified what he called “conspicuous consumption” – the excessive rituals that the wealthy used to show off their wealth. Today, we are witnessing a strange inversion of what Veblen saw a century ago: “ostentatious production”. Instead of showing our status by consuming refined foods, we try to improve our own status by excessive displays of productivity.
Being a noisy worker is easier for some. A recent study by a group of economists found that boys from around 11 or 12 years old are more likely to engage in self-promotion, especially when describing tasks that are stereotypical for men. Obviously, this can disadvantage others. A study of female classical musicians found that although they felt intense pressure to promote themselves in order to get work, they were less likely than men to do so because, among other things, “arrogant” behavior was conflict with normative expectations of women as ‘lowly’. ”.
Too much honking at work can backfire. A series of experiments conducted by my colleague Irene Scopelliti found that self-promoters believed that sharing their successes would make people more like them, but generally it made them less likeable. Too much self-promotion can be disastrous for work teams and entire organizations. A recent study found that having a heavy self-promoter on your team caused the performance of the whole group to drop.
While some silent quitters quietly withdrew, noisy workers registered loudly. But in doing so, they only accepted jobs that can easily be boasted about. It means people underinvest in the quiet, dull work that needs to be done to get anything done. It is this work that makes any institution or organization work. The bragging of the noisy worker may attract our attention, but it is the work of their quieter colleagues that deserves our praise.