Everything You Need to Know About “Act Your Wage”

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Should you go above and beyond at work or should you "act your wage?"

Somewhere near the crossroads of the start of the pandemic and its related burnout, we added a few work-related buzzwords to the lexicon: The Great Resignation, rage applying, quiet quitting, career cushioning, and now, “act your wage.” Employees are now rethinking their relationship with work—rather than doing more than they’re supposed to in desperate moves to advance their careers, they are “acting their wage.”

“The pandemic has given many people the opportunity to reflect on the quality of their lives,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist. “As people moved into ‘hermit mode,’ many discovered that the slower pace was extremely beneficial for their personal lives. The experience of working from home or from a beach far away from the office left people wondering, ‘Why am I in the rat race? Why am I working so hard to make money for others?’ For many people, the pandemic provided a stark juxtaposition to the fast-paced life that created burnout and stress.”

Many people—employees and managers alike—wonder if you can be just as productive with a four-day workweek. And if a four-day workweek is successful, how about a three-day workweek? The pandemic gave us work-from-home flexibility and opened the door for more shifts in how, where and when we work. Technology allows for flexibility, but there’s a downside to always being connected.

“With the rise of remote and hybrid work, LinkedIn found that 40% of working Americans feel more burned out since the start of the pandemic, and 37% are working less traditional hours,” explains Blair Heitmann, LinkedIn career expert. “We saw that people worked longer days, with many working off-hours and experiencing burnout as their work-life lines blurred.”

What does “acting your wage” mean?

Acting your wage means you aren’t on call or on the hook for company problems 24/7 the way a CEO or Executive Director might be,” explains career coach Gracie Miller. “It’s recognizing that you were hired for 40 hours of work and not doing overtime you aren’t being paid for. You can still take initiative, be a team player and have a positive attitude during those 40 hours. But you don’t answer messages on Slack at 11 p.m. or email someone on a Sunday.”

But it’s hard to act your wage if your workplace encourages you to work above your pay grade and/or if you’re afraid to speak up about increased workload. If you’re not sure, check out these signs of a toxic workplace.

How did “act your wage” start?

You could say it started because people are fed up at work, but really it started because Reddit and TikTok gave employees a platform to speak up about their dissatisfaction at work. “We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the influence of social media and the internet at large for enabling this trend,” explains Aaron Rubens, CEO and co-founder of Kudoboard, a workplace appreciation platform.

“Employees (and millennials in particular) began sharing their dissatisfaction at work—and realized they’re not alone,” Rubens says. “What emerged was a picture of employers who don’t appreciate their employees and essentially see them as expendable resources.”

TikToker @saraisthreads posted about employers setting expectations they can’t meet, and got almost two million views. @jennahushka gets about 14K views when she posts about dating, but when she posted about burnout or lack of training, her views skyrocket to hundreds of thousands. @loewhaley got two million views when she posted about a micromanaging coworker who doesn’t respect boundaries and closer to three million views when she posted about etiquette around out-of-office email.

On Reddit’s r/antiwork subreddit, the vibe is more about life/work balance than quitting work altogether and provides an outlet for act your wage conversations. People talk about living wages, paid sick time, the housing crisis and more.

Should you be “acting your wage?”

Dr. Manly sees both sides of it. “There is merit to ‘acting your wage,'” Dr. Manly says, “Yet for those who find satisfaction in working hard, there’s much to be said for the mental health boost that can come from enjoying a strong work ethic.”

In many circumstances, it’s about having reasonable expectations for what’s expected of you and how far you might be willing to push those expectations. If you’re in a position where you feel you’re being pushed to work beyond your wage, you can use it to spark a conversation with your managers.

“If your relationship with the manager isn’t conducive to this, it’s time to think beyond your role and responsibilities,” says Jenn Lim, a global workplace expert and author of the bestselling book Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact. “When we choose work that is aligned with our values and purpose, and that is intrinsically motivated, we’re working for more than a paycheck,” Lim says, “We’re working towards something more meaningful and greater than ourselves; we’re acting our purpose, not just our wage.”

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Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer who covers humans, wildlife, technology, social justice, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.