Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Time to stop quiet quitting and ensure you are visible and valuable?

Quiet quitting became a trend after lockdown, but it is time for this trend to stop and rather change to trying to be the best at your job.

Workplace trends in recent years have been dominated by phrases like quiet quitting and ‘acting your wage’, which involves doing the bare minimum, or simply sticking to exactly what your employment contract requires.

But, could it be time to consider career cushioning to weather any uncertainties that could affect your job.

It is clear that 2023 is rapidly shaping up to become another year of challenges locally and globally. Some international trends often replicate themselves in South Africa, mixed in with unique challenges of our own.

“While last year saw a great deal of ‘quiet quitting’ as businesses returned to the office, the approach of ‘doing the bare minimum’ is going to be a losing strategy in the face of the combination of complexities businesses will have to address in coming months,” Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, says.

The signs are clear that employees now need to take action to ensure that they remain visible and valuable in their companies.

South African companies will have to contend with the challenges posed by the global economic outlook, as well as the opportunities brought by the rapid rise in new technologies, in particular the rise of AI and the potential of chatbots such as ChatGPT to take over functions previously reserved for humans, she says.

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Job security is more important than quiet quitting

“In South Africa, companies also have to consider the challenges of ongoing load shedding for at least the next two years which will without a doubt affect companies’ bottom lines. All of these and other factors combined can feel quite ominous for people concerned about job security, which is why now is the time to look towards career cushioning.”

Career cushioning essentially means putting measures in place to ensure you are as well positioned as possible to weather incoming uncertainties so that you will remain relevant within your company and alternatively, to have a safety net or a Plan B in the wings.

“The message for this year is that you must bring your all to your work, because cruise control is no longer going to cut it. You are competing against others in the workforce, you are competing against local and global economic realities, you have to contend with infrastructure challenges courtesy of Eskom and you now also have to consider whether your livelihood is at risk from AI.”

What does this, given all these factors, combined with the reality that companies will continue to rely on exceptional human talent and leadership, mean for us now? Naidoo says it means that you have to step up and stand out, bringing your unique human contribution to the fore.

She says it is time to understand your contribution, what you are really good at and how you add value.

“Speak to your manager to determine where else you can be of service to the organisation. Some of your old skills may no longer be relevant, but instead of waiting to be told what to do, expand your area of influence and contribution as widely as possible from your existing position.”

This will have the dual benefits of making your contribution more valuable, as well as making you more visible.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Quiet quitting and four-day work week could both help to fix broken workplaces

Leaders must also change

However, leadership must also change.

“Managers and leaders may be feeling particularly vulnerable right now, but leadership of the exceptional kind will become more important now than ever before. Research has shown that there is about a 70% variance in team engagement depending on the quality of a team’s leader.”

Companies now require even greater team engagement, productivity, and innovation to keep the wolves from the door and therefore great leadership which can inspire, motivate and engage will remain in high demand.

And artificial intelligence? Naidoo says first it happened slowly, then suddenly.

“Talk of how the ‘robots will take our jobs’ have been in the works for decades, but the time has arrived where many companies will now start considering how they can implement AI in their daily operations and this requires professionals to take a hard look at whether their function might be in jeopardy and if so, how.”

The key here is to match existing skills and proficiencies with those human-only ones which AI will not yet be able to replicate.

It is also time to network again. Naidoo says the time to stay at home and keep the Zoom camera off has passed.

“In-office time, spent collaborating with colleagues where possible, will help in keeping you and your contribution front of mind.”

Get back in touch with professional organisations and attend functions and events so that you can connect with industry peers, keep abreast of what is coming down the pike and stay on top of what opportunities may arise in future, Naidoo says.

ALSO READ: Quiet quitting – Here’s what the law says, and how it could affect your employment

Instead of quiet quitting, explore new areas of interest

If it becomes clear that your industry might be taking a hit in the near future, her advice is to start exploring new areas of interest, particularly where your transferable skills might apply.

“There is a myriad of free and excellent courses available online. Investigate your interests before deciding on future moves and speak to leadership professionals about strategies for the future, as well as finding a mentor to guide you on your way.”

Naidoo says it is now important for all of us to figure out how to become outstanding and unmissable at what we do and consider how we are positioning ourselves career-wise.

“At this moment there is no safety in feeling comfortable with just letting the wheels turn over as before by doing just the bare minimum to survive in your job. Becoming proactive and getting yourself back on the front foot now is key.”

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