“What’s The Buzz, Tell Me What’s Happening”
John Cassidy

“What’s The Buzz, Tell Me What’s Happening”

Newspaper headlines were always shortened so that they could be written in 72-point type and catch the eye.  We have all had our attention caught by the sharply turned phrase but sometimes don’t follow through to read the text.  Often, the story isn’t quite as clear as the headline or the relentless repetition of a catchy phrase starts to take over from the reality of the underlying trend.

With so many people back from their summer break and short of time due to their weight of their email inbox or a revitalized travel schedule it’s a good time to unpick some of the headlines.  There’s also increasing evidence to consider about the way that changes caused by the pandemic might have changed working patterns but haven’t altered human psychology.  Commentators around the world agree with our thinking that looking beyond the headlines is important if companies are to make sense of what is happening to workplace culture.

Great resignation

Just in case you’ve been asleep during the past two years the great resignation was the phrase suggesting that people were quitting work in their droves to find better roles, discover themselves or simply go and hang out on a commune.  In September 2021 McKinsey spoilt all the fun by trying to rename it the Great Attrition, which sounds as interesting as watching paint dry, and telling us that 19 million Americans had quit their job since April and 40% of those surveyed were considering leaving within six months.

But wait.  By December 2021 the BBC were telling us that this was really just a “great reshuffle” with workers “moving to the in-demand sectors more likely to offer hybrid work” or choosing to take the opportunity to downsize and find a better work/life balance.  McKinsey pivoted to get in on the act in July 2022 and, in another attempt to own the zeitgeist, suggested we were seeing the “Great Renegotiation”.

As recruiters we were finding that the original burst of individuals resigning were opening up jobs which were being filled by talented individuals acting up but not getting paid the full rate or being given appropriate titles.  Our view as far back as January 2002 was that this was opening up significant new pools of talent who would be looking to move on if they didn’t get rewarded appropriately, so we set about engaging with them to build a rapport.  Our clients have benefited from our ability to access emerging finance professionals who have not been fully appreciated by their current companies.  We think it’s just…great for high quality candidates

Hybrid work

If you listen carefully, it’s possible to hear a collective groan whenever this phrase is written or spoken.  One part of the groan is from managers who find it threatening and are fed up with dealing with direct reports who want it while the echo is from employees who find their company policies opaque, biased or impossible to manage.  Everybody knows companies that have said remote working and hybrid working is now entrenched in their thinking and others that have demanded colleagues be back at their desks before the end of the year.

The BBC was smart when its article in June 2022 said “the future of work – including hybrid arrangements ­– is still a moving target” when reporting on uptake, emotions, inclusivity and purpose, while noting that a potential economic downturn could shift power from employees to companies.  It has covered the emotional toll of hybrid working on workers, companies going fully remote, and businesses demanding a return to the office.   There is an increasing sense that the emerging buzz phrase, “hybrid is hell”, might be with us for some time.

We are certainly seeing many businesses giving full consideration to hybrid working as they attempt to find and attract the very best candidates.  Our advice is that it is not something to be dogmatic over but to consider in the same way as any other practise that may improve or prevent productivity.  Above all, we think that good communication, realistic expectations and a focus on outcomes is the key to any discussion on working arrangements.  Both sides need to take responsibility for the way it works and be prepared to flex and adapt as necessary.

Quiet Quitting and Clandestine Contracting

One of the big fears accompanying remote and hybrid working is that employees will take it easy and may even start to do other jobs unless they are under the gimlet eye of a boss.  “Quiet quitting” is a contested phrase which some see as a worker doing less than their utmost for the business while others see it as the employee just doing what they are paid to do and no more or less.  “Clandestine contracting” is the notion that workers who find that they can their employer happy with time to spare might find a side-hustle to bring some extra money and even satisfaction.

Gallup told us in September 2022 that at least half the US workforce is quiet quitting and the article lays the blame firmly at the door of companies and inadequate training of managers who are unable to get buy in, commitment and engagement from workers.  The other side of the coin is summarised by a writer for The Atlantic who claims the whole phrase is part of a trend for “ineffable negative ideas about the world that demand the news-headline treatment.”  We think that managers should be ensuring their teams are engaged but that, if an employee is work-shy, unhappy in their job or incompetent, they should take appropriate action – which takes us back to our key points about communication, expectations and outcomes.

It’s note entirely new because back in 2011 I worked with a business where one head of a key administrative department managed to find himself a job with a competitor in the same town.  It is likely that his covert activity was doomed to failure over the long term but it got nipped in the bud due to a casual conversation in a hotel checkout queue between two senior members of each company.  “We’ve just appointed X.  I think he used to work for you.”  Slight pause before the rejoinder, “He still does.”  End of both contracts.

The reality is that some people are working more than one job just to keep life, property and family together.  I also have a colleague who did two degrees by distance learning which meant they didn’t spend every working minute thinking about the business despite a reasonably high pressure job.  Drawing an ethical line between short-changing your company and legitimately managing your day to do two jobs needs some thought from the employee and honesty with the organization.

There are other buzz phrases and trends worth following up and I’ll come back to them in a later blog.  For now, I’d suggest everyone looks behind the headlines and keeps reading these blogs and our LinkedIn page.  We curate content every week and research deeply to help ourselves ensure that clients and candidates can keep up to date with new developments.


*The headline is a line from “What’s the Buzz”, a song featured in Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay