Can You Still Land Your Dream Job If You “Act Your Wage”?
“Act your wage” is a term coined by Gen Zs on TikTok, referring to doing the bare minimum within your job description. To put it simply, it involves you not doing things outside of what you’re “supposed to” so you can preserve your energy for creative endeavours outside of work and not be taken advantage of by your employer, as well as maintain a healthy work/life balance.
This trend started with TikTok users like @jamieleighgagnon who said in a clip that “no matter how much effort you put in” at work, “you’re always replaceable” within big corporations and companies.
As young people today, we have such a clearer and (rightly) more cynical view of capitalism. We understand why our society needs it to survive, but we also see its ugliness too. We’re aware of being a “cog in a machine” or a “number on a spreadsheet” and we know that there are heaps of toxic work environments, that prey on younger and less experienced employees to take advantage of. And we’re not having it.
“Gen Z is hyper-informed about topics like purpose, mindset, values, self-actualisation, healthy relationships and boundary setting in all areas of life,” Career & Side-Hustle Coach and founder Badass Careers, Rosie McCarthy, tells POPSUGAR Australia, “and so bring with them a new set of standards around how they expect life to feel and how to be treated.”
“They know when a manager is toxic or gaslighting them and they are taking a huge stance against pushing themselves into the burnout that has affected so many Millennials. While some people write it off as young people being spoilt or lazy, I see it as young people taking what power they can back in a world where they are feeling powerless.”
And while being educated and aware of our own value as employees and individuals in the workplace have its value, it also breeds this self-righteousness that feels questionable. Where is the line between being overworked and underpaid, vs showing initiative and work ethic above and beyond your role?
Our relationship with work is changing, McCarthy says. For older generations, work used to be a reliable way to comfortably save for a 3-bedroom house deposit by age 25 and stash away for a generous retirement fund. It provided security, stability, and much greater earning potential. These days, entry-level salaries can barely keep up with your soaring rent and food prices. We’re talking about highly qualified people, some Masters-qualified and beyond, navigating the relentlessly competitive job market, pulling a 40-hour work week just to survive, and a general feeling of hopelessness on that front.
“I can understand why they’re craving a healthy sense of detachment and would rather live more for the moment, saving that ‘above and beyond’ energy for projects that feel meaningful to them, like more time with friends and family, the podcast they’re working on, or that new painting hobby they’ve just picked up,” she says.
For so many young people today, their full-time or most constant job, is not their only job. We’re living in a digital world, where everyone has a side hustle and a passion project. You might work in a creative agency by day and write long-form creative freelance pieces on the side, work in a corporate office but do some Instagram modelling for extra $$ and because you love fashion, you might work in hospitality but also have an OnlyFans account… it’s pretty common among people living and working in their late teens and early twenties to be working across multiple platforms and industries.
The shift since being told that you needed to choose your forever career by age 18 is refreshing. And paired with the transparency of platforms like TikTok, where young people share their experiences and opinions about workplace culture, young people have never been so powerful in the workforce.
However, it still raises the question: “acting your wage” actually beneficial for you?
“As a corporate HR professional with over a decade of experience working with salary bands and talent conversations, I would warn anyone committing to this movement: if you’re going to act your wage, you’re going to stay your wage,” McCarthy says.
“To get technical, most roles have an associated salary band attached to them, say 80K-120K. If you are only performing at 80 percent of the role description, because you’re brand new to the role and still upskilling for example, you tend to earn at the lower end of the band. If you commit to just delivering against your role description, while it’s fair enough, you will cap out your earning potential at 100 percent of the band.”
“In theory, any efforts to grow, expand and deliver beyond your scope should result in hitting those higher levels of your salary band, at which point you get ready for a promotion.”
What this means, is it will be very hard for you to get a good pay rise if you stay stagnant delivering against the same scope over time, McCarthy says. You won’t be considered “talent” or “high potential” (future leader energy) in HR conversations, and the people on these lists are often getting more training and development opportunities to boot.
“Remember, you’re not just going above and beyond for your employer — you’re doing it for you, too. When you step up beyond your role scope in a reasonable, non-burn-out way, you’re advertising your potential.”
So basically, it’s a balancing act. While “acting your wage” can work to create some healthy and necessary boundaries — like this TikTok from user @saraisthreads who says that she won’t be working during her holiday or jumping on a Zoom call after work hours — it’s important that we don’t take it too far the other way and become complacent, to our own detriment.
Because work ethic still matters, babes. Just because we’re more educated about toxic workplace culture, doesn’t mean that we don’t have to try. If you’re striving for your dream job, you still have to work hard to get there. It’s not about doing more work than you’re getting paid for and being unappreciated or overworked, but it’s about getting the job to work for you, too.
“Work ethic is an energy, and it goes both ways,” McCarthy says. “If employees are pouring their energy, smarts, creativity and passion into a role, the energy they’re receiving back from the employer should be one of feedback, recognition, growth opportunities, career development and support.”
“The young professionals I work with are bright, purpose-fuelled, hard-working people. They want nothing more than to contribute and make a big impact in their work. But they have standards around boundaries around how they’re treated in order to activate that.”
And, if you find yourself in a work environment where you feel that no matter what you do, you know you won’t get the pay or recognition you deserve, then McCarthy asks you to ask the question: “why are you staying?”
Alternatively, if you’re feeling stuck and uninspired in your role, you might just need to speak up and chat with your manager.
“So often, employees create this psychological contract with their managers that states ‘I’m going to work hard, and you’re going to give me a promotion because of it’ and they never actually explicitly share this expectation with their manager. Clear is kind. You need to share your ideal next step with your manager and reverse engineer it with them — what do they need to see in you this year to make it happen? How do you need to level up professionally / upskill (both hard and soft skills)? What does strong performance look like to them, and how can you both measure progress? How will you know when you’ve got “there”?
“This provides a shared understanding you can both work to, so you know your energy and effort are going towards the right things and there’s an explicit game plan in place.”
If you’re pretty set on landing that dream job, “acting your wage” is probably not going to help you get there. While it’s good to maintain boundaries around work and life, as well as an awareness of fair workplace practises and dynamics, doing the bare minimum in any given role is a pretty guaranteed way to plateau.
Regardless of where you’re at in your career right now, it’s never a bad idea to practise having a growth mindset in the workplace. You might not feel as though you’re where you’re supposed to be in your current role, however, landing the dream job is all about really knowing yourself, according to McCarthy.
“I’ve helped hundreds of people land their pinch-me dream jobs this year and what I loved about that process is that each and every dream job was so different from the next because every human being is different,” she says.
“You need to know truly who you are – your definition of success, your ideal lifestyle design, your strengths, values, personality, and so much more — to truly understand the ‘sweet spot’ of what kind of work you would love.”