Quiet quitting has taken the business world by storm over the past two years, with workers choosing to give greater priority to their work-life balance, often to the detriment of their motivation to work.
From drops in productivity to employees doing the bare-minimum, the impact of quiet quitting has been discussed extensively, leading to 2022 being dubbed “the year of quiet quitting”.
However, what about quiet quitters’ noisier and more vocal counterparts?
For years, businesses have been troubled by “loud labourers”, employees who place greater focus on being vocal about their workload, rather than completing the task.
These individuals utilise various ways of promoting themselves, speaking about what they plan to do instead of getting on with their job. This may have troubling consequences on the rest of the workforce, possibly leading a drop in team cohesion.
Delving deeper into this, MaltaCEOs.mt reached out to various leadership and human resources (HR) specialists to learn more about this concept and its dangers from a local perspective.
Konsultadvisory Ltd Managing Director Mario Cassar explained that ‘loud labourer’ is a recent term for something which “essentially existed forever”, where some workers strive to “promote themselves, and in doing so put their coworkers away from the spotlight”.
“This is different from those people who make it all about themselves, where they also take credit for the work of others, although there is often an overlap in such behaviours,” he said. Mr Cassar also remarked that many say loud labourers have become more present following the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increase in remote working, yet he noted that “such behaviour has always been quite commonplace”.
Compassionate Leadership Trainer Adrian Xuereb Archer said that loud labourers “have an opinion about everything” and are “not afraid to express it”.
“What makes them identifiable is that they project a sense that they are right about everything, and you are not. They make you feel that their perspective is the only one you should listen to,” he continued.
Elaine Dutton, Business Consultant and Founder of The Change Agent, distinguished between a loud labourer and a confident employee by pointing towards the “actual output and the quality of the work” produced.
“A loud labourer is like the child that tells you they are eating everything but simply moving the food around the plate or eating very little. A confident employee on the other hand, will have the deliverables to substantiate their assertiveness as well as the wisdom and experience that comes from doing that work. Although some people are incredibly gifted at bluffing, a well-structured organisation will quickly distinguish between the two,” she explained.
Mr Xuereb Archer added that contrary to how a truly confident person feels “safe and secure in themselves”, loud labourers create an “artificial confidence to protect themselves or gain what they need”. “They believe, and sometimes rightly so, that unless they are loud, their voices and needs will not be met. Many times, they are persistent and loud enough to get what they want,” he said.
The primary challenge that loud labourers present is that of how to manage and reward performance.
“If the business leaders of an organisation are easily impressed by big words and promises and pay little attention to the actual work being delivered, then a loud labourer could undo a whole team’s engagement, which on a larger scale wreaks havoc in terms of talent retention, organisational culture, workforce engagement, and other aspects,” Dr Dutton explained.
Such individuals can thus upset the “harmony of the team” if the business leader is not sharp enough to realise that there is “no substance behind the loud labourer’s words”.
She remarked that this can be minimised by an organisation forming a culture where “objectives are clear, strong performance and effort are rewarded, and leaders don’t shy away from hard conversations”. These will prompt loud labourers to “quickly find themselves isolated and their noise would fail to bring the desired attention”.
Mr Cassar added that loud labourers’ behaviour is “very dysfunctional within workgroups and especially teams”, as it “attacks the foundation of positive group dynamics” by undermining trust.
Mr Xuereb Archer clarified that “not all loud labourers are bad”, as on certain occasions they can be “essential for the organisation’s success because they speak out about things no one else would otherwise have the courage to say”.
Despite this, he also pointed out that there is a tendency for them to create a “false narrative” in the company, which can result in a negative atmosphere and a drop in morale.
He noted that the difficulty here is that if an organisation listens to loud employees, a feeling of injustice can be created as loud people are rewarded, while if it fails to listen to them, a negative narrative within the culture can fester.
“With people, it is important to recognise that things are not black and white. The people who are the best contributors might be the most difficult to manage and the ones easy to manage might be sucking your company dry. The challenge is thus to have the wisdom and executive ability to meet what the organisation needs with the right measure of action and care,” Mr Xuereb Archer said.
Researchers have stated that loud labourers are primarily present due to a lack of self-esteem, and as a result, they decide to overcompensate.
Dr Dutton agreed with this, yet she added that it might also be a symptom of active disengagement, “someone who is no longer aligned to the company’s goals or purpose, and although they haven’t yet quit, they are talking about the imaginary work they will do or are doing but very little is actually getting done”.
One might also become a loud labourer due to them being exposed to a previous work culture where they only get rewarded if they “flaunt every miniscule achievement”, and as a result decided to bring in that behaviour to the new organisation. Dr Dutton said that in such cases, the management needs to clearly define the company culture and reassure the employee that they “don’t have to make so much noise to be seen”.
“Sure, such behaviour may be coming from a feeling of insecurity or lack of confidence, but one should approach such a situation with objectivity and an open mind,” Mr Cassar said.
“There may be other reasons behind this behaviour which their manager should try to uncover when addressing the issue. This is why a leader-as-coach approach may be beneficial using regular one-to-one meetings with a loud labourer to coach them away from such behaviour. Such meetings would also serve to gauge performance against personal work goals and attach the problem at its root,” he added.
Mr Xuereb Archer acknowledged that low self-esteem might be an issue, yet high self-esteem can also be a “plague to an organisation”, and he listed four types of loud labourers. There are those who are malicious and are loud to “achieve personal agendas that work against the welfare and benefit of the company”, yet there are also oblivious ones who are not aware that they are loud. Additionally, there are also know it all loud labourers, as well as others who care for the company yet feel unsupported.
In his experience, he found the malicious ones to be the most challenging, as they “know how to place themselves so that they are difficult to influence”.
Aside from creating false narratives, the worst impact loud labourers can have on a business according to Mr Xuereb Archer is encouraging other workers to leave.
“Given that this is an employee’s market, finding employees is not as easy as it once was. Also, losing people strains the organisation further by adding workload which stresses people and worsens the relationships between employees,” he added.
Asked what business leaders can do about loud labourers, all three respondents stated that one should first ensure that the company culture does not allow loud labourers to flourish.
“Have that uncomfortable conversation and genuinely ask for proof of the work, research, or client meetings that this loud labourer claims to be spending their time working on. By addressing it quickly, you don’t only tackle the loud labourer – there might also be a poor performance issue – but you also win the respect of your team who see someone in your position looking out for their interest,” Dr Dutton said.
She added that businesses need to also make sure their objectives are clear, with performance management processes in place, while new team members are provided with a good induction to offer the right support.
Successfully addressing loud labourers rests on business leaders being “assertive instead of responding in an aggressive or passive-aggressive manner”, Mr Cassar said.
“This is where interpersonal skills training and enhancing emotional intelligence help to support all workers by giving them the tools to be assertive and respond in a constructive and functional manner to contain the damage from such behaviour,” he explained.
Mr Xuereb Archer noted that prior to looking at loud labourers directly, business leaders first have to create a supportive workplace atmosphere, which can be done by creating psychological safety, developing relationships, prioritising both people and results, as well as spending time talking to employees.
He replaces Jose Ramon Alegre, who resigned from the position at the start of 2024.
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