The Psychology of Quiet Quitting

When people don’t feel cared about, they eventually stop caring

Last month, a TikTok user named Zaiad Khan posted about a new way of describing a common attitude toward work. “I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” he explained.

As the video went viral, opinions swarmed in. Critics called it old wine in a new and confusing bottle: previous generations had done it under the guise of slacking, social loafing, mailing it in, or phoning it in—and made an entire movie about it. Executives vilified employees for failing to take their jobs seriously. And in doing that, they missed a crucial point about what drives quiet quitting.

Half a century ago in a classic book, economist Albert Hirschman argued that there are two dominant responses to dissatisfaction: exit and voice. If you weren’t happy with your job, your marriage, or your country, you could either decide to leave or exercise your right to speak up and advocate for improvements. Which option you chose, he argued, depended on your loyalty. Hirschman was right about that, but his analysis neglected something important: what people do when they can’t risk speaking up but also can’t afford to walk away.

In the following decade, when a pair of management researchers studied how people react to job dissatisfaction, they discovered another response beyond exit and voice. They called it neglect. “Neglect may be shown by putting in less effort,” they wrote, or “spending less time at work.” Neglect is the 1984 term for quiet quitting.

In the data, the warning signs of quiet quitting were visible half a year before people started neglecting their jobs. Neglect was the norm after people felt dissatisfied and lacked a sense of control, voice, and hope for change. Later studies showed that neglect tended to happen after managers breached trust and employers violated the unwritten expectations for how employees should be treated.

During the Great Resignation, many people quit toxic cultures. Many of those who couldn’t leave chose neglect. If multiple people in a team are quiet quitting, odds are that the manager is part of the problem. If multiple teams are quiet quitting, it might be time for leaders to look in the mirror.

Quiet quitting isn’t a sign of individual laziness. It’s a symptom of organizational dysfunction. Doing the bare minimum is a common response to abusive bosses, bullshit jobs, and poor pay. When they don’t feel cared about, people will eventually stop caring.

As quiet quitting expert Peter Gibbons put it in Office Space: “My only real motivation is not to be hassled—that, and the fear of losing my job. But… that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

In the presence of respectful interaction, meaningful work, and generous pay, people are willing to go the extra mile. When they’re treated like dirt, assigned pointless work, and underpaid, managers should count themselves lucky if anyone is even motivated at all.

προσωπική ανάπτυξη, Adam Grant

Σχετικά Άρθρα