October 3, 2022

Quiet Quitting: New Phenomenon or Just a Catchy New Name?

Why Culture and Strategy Matter for Engaged Employees

Regardless of your favorite social media or news outlet, it’s likely that you’ve run across at least one headline about quiet quitting. While the term was coined by a pair of economists in 2009, it went viral late in the summer of 2022 on TikTok and subsequently flooded all other media outlets.  

The timing of this trend couldn’t have been better as the world emerges from a pandemic that shook our stability and caused many people to think closer about priorities. This is most notably seen in the Great Resignation or Great Attrition, where a staggering number of Americans are voluntarily quitting their jobs. Further complicating the issue is the estimated 65% of these who have quit in the last two years and did not return to the same industry they left.

Source: McKinsey Quarterly, 2022

With roughly 40% of US workers still considering leaving their jobs, this trend shows little sign of slowing anytime soon.  

It's Not a New Thing

While these numbers can be sobering, it’s certainly not unprecedented. As Sarah Todd points out in her article for Qartz, engagement numbers reported in Gallup’s annual employee satisfaction survey were even lower in the timeframe from 2000 to 2014.  

While the term quiet quitting is somewhat new, the idea has been around for a while. Contrary to what it may seem at face value, it’s not describing someone actually leaving a job, rather people who are disengaged from their work – doing the bare minimum with little to no psychological connection to what they are doing. Think Peter Gibbons in Office Space for a great, if not extreme, pop culture example. 

Office Space, 1999

The idea of discretionary effort, essentially the gap between the bare minimum required for a job and a person’s maximum effort, is something organizational psychology has discussed for some time now. Can organizations impact the amount a person is willing to put toward their job? What’s a healthy amount of time and energy to give toward work compared to outside hobbies and relationships? And should we really be defined by our jobs?  

As the quiet quitting trend continues to gain traction, these conversations, and others about how to increase engagement and motivation, continue to grow as well. An important dynamic to understand is the concept of intrinsic motivation, or self-determination theory. At our core, people are built for meaning. We crave the ability to make a difference, to see the impact of our work, and be part of a group doing something we believe in. We want to have confidence that the time and energy we’re spending is for good reason. If that’s not apparent, why would I try harder?

Space as a Responsive Strategy

Another trend that’s been floating around TikTok for a while now is the “tell me something without actually telling me” bit where creators share relatable experiences without putting them into words. These universal sentiments are automatically understood without the need for long, verbal explanations.  

How do you tell an employee you care about them without telling them? I’ll go first: invest in the workspace. Don’t get me wrong, people still deserve to be told they matter in a variety of ways. One of which should be to experience a place that supports their needs, builds connection and relatedness to coworkers, and tells the story of the great things the team is doing.  

This isn’t a silver bullet or a “build it and they will come” situation (dare I mention another pop culture reference Kevin Costner?). As employers are wrestling with the right way to approach virtual and hybrid work, many are looking to the workspace to solve all their problems. But the most amazing space can’t overcome a toxic culture or poor leadership. Arbitrarily cool or beautiful environments with the best ergonomics and amenities can only go so far if the boss is still micromanaging your every move.  

The greatest responsibility of today’s leaders isn’t to coerce people into working harder – it’s to understand what inspires their team and give them the clarity, autonomy, and relatedness needed to truly desire to contribute in meaningful ways. This autonomy includes where and how each individual and team is best able to accomplish the dynamic and changing work. This could mean the kitchen table, local coffee shop, or a well-designed space that’s responding to the unique needs of your organization and talent. 

The formula above may seem simple, but by starting with a clear understanding of the organization’s core ideology and the talent needed to achieve this vision, we’re able to ensure that your space is truly designed to be a strategic contributor to your success.  


  1. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-great-attrition-is-making-hiring-harder-are-you-searching-the-right-talent-pools
  2. https://qz.com/is-quiet-quitting-actually-a-problem-1849507715
  3. https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-determination-theory.html
  4. https://1cmo.com/what-is-your-core-ideology/