Addressing Quiet Quitting Through Culture Change

Checking out the Quietly Quitting phenomenon in relation to Organizational Culture and the Three Levels of Motivation—a perspective by Dr. Robert A. Cooke

It seems that almost every decade or so, we hear a new expression for occupational stress, work alienation, and the serious loss of interest in one’s job. Some of us remember, a few decades ago, friends and colleagues “checking out”—not from the Hotel California per the Eagles’ hit but rather from their jobs and, in some cases, careers. Since then, the revolving door of terms for the partial or total loss of motivation has progressed from “burning out,” “going through the motions,” and “disengaging” to, now, “quietly quitting.”

The Washington Post notes that “quiet quitters aren’t walking away from their jobs. Instead they’re renouncing hustle culture and rejecting the idea of going above and beyond at work,” as proposed by TikTok user zaidleppelin in a July post that helped popularize the most recent buzzword. The Post article views “untangling employees’ identities from their jobs and leaving them with more time and energy to invest elsewhere” as a reason for this trend. Other articles and posts claim that, as we move on from the pandemic, quite a few people are quitting in this manner and redefining what they’re willing to do on the job.

The stream of interpretations of and opinions about quietly quitting has been endless, with new online articles and blogposts appearing almost every day. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist adding to this torrent given that it seems that the conversation could benefit from a review of (1) some of the original writings on the multiple levels of motivation and performance and (2) the results of recent analyses on the relationship between those levels and organizational culture.

Quietly Quitting and Models of Motivation and Performance

Chances are your organization’s leadership, human resources, and/or organization development teams are talking about and trying to address this latest challenge. If this is the case, one way for them to really understand and interpret quiet quitting is to consider the foundational research on motivation in the fields of organizational behavior and management. The intellectual roots of much of the current work is this arena—including ours—was provided by Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn (of the University of Michigan) via their classic 1996 book The Social Psychology of Organizations.1 In Chapter 12 of their original book and Chapter 13 of the second edition, they delineated three levels of motivation and performance that continue to drive research and human resource strategies in this area. These levels, along with some contemporary examples of each, are shown in the table below.

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