Another Perspective on “Quiet Quitting”

Quiet quitting is a popular phrase that seems to have shot to prominence since the pandemic began and some workforces moved to hybrid working conditions. It refers to the practice of mentally checking out and only doing the minimum requirements of one’s job. “Quiet quitters” aren’t leaving their jobs (though they may be inclined to) but are staying and putting in the minimum time, effort, or enthusiasm required. For more on this, see our recent Blog Quiet Quitting: Is anyone really working these days?

This phenomenon has also been called “work-to-rule,” which essentially means the same thing: employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract. The effects of quiet quitting are likely magnified in industries where employees traditionally operate under the “rules of work,” which means to go above and beyond expectations.

In the education sector for example it is normal to arrive early, stay late, help students, pay for supplies, mark work, and prepare lessons—all beyond the hours of a standard workday. Historically, education runs on a lot of unpaid teacher labor.

So how do you help? How do you manage a workforce of employees who are still performing their job and may have no intention of leaving, but are no longer going above and beyond? Here are two suggestions to get you started.


In Crucial Conversations we call this skill “Master My Stories”. A common narrative about quiet quitting suggests that employees are “sticking it” to their employers for increased pay, better working conditions, or a more balanced work schedule. This narrative depicts employees as villains. This villain story assumes the worst possible motives and ignores any possible good motives or reasons they may have.

The stories we tell ourselves often leave out relevant information to confirm our biases, judgments, and conclusions. This hampers dialogue and resolution. The first step is to tell the rest of the story.


Begin by asking, “Why would a decent, reasonable, rational person do this?”

As we explore this question, we may find that most employees are highly invested, caring professionals who feel overwhelmed, stuck, worn out, and need balance to maintain not only their love for their work, but also their physical and mental health. While they may not be giving the accustomed above-and-beyond effort, there are probably only a small number of employees out there doing the “bare minimum.”

Changing the narrative allows us to see your employees through a different lens. Not only does it change the view, but it will also minimise the emotions that make it difficult to have a meaningful conversation about how to improve the situation.


One of the most common mistakes we make as leaders is not taking time to diagnose why people do what they do. We fall into what is called The Fundamental Attribution Error. This refers to our tendency to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality, while under-emphasising situational or environmental influences on their behaviour.

Because of the stories we tell ourselves, it’s easy to attribute the behaviors of quiet quitting to an employees personal motivation. “They don’t care anymore.” “They’ve lost their passion for their work.” Attributing poor behaviour to selfish motives makes us ineffective at discussing and influencing behaviour.

People do things for two reasons: because the can (ability) and because they have reason to (motivation). But ability and motivation are not just personal, they are also affected by social and structural factors. We call these various factors The Six Sources of Influence.

Considering the various sources that can influence behaviour should help arrive at several possible answers to the question above: “Why would a decent, reasonable, rational person do this?”

If you need to discuss what looks like quiet quitting with an employee, check your story before you share what you are observing with your staff member. Then ask them to share their perspective. Listen and see if you can identify the various sources of influence affecting their behaviour.

Changing the narrative and taking time to diagnose sources of influence are the first steps to having a meaningful conversation about troubling behaviour. Doing this will increase your influence and give your employees power to improve.

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