Quiet Quitting: How to Motivate a Quiet Quitter

What is Quiet Quitting? 

Quiet quitting describes the behavior of employees who choose to do no more than their job demands, essentially not exerting extra effort. These causes could be the result of:

  • A lack of recognition for when they did go above and beyond
  • Burnout from prolonged periods of stress without adequate support
  • Work-life balance concerns resulting in them wanting to have better personal time management, and/or
  • Misalignment with company values and expectations.

Communication breakdowns from higher management or unclear expectations can heighten employee frustrations, potentially leading them to reduce their effort.


Deeper Issues

Quiet quitting can be symptomatic of deeper issues within the company culture, such as poor management practices, lack of engagement strategies, or unclear career advancement paths. SHRM produced an article in November of 2022, ‘Is Quiet Quitting Really Happening?‘ There was considerable discussion about whether quiet quitting is merely a new term for a longstanding issue of disengagement. Is this genuinely a distinct phenomenon? The article included a survey of more than 1,200 HR professionals, revealing that 36 percent observed quiet quitting in their workplaces. Additionally, 60 percent attributed this trend to the post-pandemic workplace culture. In comparison, 72 percent noted it was more prevalent among younger employees. What really surprised the author of the article was that 28 percent witnessed quiet quitting with their front-line people managers. 


Quiet Quitting in 2024

It’s 2024, yet the conversation about quiet quitting persists. The post-pandemic workplace is still undergoing significant transformation. As work environments evolve from remote to hybrid and back to in-office setups, HR and organizational leaders continue to refine strategies to engage employees across these varying formats. As new generations enter the workforce, management must adapt their approaches to engage these younger employees effectively. McKinsey & Company continues to explore and discuss the ongoing hidden costs of quiet quitting among employees who remain disengaged and fulfill only the minimum requirements of their roles. These discussions underscore the enduring relevance and complexity of employee engagement in a rapidly changing work landscape.


How do we motivate a quiet quitter? 

Daniel Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” released in December 2009, remains pertinent today because it addresses the enduring principles of human motivation: biological, extrinsic, and intrinsic. We continue to seek fulfillment of our basic survival needs (biological), such as food, shelter, and safety. We are also driven by extrinsic motivations, which include rewards such as salaries and bonuses, as well as penalties like disciplinary actions for not meeting expectations. However, these factors typically only motivate us to perform at the minimum required level.

Pink argues that to truly engage employees, we must look beyond these basic motivators to intrinsic motivation. He illustrates this with the example of a child learning to play the piano who initially enjoys the challenge. However, when the child’s parents promise a reward for practicing—the opportunity to hang out with friends—the activity becomes a chore and loses its intrinsic appeal, turning into a task done merely for external rewards.


Intrinsic Motivation

This shift illustrates the need for employers and managers to foster environments where intrinsic motivation can flourish—where the joy and satisfaction derived from the work itself are the primary drivers. This approach requires moving beyond traditional rewards and punishments to cultivate a deeper, more personal engagement with tasks.

People seek to be active, engaged and challenged. Intrinsic motivation thrives on granting individuals autonomy, fostering their growth, and fulfilling their deep-seated desire for purpose. While extrinsic motivation is effective for straightforward tasks or manual labor, tasks that are more creative or self-directed often demand a stronger intrinsic drive. Allowing employees to decide the how, when, and with whom of their work tasks caters to those who are innately self-motivated and strive for excellence—traits commonly found in high performers, whom no organization wants to lose.

These high achievers require autonomy and a clear sense of purpose. As a leader or business owner, you can provide this through your company’s vision and mission. Explain why your business exists, the importance of your company to the community, and how your team’s efforts align with and advance this purpose. This approach motivates and connects employees’ daily activities to a larger, meaningful objective. 


Be transparent. 

A lack of honesty can significantly undermine an employee’s connection to their work. It’s crucial to clearly communicate your company’s culture, expectations, and the required standards of performance and behavior right from the start. If your workplace environment isn’t entirely positive, acknowledge that. Some employees thrive in high-pressure, fast-paced settings, and attracting those suited for such challenges is important. For instance, in a podcast episode titled ‘DOAC-Moment 154: The Truth About Quiet Quitting,’ Simon Sinek emphasizes the importance of organizational honesty. He discusses Amazon’s approach, noting that despite its demanding environment and high employee turnover due to burnout—often within two years—the company is upfront about its culture. Amazon manages to attract those who seek and excel in such challenging environments. This drive is rooted in intrinsic motivation—these individuals are not primarily motivated by financial rewards or comfort but by the desire to push their limits and see how they perform under pressure.


What do you hope to achieve in your life?

Asking someone about their life aspirations can be a powerful tool for leaders and managers to uncover the intrinsic motivations of their employees. Leaders and managers often believe they need to figure out what motivates their employees on their own. However, it’s much simpler than that—just ask them. It’s puzzling why challenging conversations are often avoided. Assuming that an employee will improve without intervention isn’t always effective. Instead, engaging in open-ended conversations can be key to understanding and enhancing motivation. 

Here are some sample open-ended questions you can ask your employees to find their intrinsic motivations: 

  • What work are you most proud of?
  • What aspects of your job are most fulfilling for you?
  • Can you describe a project or task where you felt highly motivated and engaged?
  • What skills would you like to develop or learn more about?
  • What makes you feel energized about coming to work each day?
  • How do you prefer to receive recognition for your work?
  • What personal values do you bring into your work?
  • What impact do you hope to make through your work?


Follow-Up Strategies

After collecting responses to key questions about what motivates your employees, you’re well-equipped to tailor your motivational strategies effectively. This data allows you to create opportunities that resonate deeply with individual team members. For those who expressed a high level of engagement with certain tasks, you can increase their involvement in similar activities. Equip them with the resources or tools they identified as energizing. Furthermore, they align their work with their personal values to provide a sense of purpose that enhances their job satisfaction and productivity. By doing so, you’re acknowledging their preferences and actively fostering an environment that maximizes their intrinsic motivation and overall commitment to their roles. This approach not only improves individual performance but also enhances the collective productivity of the team, contributing to a more motivated and cohesive workforce.


In this discussion, we explored the critical role of intrinsic motivation in addressing workplace challenges such as quiet quitting. Managers can significantly enhance engagement by emphasizing transparent communication about company culture and aligning work with employees’ personal values and aspirations. We highlighted the use of strategic questioning as a tool to dive deeper into what truly drives each team member. As we’ve seen, understanding and leveraging intrinsic motivation not only combats disengagement but also fosters a more dynamic and committed workforce, ultimately benefiting both employees and the organization as a whole.


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