Are The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting Just New Responses to Old Problems?

Dave Caperton


Job-embeddedness: A measure of employee/organization relationship based in large part on
the degree of interconnectedness an employee feels to the people in the organization and the
potential sacrifice those employees would have to suffer if they left.

In chapter 1, verse 9 of Ecclesiastes, which was written sometime between the 10th and the
fourth centuries BC, it says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” You can argue whether this
observation about the unchanging nature of life written two millennia before electricity or cars or
Netflix is actually true, but it sure feels true.

We’ve solved a lot of problems with innovations like indoor plumbing and better storage vessels for wine than, say, animal bladders, but many of the same issues remain—like our quest for meaning and connection; our struggles for power and status; and the need most of us have to work to earn the means to survive.

I have been thinking about this concept of nothing new as I’ve followed the endless articles and
discussions about The Great Resignation (or the Great Realignment, the Great Reshuffle, or
the Big Quit) which has spurred countless articles, books, and debates about what it is and why
it is.

In one survey asking people who have quit what led to that decision, 36% said it was
because of compensation factors and 5% said they didn’t actually know why they quit. That 1
out of every 20 of these folks would make such a life-changing decision for reasons that they
themselves can’t fathom is, frankly, kind of weird (was it peer pressure, intoxication, a TikTok
challenge?), but a subject for another day.

For today, let’s focus on the remaining 59% who said they resigned because they didn’t feel respected or cared about at work. The legitimacy of the reasons they felt that way is debatable but the effects are not. Labor shortages mean industries are scrambling to bounce back from the pandemic without enough people to get back to business as usual. And experts say that all the quitting and realigning aren’t over.

Twenty percent of respondents in 2022, said that they are considering quitting in the near future. And
now we have a new term for those who haven’t officially quit but have slowed their productivity
to a minimum, or “Quiet Quitting.” This is all new, right? Well…

The idea of going through the motions at work isn’t really a recent phenomenon. It’s as old as
work itself and the reason why the comic strip, Dilbert, hasn’t run out of jokes in 30 years and
why TV shows like The Office continue to be a popular streaming choice and movies like Office
Space from 1999, remains relevant despite all the big hair and pleated pants. But you know
what else isn’t new? The most effective solutions.

Way back in 1940, the New York Labor Relations Board conducted a survey of employers and
employees that asked them to answer the same question: “What do employees want?” The
employers were convinced that their people wanted: 1. Higher wages 2. Job security and 3.
Opportunities for advancement. But, still recovering from a decade-plus of The Great
Depression, these employers felt justified that they couldn’t provide for what these ungrateful
people wanted.

On the employee list were some of the same answers about compensation and opportunity, but
they ended up farther down the list from the ones that cost actual money. The far and away
most cited wish was, to be recognized. In second place was the desire to feel included as a
valued part of something bigger than themselves and, third, to know that someone cared about
them and their personal lives.

If recent surveys are accurate, not much has changed. People still want to be seen and heard.
They still want to feel included and connected and they still want to know that they are cared
about personally. And, for the most part, they still aren’t getting those things.

A recent survey by Gallup asked employees how many times they’d been thanked on the job in the past 12 months and 65% said not one single time. How embedded do you think they are in their jobs?
Job-embeddedness comes from building strong connections and providing for the employee’s
needs so that quitting and going elsewhere isn’t a simple math problem of replacing pay and
benefits. It becomes a multi-dimensional calculation of what else they’d have to sacrifice. It
results from creating a workplace in which recognition, inclusion, and the message that they
are cared about as people are ingrained in the culture.

Compared to what most leaders think their people want—higher pay, security and promotion–it
costs nothing and as a solution to quiet or actual quitting, it’s pretty simple. But that doesn’t
mean it’s easy. Creating a workplace where embeddedness is strong takes an enormous
commitment to creating a sense of belonging, a process for recognition and expressed
gratitude, a sincere effort to earn trust through transparency, compassion, and connection, and
even a sense of play and shared laughter. It’s really nothing new under the sun. It’s what
employees have always wanted. Except now, if you won’t provide it, they’re perfectly willing to
quit— quietly or actually—until they find someone who will.

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