Quiet Quitting and Mattering

Quiet Quitting and Mattering

Thought Experiments
November 30, 2022
Randall Hand
The term “Quiet Quitting” seems to have taken over workplace news in the last few months. The practice of “doing just enough to not get fired” (Hat-tip to those who get the Office Space reference) seems to have become popular amongst some in the workforce, even to the point that the US Surgeon General has named “Mattering At Work” one of the 5 key focus areas for mental health in the workplace.
So what is it?

What is “Mattering At Work”?

Put simply, it’s the combination of two human needs:
  • Dignity - defined as being respected and valued in the workplace
  • and Meaning - Broader purpose and significance of one’s work
While this sounds good and all, these are incredibly personal attributes that have different interpretations for each person. As proof, a recent study of 135 employees across 10 different occupations asked them about “meaningful work”:
“We expected to find that meaningfulness would be similar to other work-related attitudes, such as engagement or commitment, in that it would arise purely in response to situations within the work environment,” they reported.
“However, we found that, unlike these other attitudes, meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual; it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals,” the researchers added. “People tended to speak of their work as meaningful in relation to thoughts or memories of significant family members such as parents or children, bridging the gap between work and the personal realm.”

The origins of Mattering

Digging a bit deeper, psychology has been discussing “Mattering” for a long time. Psychologists such as Rebecca Newberger Goldstein call it a “Mattering Instinct”.
If an organism—any organism—were to have the capacity to articulate its deepest motivation, the motivation that’s a prerequisite for all its other motivations that drive it on in its ceaseless tasks and activities—its scurrying, hiding, roaming, raiding, mating—it would say that its own existence in this world, its persistence and its flourishing, matters. Its own life deserves the assiduous attention and dedicated activity that every creature unthinkingly gives it.
Leading to:
So it is no wonder that an articulating reason-giving animal—namely us—is driven by its sense that its own existence and flourishing matters. We can’t help but act as if we matter, but still, as reflective creatures we eventually get around to asking for a justification of this most basic of mattering presumptions. I think that’s where all the mistakes begin, whether they’re mistakes of religion—thinking that without God human life is meaningless—or mistakes like Nietzsche’s get started. To ask for a justification of this mattering instinct is comparable to, say, asking for the justification for the belief in the uniformity of nature, which David Hume demonstrated can’t be justified but must be presumed in order for us to rationally investigate nature.
So basically everyone is narcissistic enough to assume they matter, but they want it justified anyway as validation of their self-worth. If you’ve been reading for a while, you can see some relationships to our earlier discussion about
Immortality Projects and Not Giving a F*ck

Quiet Quitting

A recent article in Forbes about how Mattering and Quiet Quitting relate offered up this fascinating bit on “7 steps to ensure your hard work gets noticed” at work:
  1. Develop a “visibility strategy.”
  1. Make sure all of your projects keep moving.
  1. Ease a colleague’s workload when they’re overwhelmed.
  1. Focus on and take care of small details.
  1. Offer new ideas instead of shying away from speaking out.
  1. Lend a helping hand to co-workers.
  1. Volunteer your time to help with a task.
Immediately I’m sure you can see the error here. Asking people who are so demotivated that they barely meet their minimum goals at work to suddenly “volunteer time to help with a task” just doesn’t make sense. It seems that most leadership groups take concepts like Mattering as lip-service.
This is echoed in another survey done by LiveCareer which shows some startling statistics. After interviewing 1000 employees, they discovered:
  • 45% of people see Quiet Quitting as “Creating Healthy Boundaries”
  • 80% of people were promoted since becoming a quiet quitter
  • 77% of people got raises after becoming a quiet quitter
  • But 88% of people hide the fact that they are a quiet quitter
Quiet Quitting is starting to sound like a great way to move up the corporate ladder.

How to Properly Implement Mattering

Employees are doing less and getting more, according to the data. They may not be proud of the fact, given that they’re keeping it secret, but the data shows that more and more people are picking up the “Quiet Quitting” lifestyle and reaping the benefits. Not only financial benefits, but health and psyche benefits as well.
Like all things tho, it can go too far resulting in impacts to the workplace and friction within teams that see some people picking up the slack of others. That leads to additional issues that management has to deal with that almost never work out well for everyone involved.
There are tiny steps and big steps that management can understand to provide “Mattering” in the workplace:
  • Recognize work of employees promptly - Lots of companies have monthly or quarterly recognition programs, but often times the time delay between the actual work and the recognition is too far apart to maintain the kind of mental relationship “My work made a difference”
  • Regularly survey employees and Publicly Act on their Feedback - Lots of companies run internal monthly survey programs among their staff, but those surveys go into a big black box that gets reviewed by a handful of people in a dark secret room, and nothing ever changes. They’re not used to drive effective change, they’re used to calculate an NPS Score.
    • An example: A few employees of mine mentioned wanting a special kind of coffee machine near our area, similar to one used in the executive area. In many organizations that request would have been ignored, or researched a bit then dropped. I inquired about it and found out that the machine was discontinued by the manufacturer, and we had tried to get a pre-used machine but they were all in such poor condition that we weren’t having much luck. I shared that information back with the team to close the loop, and while not exactly happy about the outcome they felt that I had heard the request and done what I could.. Their input mattered, even if it wasn’t implemented. In this case, everyone had done the best they could but nobody closed the loop on the communication.
  • Take time to connect with employees on a personal level. Find out about their family situation and what they’re dealing with outside of work, and then check-back with them for updates. Then use this information in the future when it’s time for things like PTO requests.
    • For example: Knowing that a member of your staff recently had a family member in a car accident and now they’re down a vehicle for a few weeks because their insurance is being a pain, makes it easier on both them and you when they ask for Work-from-home flexibility later because they’re down a car.


With the changing landscape of work in the tech industry, lots of employees are re-evaluating their position and looking at what they do. As leaders and managers, we should all be looking around at what we can do to keep our staffs happy, healthy, and busy. If we don’t take things like “Mattering” seriously, our staff will find someone else who does.