Hot Topics: The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting

A pale-skinned man with short hair and a beard, wearing a white button-down shirt and black pants, is sitting in a dimly lit office environment. The desk holds a laptop, a monitor, a task lamp, a teetering stack of books, an empty dinner plate, and a pair of headphones. He is sitting in a black office chair and leaning over his desk, resting his chin on his arms. His expression is dull, and he appears to be checked out—his disengagement could be quiet quitting or perhaps burnout.

There’s never a dull moment as we consider the future of work. A major driver behind the Great Resignation is an increase in job openings, as strange as that may seem. And the phenomenon recently called quiet quitting has been around a lot longer than TikTok itself.

Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, chief science officer, and Blake Loepp, PR manager, chatted about two hot topics affecting organizations and the global workforce: the Great Resignation and quiet quitting.

Let’s dive into these two issues from a personality standpoint.

The Great Resignation

What caused the Great Resignation? Among the many potential reasons for workers resigning their jobs, economists suggest that a primary driver is job openings. “Most people who are quitting a job are quitting to go take another job,” Ryne pointed out.

We see different job opening rates across different industries. Retail, healthcare, and food services are industries where we have seen the most quitting. In these and other industries, such as hospitality, education, or emergency services, working from home is not always possible. The stress of an environment where workers are expected to pick up the hours or responsibilities of their coworkers who have resigned can lead straight to burnout.

This might be a better question: what caused the job openings?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people who might have been considering resignation held onto their jobs due to the uncertainty of the employment market. Once people began to return to work, they likely acted on their pent-up willingness to leave. The pandemic also caused a lot of people to reevaluate their priorities. Some left the workforce altogether, some embraced the flexibility of remote work, and some chose entrepreneurship, self-employment, or gig work.

Personality and Values

From a personality standpoint, workers who might be shifting their priorities and making big career changes show four trends on the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) and Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI):

  • Ambition – People who score high on Ambition (HPI) tend to seek leadership roles and may be willing to switch positions to achieve that goal. They aren’t likely to exercise patience when an opportunity for advancement becomes available.
  • Power – People who score high on Power (MVPI) are motivated to get to the top and push for results. They may not be willing to wait their turn, especially if they feel they are stagnating in a role.
  • Adjustment – People who score low on Adjustment (HPI) tend to be easily frustrated or disappointed. They may be motivated to look for a new job in general because they think a change could improve their circumstances.
  • Hedonism – People who score high on Hedonism (MVPI) are motivated by a flexible lifestyle that allows them to get the most value out of their personal time. They may be more likely to reevaluate their circumstances to switch jobs in favor of hybrid or remote work environments.

From an organizational perspective, there are three themes to keep in mind that employees are likely to be seeking when they start their search for a new job:

  • Money – People who have switched jobs during the Great Resignation have earned significant increases in salary. Organizations that keep their salaries competitive will do better at retention than those that don’t.
  • Flexibility -A huge array of individual differences determines where and when workers want to work. Organizations that offer flexibility to give employees the most choice and control will seem highly attractive.
  • Value – Employees want to know that organizations are paying attention to them and care about them. Supportive policies, development opportunities, and selecting leaders who build relationships are some of the ways organizations can show they value their workers.

Quiet Quitting

Quiet quitting is a phenomenon that recently went viral on TikTok—but it’s not really all that new. “Quiet quitting is just a modern form of disengagement,” Ryne said. “Quiet quitting means not performing your best.”

Although disengagement isn’t new, it is important. Engagement data from Gallup shows that, since 2000, about 30% of US workers are engaged, while about 20% of the global workforce is.1 That means a pretty large percentage of workers are less than fully engaged or actively disengaged at work.

People who feel underpaid or unappreciated may choose to work with less attention or efficiency than they are able. Occasionally, they may deliberately waste time or only pretend to work. At worst, they could try to sabotage productivity or profitability.

We find the phenomenon of quiet quitting in every generation. These are early-career workers who don’t find their work meaningful, employees struggling to balance work with childcare or eldercare, or late-career workers who have decided to coast until retirement.

Personality and Values

Are there personality characteristics especially associated with quiet quitting? Highly motivated or highly competitive individuals aren’t very likely to be quiet quitters because of their desires to get ahead.

Every person, however, has unique motives, values, and preferences for work they feel to be rewarding. If their values are being met in the workplace, employees will probably find their work to be fulfilling, engaging, or meaningful.

To mitigate quiet quitting and better motivate employees, organizations should understand the importance of personal motivation and leadership development.

“What’s causing the Great Resignation at a deep level is a leadership problem. It’s about managers and how they are motivating their employees,” Ryne said. He pointed out that often the managers themselves are disengaged, which can contribute to absentee leadership.

Solving the disengagement problem starts with getting the right leaders in place. Leaders who engage and motivate employees by showing they are valued and that their contributions matter can help reverse quiet quitting and the Great Resignation.

“It all points back up, as it does so often, to leadership,” Ryne said.

Listen to this conversation in full on episode 59 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!


  1. Indicators: Employee Engagement. Gallup.