Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us FEB Research / FEB FEB Research News
Header image Faculty of Economics and Business

Loud or quiet quitting in the Dutch labor market? The influence of work orientations on effort and turnover

Date:16 May 2024
Professor Milena Nikolova
Professor Milena Nikolova

Professor Milena Nikolova’s research project , funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) Open Competition XS grant, provides the first evidence that work orientations – the deeply-rooted beliefs that people have about the importance of work in their lives – explain labor market behaviors and attitudes towards effort and job search in the post-pandemic economy.

Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation

As COVID restrictions were being lifted in 2021, advanced economies around the world started facing labor shortages resulting in part from the "Great Resignation," i.e., workers quitting their jobs to look for better pay, more meaningful work, and recognition. In the United States, nearly 48 million people quit their jobs in 2021 and the vast majority of these workers found other jobs or started their own business. In other countries, the quit rates have been more modest, but still sizable. For example, in the Netherlands, the job switching rate was 20% in 2022, implying that 1.5 million people changed jobs, which was two times higher than the level a decade ago. 

After Covid, many workers have been particularly vocal on social media platforms regarding not being engaged in their jobs beyond the minimum required not to get fired, triggering a wave of "Quiet Quitting." These trends attracted much public attention but also prompted a debate on whether the phenomena of Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation are really new.

For example, the Gallup organization, a polling company, suggested that quiet quitting is just disengagement, which organizational psychologists have studied for a long time. There is a lot of disagreement about what quiet quitting actually is – and whether quiet quitting is “shirking” or whether it is just doing one’s job, maintaining a work-life balance, and opposing the “hustle culture,” which demands that work should be the most central aspect of our lives and identities. Similarly, critics pointed out that the Great Resignation is just the typical tendency of people to quit their jobs in economically good times and as such, is nothing new. Unfortunately, little scientific research exists on what underpins actual and "quiet" quitting in the post-pandemic labor market, which limits our understanding of what is happening and why. 

The role of work orientations

In her research, Nikolova looked at whether the views about work’s role in our lives could be behind the behaviors underpinning Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation. The answer: yes, it does.

The so-called work orientations are the differences in how we view and understand the role of work in our lives. Some people view their jobs only for the paycheck they bring, others see it as a stepping stone in their career, and still others, as a calling. 

Job-oriented individuals focus on leisure aspects of their lives and often cannot wait to stop working. Career-oriented people view work as a means to get social recognition and status. Finally, the calling-oriented perceive their work as socially relevant because it gives them a life purpose. Work orientations underpin people’s motivation for working in the first place and how they carry out their work activities.

Employing newly collected data on work orientations and labor market behaviors, gathered as part of the Dutch LISS study, Nikolova’s findings reveal that those who perceive their work as a calling tend to invest more effort at work, show reduced quit intentions and job-hunting actions, and are less likely to support quiet quitting behaviors of workers compared to those who view work solely as a means to earn a paycheck (See Figure 1). In contrast, individuals with a career-centric view of work report higher quit intentions, are more active in job searching and exert less effort at work.

decorative image
Figure 1: Work orientations and workplace behaviors and attitudes

Work orientations are an overlooked mechanism

Nikolova explains the importance of understanding work orientations: “They are often the most important determinants of the outcomes I study – even more important than socio-demographic factors, as well as working conditions, job satisfaction, and work meaningfulness. For example, work orientations explain about 40% of the variation in job quit intentions and job search behavior. These insights underscore that work orientations may be a critical, yet overlooked, mechanism for comprehending workplace behaviors, challenging the traditional view of workers as mere salary-driven entities for whom work is inherently a disutility.” 

Future research

According to Nikolova, many open questions remain regarding the causes and consequences of work orientations, including how technological change reshapes our attitudes towards the work in our lives. “I am specifically going to look at how technological change impacts work orientations (together with my PhD student Viliana Milanova) and I am working on finding funding for longitudinal data collection to answer questions related to the formation and stability of work orientations, as well as their predictive power for labor market outcomes in the Netherlands and beyond. I am also now curating an Edited Volume, inspired by the NWO project, entitled: “Work Meaning and Motivation - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Work Well-being,” which will be published with Springer.”

For further information, please contact Milena Nikolova at m.v.nikolova

Click here to read the discussion paper.