New perspectives on work life challenge the c-suite

Red tape, a culture of busyness and the lack of purpose frustrate many employees. According to research, management needs to make changes to retain employees while a former leader who quit her own job backs the research.


quiet quitting

Quiet quitting is hardly a hot topic in top management, and HR does probably not give too many presentations about it. But perhaps they should.

Because quiet quitting, which is about distancing yourself from your job mentally to a greater extent, could be the latest indication that our perspective on work life is changing. So maybe we should take the opportunity to give processes, routines, roles and responsibilities a service check.

”If you look at labour market developments in the past years, it looks like we have changed our views of our jobs. Even though quiet quitting is a new phenomenon which has not undergone a lot of research, it is very interesting because it apparently underpins this tendency,” says Peter Holdt Christensen, Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at CBS.

“We have at least three factors challenging our job satisfaction

                                                                    Peter Holdt Christensen, Associate Professor

”There are probably more than one explanation to this development, one of them being an increasing dissatisfaction among employees. I think quiet quitting must be placed in a bigger context, and if so, this tendency should make leaders rethink our approach to work,” he adds.

More reasons for less motivation
Peter Holdt Christensen does research in workplace human behaviour and has published several books and scientific articles on motivation, remote working, job satisfaction and knowledge sharing.

He is currently working on a research project with the working title ‘Skuffende (Disappointing)’, where he investigates what can make employees lose their job motivation. In this light, he explains the concept of quiet quitting.

”During the Covid pandemic we experienced the great resignation. Many people reconsidered their lives and job situations and took new paths. Now we have new crises which discourage some people and make them unsure whether their work matters,” says Peter Holdt Christensen and points to the increase in remote working as another factor.

Certainly, some workplaces used to have the noise level of a train station, however, with the introduction of remote working, they have turned into quiet zones. According to the researcher, it is a great loss because our feeling of community at work has so far compensated for other frustrations at the workplace.

”Even if the increase in remote working does have a lot of advantages, it has also resulted in more individualisation. One of the consequences is less community,” he says.

Managers focus on systems
According to Peter Holdt Christensen, workplaces are facing another challenge, which contributes to hopelessness and wry comments at the office desks: red tape.

”Management wishes to ensure fixed processes, structures and MOs. Typically, the aim is to make things more effective and uniform, but the employees often find themselves being introduced to more tasks which used to be carried out by certain specialists. We systematise everything to save money, but it suffocates job satisfaction and creativity, says Peter Holdt Christensen.

According to the researcher, the increasing bureaucratisation has also resulted in less acknowledgement of the individual employee. Instead, managers focus on processes, and the lack of acknowledgement from the c-suite is further reinforced by remote working.

“So, there are at least three factors challenging our job satisfaction. Lack of meaning because employees cannot see themselves making a difference. Lack of community which used to compensate for other problems. And increasing bureaucratisation,” Peter Holdt Christensen ascertains.

Busyness and bad processes led to resignation

Louise Sparf has reconsidered her work life more than once. She is focused on her career and has left her job twice. First, as deputy director in SKAT (Danish tax authorities) and later as director in an IT company.  In both cases, she paused her career to reflect on why she was not satisfied with her job situation.

”I quit both jobs mainly because of inappropriate processes and a culture of busyness that exhaust, stress and demotivate employees and managers,” she says.

Today, she is a board member, column writer and podcast host in ‘Det meningsfulde arbejdsliv (the meaningful work life)’ conversation salon host and founder of the walking community ‘Ledere i livspause (leaders pausing in life)’.

With two other women, she has reached out to their common network and spoken to 15 other people who had good jobs which they chose to leave. As both leader and employee, Louise is convinced that c-suites should be interested in their employees’ perspectives and deliberations.

”We want to work, we want to be loyal and to be recognised, but we do not want to be worn out, burn out and kept on a leash.

                                                                                              Louise Sparf, former director

Times of upheaval
”I believe the movements we see are attempts to find new ways to fulfil the wish of a healthy and meaningful work life, which cannot be find in the current rigid frameworks of the employers. We need to rethink our work culture and our models for our work life,” says Louise Sparf and continues: 

In my view, quiet quitting is just one of many interesting phenomena contributing to cement the massive progression of the movement for another work life with more breaks, more heart and more closeness. We are in times of upheaval. Employees break with the growth paradigm, speed, busyness and prestige of the past.”

According to the former director, this incipient rebellion is not due to actual anti-work.

”We want to work, we want to be loyal and to be recognised, but we do not want to be worn out, burn out and kept on a leash” she says.

Talk about what frustrates you
According to Peter Holdt Christensen, many companies who work with motivation do think about what makes their employees happy. But they do not think just as much about what disappoints them, and that is a classical mistake.

So many great initiatives fail on the manager talking about the positive sides of management’s new initiatives while the employees continue to be dissatisfied with the negative consequences of previous initiatives.

”Companies are in a situation where we expect an even fiercer competition to attract and retain the best employees. And this is where it is important to be able to offer an attractive working culture, says Peter Holdt Christensen and adds:

”Management needs to have an open approach, listen to the organisation and understand that security, meaning and recognition will be more important than KPIs and quarterly reporting. Without a sense of belonging and solidarity, the company will hardly be able to unlock the full potential of the employee.”


By Kent Kristensen,

The page was last edited by: Sekretariat for Ledelse og Kommunikation // 07/11/2023