Prisoner’s Dilemmas-XXIII- Quiet Quitting

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By now, most of you are aware of the new workplace phenomenon known as Quiet Quitting. Forbes defines Quite Quitting as “..unsatisfied employees put forth the least amount of effort possible to keep their paychecks…”. Most employees might think they are clever for only doing the bare minimum, but managers have their strategy for handling underperforming employees; Dehiring. Instead of outright firing the troublesome employee, management directly acknowledges their dissatisfaction with the job role. The hope is that this might prompt them to find another job.

Dehiring has been described as a win-win scenario because it acknowledges the mutual frustration of the worker and the firm. Side-stepping the legal and psychological hurdles of navigating the labor laws governing terminating a subpar employee. However, what if either employee isn’t getting the hint? Managers tend to be ineffective due to poor communication skills, which could muddle the succinct message of “Please find a new job!”. If there is any breakdown in the messaging, both worker and their boss; will result in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. The ineffectual expression of shared frustration will make this process protracted and end in an actual firing.

The reward for Mutual Cooperation: R= .5

Either the employee or manager could hope; if they play hardball, the other will eventually fold. The manager ultimately hopes the employee will change their ways, it is always easier and cheaper to have a current employee change their attitude than find a new hire. Concurrently, worker wishes that rules will loosen up, higher pay, or lighter workload, banking on the fact that their boss “needs” them.

Both parties holding these zero-sum strategies are being obtuse; neither outcome is realistic. The best approach would be for each coalition in this game (company/management vs. unhappy worker) to directly and honestly express their concerns. Not only would this path be more efficient, but if the manager is faithful to the etiquette of dehiring, the problematic employee should have time to find a new job. 

·     Punishment for Defecting: P=0

It would be improbable to have a central authority that can definitively prove and punish either the manager or the worker for using passive-aggressive or unclear communication. Since this is a game-theoretical model, for the sake of simplicity, let us assign the punishment value at zero.

·     Temptation to Defect: T=1

As mentioned previously, it is tempting to adopt the longshot strategy; after all, either coalition gets all their preferred conditions met; with exerting the least effort possible. It is easy to view ambiguity as an excuse to hold out for a no-compromise solution. 

·     Sucker’s Payoff: S=-1

In a no-compromise strategy, it has win-take-all dynamics. The costs of buckling for either coalition are high. Arguably, the monetary costs are much higher for the firm, but the subjective evaluation of the worker’s disutility of conforming to their boss’s parameters would be difficult to measure. 

Condition 1:

· T>R>P>S

· 1> .5> 0 > -1

Condition 2:

· (T+S)/2<R

· (1+-1)/2 <.5

· (0)/2 <.5

· 0 < .5

Overall, it appears as if the Quiet Quitting controversy, sloppy communication combined with employees and employers giving into their desire to be lazy and have all their preferences met engenders a Prisoner’s Dilemma.