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Quiet Quitting, The Great Resignation, etc.: We Don't Need More Drama, We Need Workplace Revolutions

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar February 25, 2023

Lately, ​​there seems to be an increasing amount of alarming media articles reporting on the symptoms of our global employee disengagement crisis, whether it’s "quiet quitting," the so-called Great Resignation, or something else. And while these pieces are often full of drama and emotional rhetoric, none actually solve the symptoms—only a radical workplace revolution will.

The global employee disengagement crisis

To remain competitive in the marketplace, more and more bosses now realize that they must not only fight looming external problems but must also first deal with a festering and persistent internal crisis.

These days, they have to remain vigilant in their fight against employee disengagement, as it significantly influences all facets of the company’s performance.

For many years, people have argued that we must fight this global employee disengagement problem by drastically changing the work environment itself. However, most of this seems to focus on complaining about the persistent problem without offering any realistic solutions.

And the solutions that do get offered are typically infused with emotional, overly dramatic reasoning.

“Many of today’s workplaces seem to be in dire need of radical transformations that fully engage colleagues.”

The game… of blame

The root causes of our disengagement pandemic tend to be obscured. And instead of collectively solving the crisis, employees and their bosses find it easier to point fingers at each other and turn the entire issue into a blame game. Bosses start to threaten punishment for employees not obeying their orders to transform, while employees demand concessions (and sometimes compensation) to change.

This kind of futile arguing is summarized in what’s known as Karpman’s Drama Triangle. This model, developed by Stephen Karpman in 1986, helps us understand the dynamics of dysfunctional sequences of miscommunicating.

It also gives us ideas about how to end the drama or avoid it all in the first place.

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What is the Karpman Drama Triangle?

Karpman’s theory describes a destructive relationship that can occur when people are in conflict. This relationship, held in place by guilt and blame, is formed like a triangle between three generalized roles: the persecutor, the rescuer, and the victim.

Here’s how it shakes out:

  • The persecutor is the attacking role, often angry or demanding. Most persecutors don’t consider others’ opinions or values. And they can be controlling. They prefer to say, “This is all your fault.”

  • The victim typically feels helpless and wronged. Victims like to blame others but are rarely the actual victim of the situation. They can be needy. Their most prevalent thought is typically some form of “How could you?!”

  • The rescuer takes care of the needs of the victim. However, rescuers don’t recognize the capabilities of victims to help themselves. By tending to the victim, they actually rob them of their inherent power to solve their own problems. As such, their “help” actually disempowers the victims. They often lead with something like, “Why don’t you just…?”

The Karpman Drama Triangle involves at least two people, often three, but can grow to many more people via multiple linked triangles. Moreover, people will frequently look to switch roles in the triangle since no one really wants to be locked into any of these roles indefinitely.

You can imagine why ending up in such a drama-filled triangle is not productive. It leads to persistent patterns of miscommunication. So you need to avoid it altogether or shut it down when it does happen.

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The Karpman Drama Triangle and the disengagement crisis

So, how can we effectively analyze the global employee disengagement crisis from this Karpman Drama Triangle perspective?

First, bosses should realize that they have a major employee disengagement problem. This might make them disappointed or simply angry. They might think this disengagement problem is the employees' fault. They might also wrongly assume they can change the situation by simply ordering employees to change from disengaged to engaged. This shitty approach makes the bosses the persecutors in the triangle.

Surely, most bosses do not know how to forcefully change their employees. For that, they may try to outsource the problem-solving task to consultants, i.e., the rescuers in the triangle. The consultants are then tasked with changing employees from engaged to disengaged, which they might attempt to accomplish by implementing gradual improvement projects forced upon employees.

As a result, employees themselves feel victimized. They feel forced to change without the power to actually solve their disengagement problems. They feel like the victim in the triangle. The irony here is that most employees are willing to change, but they are often not willing to be changed. As such, when change is forced upon them, they feel helpless and unfairly treated. In fact, they will start to blame others, whether that’s their bosses or the outside consultants.

Or they will simply leave the workplace.

Now, the drama triangle is complete. And you’ll find plenty of similar scenarios in stories you can read about quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. You probably already have.

So, how do we break the triangle?


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Radical workplace revolutions

Many of today’s workplaces seem to be in dire need of radical transformations that fully engage colleagues. And their first step should be to move away from implementing gradual improvement projects run by outside consultants.

But most bosses find this scary. Because aren’t such transformations simply revolutions? After all, revolution is a pretty loaded word, and the idea of a revolution is not what many people want to connect to workplaces. And there are plenty of negative connotations to explain why that is.

However, we know from history that revolutions are often needed to successfully change the status quo. They were required to change the behavior of the parties involved in (and ultimately responsible for) the crisis.

So, when we want to change the status quo in the workplace, an approach based on gradual improvement over time doesn’t seem to be the best option—a radical change throughout the entire organization is what’s needed.

To solve the disengagement crisis, bosses need to get out of their persecutor roles, and employees should stop playing the victim.
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Much talk, no action

To solve the disengagement crisis, bosses need to get out of their persecutor roles, and employees should stop playing the victim. This requires bosses to let go of power positions and transfer that power to employees. But let’s be honest; most bosses want the exact opposite. They will do everything they can to sabotage a potential revolution—sometimes subtly.

This is why most radical workplace revolutions never even get started. Because with such true revolutions, all roles lose something valuable. Bosses, the persecutors, lose their power. Consultants, the rescuers, lose their work. And employees, the victims, lose their right to complain to others. Damn.

That is why most people would rather talk and complain about symptoms like Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation instead of actually taking radical (i.e., meaningful) steps to address them.

By doing so, we divert our attention away from the real problem: solving our global disengagement pandemic.

Stop the drama

Time to stop the drama. We can all do this by breaking the triangle and trying to steer the communication pattern into one focused on solving the problem together in a collective but healthy manner.

It’s truly a group effort. So, we all need to take concrete actions to solve the actual root causes of the disengagement crises. Collectively. Without being a prosecutor, rescuer, or victim.

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Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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