Work Doesn’t Work Anymore — What Karl Marx’s already knew about Silent Quitting — and what you can do about it

philip horváth
Published in
3 min readMay 1, 2023

Work used to be a simple exchange between an employer and an employee — the employee showed up to do their job, and the employer paid them. However, since the 1950s, we have seen a decline in the return on assets, and things have only gotten worse since the pandemic. Hybrid work has led to lower productivity, cultural issues, and mental health struggles, resulting in the phenomenon of “silent quitting,” where employees physically show up but are disengaged from their work, team, and organization.

This is not a new problem. Over a hundred years ago, Karl Marx realized that the distribution of labor into the mechanized view of the factory, where workers would only perform small micro-tasks as a cog in the machine, would lead to workers losing their relationship to their work product and with that, a sense of purpose and meaning.

Today, even white-collar workers are realizing their role as cogs in the machine, leading to disengagement and silent quitting.

Without purpose, business perishes, and so do people. It is crucial to have a common purpose that unites and inspires not just employees but also potential future employees and customers. To combat silent quitting, we need to get clear on our purpose, empower our people, unleash innovation everywhere, create new structures, build a pipeline for our portfolio, and spread the vibe.

  1. Get Clear on Your Purpose
    To get clear on your purpose, gather a diverse group of stakeholders and envision the next purpose of your business. Make sure it is larger than your organization, something you can commit to that inspires everyone present, fits your business, is desirable for your customers, and regenerative for our future. Remember that creating profit for your stakeholders is a byproduct and an indicator of how well you are fulfilling your purpose, not a purpose in itself.
  2. Empower Your People
    New strategies require new skills. Ensure that your people have the capacities to deliver on your strategy. Leadership is about enabling your people to deliver tasks and outcomes.
  3. Unleash Innovation Everywhere
    Create and entrain new processes for rapid innovation and invite innovators and early adopters to create your new organization. Utilize your initial stakeholder community as your seed community and create an enrolling narrative. Train your innovators and early adopters in innovation tools and mindsets and encourage them to bring their learnings back into their home departments.
  4. Be Willing to Create New Structures
    No business model or organizational structure is sacred. Be prepared to develop new approaches to how you do business. With the advent of AI and IoT, there are a lot of new ways of doing business. Most of them have yet to be discovered.
  5. Build a Pipeline for Your Portfolio
    Turning new ideas into actual innovations and integrating them into the existing business is where most ideas die. Be clear about the different stages of maturity and criteria for each stage and create ceremonies for transitioning initiatives from one stage to the next.
  6. Spread the Vibe
    Craft your culture and become clear about what you stand for and what stories you tell yourself throughout the organization. Those stories and the language and symbols you use represent you and continue to reinforce your culture both to the inside, as well as to the outside as your brand.

As we celebrate the International Day of Labor, it is a good time to reflect on the state of work and how we can create a better future of work. Work shouldn’t just be a way to make a living; it should be a source of purpose and meaning.

Let us all work together to make work work again.



philip horváth

culture catalyst ★ planetary strategist — creating cultural operating systems at planetary scale — tweeting on #future, #culture, #leadership @philiphorvath