"Quiet quitting" has taken the media by storm, but "quiet firing" is the new phrase which brings focus on employers-employees relations. According to a recent LinkedIn News poll, many people say they have either seen or experienced quiet firing.
People Matters spoke to industry experts to find out what it takes for employees and employers not to be a part of this trend and what this means for the future of work.
What is quiet firing?
Quiet firing connotes employers treating their staff in a way that pushes them to quit themselves, instead of directly laying them off.
“Quiet firing is when businesses or managers take actions that make employees feel forgotten, underappreciated, or even ignored,” says Annie Rosencrans, director of people & culture at HR tech platform HiBob.
Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna, says this term may be a new moniker for a toxic work environment and workplace bullying. “The term ‘quiet firing’ is new and has been brought to light in the past month, but the act has been around for years due to some employers taking part in, and getting away with it,” he adds.
Key signs a leader is using this behaviour with an employee
An employee may not know the intentions of a boss or manager in the way they treat patricular employees, but there are some warning signs and actions to look out for that may indicate that the employees are being subjected to this phenomenon.
There are several signs that employees can look out for, however, it’s important to realise that one singular sign cannot be taken as a guarantee that they are a victim of quiet firing, but rather, a combination of several, says Rosencrans, listing a few key ones.
- Even with measurable high productivity and a great work ethic, an employee is being passed over for promotions and raises and is not getting feedback from their managers as to why this is happening.
- Employees are not getting feedback – either positive or constructive – about work they have passed up to managers.
- The assignments an employee is getting are either often or always below their skill set or job description, and there are others on the team who should be responsible for these. This is also important to look at if their colleagues are receiving very different assignments that provide opportunities for growth.
- Managers are not engaging with the employee one-on-one in a consistent manner or are cancelling recurring meetings without a reason or attempt to reschedule.
Some other key signs include being regularly targeted during team meetings and/or picked on in front of colleagues, having their opinions or ideas dismissed, or always receiving negative criticism rather than constructive feedback, says Lewis.
Another seemingly subtle behaviour that may ring alarm bells is being consistently given unpopular clients or shift patterns, or fewer hours.
Lewis adds that there may also be bigger actions taking place that are tell-tale signs, such as continually being passed over for raises/promotions or getting excuses why right now is not the best time, not receiving challenging or interesting assignments where an employee can grow or being left off calendar invites for key discussions which are important to a person’s work and progress in their job.
How does quiet firing intertwine with quiet quitting?
Quiet quitting and quiet firing are opposites, as one is perpetrated by the manager/company and the other is done by the employee themselves.
“When someone is quietly quitting, they are effectively reducing their engagement at work and instead, doing the bare minimum to meet the requirements of their role. When an organisation or manager is quietly firing someone, they are engaging with that person as infrequently as possible and only as absolutely required,” says Rosencrans.
However, it's likely that a ‘quiet firing’ environment will lead to creating a ‘quiet quitting’ culture.
“Quiet quitting' doesn't mean leaving a job, but rather an employee refusing to join the hustle culture and consistently perform tasks at work that are outside their specified responsibilities. If an employee is noticing they are being treated poorly and are not valued, they’re more likely to look for a new job rather than focus on impressing their managers and working to grow within the organisation,” contends Lewis.
How managers can avoid taking part in quiet firing
The signs of quiet firing can be subtle, but its implications are serious and it’s vital for businesses to monitor for and eradicate this damaging behaviour, says Lewis.
Quiet firing can sometimes come around when an employee is struggling in a certain area and their manager doesn’t know how to resolve this or is conflict avoidant.
Lewis says this can be circumvented by training managers on how to have difficult conversations and how to give constructive feedback. Even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable, it’s always better to give feedback on how someone can improve than to completely avoid the conversation.
“In workplaces today, with so many hybrid and fully remote work systems, over communication is crucial for team morale, engagement, and happiness at work. By creating an environment that is conducive to open and transparent dialogue, employees will feel comfortable reaching out to their superiors for questions. Also, with this type of culture, managers can know where the employee is struggling and what can be done to fix this by giving them the chance to share their struggles and ask questions.”
Also, regular informal check-in chats (we’ve come to know these as stay interviews) are a great resource for employers to see how their workers are truly feeling on a day-to-day basis and if they are being treated fairly, he adds.
Another tactic could be having a neutral third party gather feedback on managers from their employees.
“A less direct approach can be sending out anonymous employee surveys to see where the entire workforce stands and how they are feeling. If many employees are feeling they aren’t heard, HR can lead the charge in encouraging managers to set up formalised check-ins and to check employee timelines to see when they had last been promoted or given an earned raise,” adds Lewis.