The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a paradigm shift in the way people work, resulting in the emergence of new buzzwords that frequently figure on social media. These include phrases such as "digital nomad," "gig economy", "the great resignation", "rage applying", "moonlighting", "quiet quitting", and many others. Recently, "quiet hiring" has been added to the lexicon and has also gone to be recognised by Gartner as one of its nine "Future of Work Trends for 2023".
What is 'quiet hiring'?
Although the origin of "quiet hiring" is uncertain, Emily Rose McRae, Gartner's Senior Director of Research, is identified as coining the term. She defines quiet hiring as a technique that businesses use to address staffing shortages without hiring additional full-time staff. This may involve motivating current employees to transition to different positions within the company or enlisting services of temporary contractors to fulfill short-term needs.
“Ironically, quiet hiring is neither ‘quiet’ nor is any ‘hiring’ involved in it in the traditional sense,” says Bensely Zachariah, Global Head of Human Resources at Fulcrum Digital, a business platform and digital engineering services company.
Quiet hiring entails companies upskilling their existing employees and moving them to new roles or new sets of responsibilities, on a temporary or in some cases, permanent basis to meet the ever-evolving demands of the business environment.
Zachariah says: “Quiet hiring is essentially the opposite of ‘quite quitting’, a buzzword during 2022, which, in simple words, means doing the bare minimum for what it takes to keep your job. The concept behind quiet hiring is rewarding high-performing individuals with more challenging roles, pay rises, bonuses, or promotions. This is not a new concept per se, in fact it is an age-old practice which was referred to as ‘facilitated talent mobility’ or ‘career advancement’ where organisations have spent considerable time and resources to facilitate upskilling/cross-skilling employees to give them new roles/avenues for work.”
Google was one of the prominent companies who adopted this strategy of identifying and rewarding ‘high-flyers’ within the organisation.
Why has quiet hiring become the new workplace trend?
Even when not an entirely new concept, quiet hiring has become particularly prevalent in the current economic climate. The 2023 world of work is already marked by a clear shift away from talent acquisition to a renewed focus on retaining people and driving organisational efficiency.
“Faced with reduced hiring budgets or, in many cases, workforce reduction, people leaders and team leads are tasked with doing more with less. One way for managers to do this is to review the skill set and strengths already in their team, identify what to build upon, then set up upskilling initiatives, learning and development plans, and, where relevant, stretch projects or entirely new roles for current team members,” says Jenny Podewils, co-CEO & co-founder, Leapsome, a people enablement platform that helps drive employee development, productivity, and engagement.
She stresses that a good manager will communicate any such changes to workload or project ownership clearly and transparently and welcome employee feedback and input. “Such moves should be in line with development goals. I believe it can also be valuable for employers and employees alike if jobs are crafted around an individual’s unique strengths rather than fitting people into predefined job categories.”
Organisations have historically focused on external recruitment when looking to fulfill new roles.The unprecedented business growth in 2021, and the resultant skill shortage led to a lot of unplanned and unsustainable hiring methods which ultimately resulted in the ‘great resignation’.
And the skill shifts and resultant talent mismatches due to the faster pace of digitalisation of economies has further aggravated the skills shortage.
“The fear of the impending economic downturn has also made organisations tread cautiously, resulting in reduced staffing budgets. This leaves organisations with very few choices other than accessing their largest pool of potential talent, their internal workforce who would have the requisite skills, motivation, and the knowledge of the organisation,” says Zachariah.
Does quiet hiring benefit the employee or the employer?
At the outset, it may look like this trend is just a reaction by the employers to ‘quiet quitting’, and an easy and cost-effective solution to a competitive hiring landscape and an economic slowdown.
However, Zachariah says that apart from fulfilling their immediate needs while retaining its top performers, it can also help organisations in planning and executing their long-term workforce development strategy.
“From an employee perspective apart from the immediate benefits of being recognised and rewarded for their efforts, it also expands their skills base whereby making themselves more marketable. Quiet hiring helps them in staying ahead of the curve by addressing their skill gaps based on market changes. This in turn helps them unlock their potential by giving them more control over their career paths.”
Is quiet hiring an antidote to quiet quitting?
Quiet hiring also succeeds in creating a highly motivated and skilled workforce.
Alifiya Johar, Human Resource Head at architectural company Makemyhouse.com, says quiet hiring is a good way of boosting internal growth and the morale of employees. “It also helps in providing an exciting work environment for employees which is devoid of monotony. It makes employees more agile and up-to-date with their skills and efficiency.”
However, Johar says quiet hiring must be done keeping in mind that too much workload can lead to burnout. The top management needs to think if it is all about just giving more responsibilities to an employee or filling up specific roles that actually require them. If it is the former, then eventually it will backfire in the long run.
“The best way to go about this is to have a healthy conversation with the concerned employee and ask them how comfortable they are with getting a new role in hand. What training do they require to fulfill the criteria for the role? How will their existing functions be affected? Doing this will help create transparency between employees and management.”
Thus, quiet hiring can be deemed an antidote to quit quitting. “At some point, every employee looks for job satisfaction and companies following quiet hiring ensures that their knowledge and skills are upgraded, thus keeping them relevant with the modern professional demands.
Many companies are employing quiet hiring and that means many people are collaborating with different managers/teams than they had before. So how can they best navigate this transition and work to their fullest potential?
Podewils suggest the following ways for employees to start a strong relationship with a new manager:
- Be kind and empathetic, and be your authentic self. Begin with your most professional foot forward, as over time, you will naturally become more comfortable with one another.
- Be open and honest. Make clear that you expect and equally that you can be relied on for open, honest communication. None of us are mind-readers.
- If your new manager doesn’t do so themself, then suggest setting up a regular 1:1 meeting to check in, align on tasks, celebrate achievements, discuss obstacles, and share two-way feedback. Consider setting a rolling agenda and hold yourself accountable for updating it.
- Talk about what your preferred communication styles and tools are, and come to an agreement on what works best for day-to-day collaboration.
She also shares some questions an employee can ask to ensure that they are prepared for success in a new role.
- Familiarise yourself with the company’s direction: If new to the company, asking what the company-wide goals are important, as well as the company mission, values, and vision for the business.
- Similarly, ask what your team or department’s quarterly or biannual objectives are and which colleagues own which objectives.
- Ask how your manager and colleagues prefer to communicate - via calls, Slack, email, in person, etc.
How to make quiet hiring work for you?
Zachariah suggests three steps that can help organisations maximise the effectiveness of quiet hiring.
Set clear expectations and communicate in a transparent manner
Employees need to be aware of the expected future growth of the organisation, its objectives, and the strategies the leadership has planned to achieve this growth.
“The organisation should have a well-defined career path which would help them envisage what the future growth would look like in relation to their roles and responsibilities. A well-structured secondment process like how one would take additional responsibilities, perform up to expectations, what would be the course of lateral/vertical movement, if successful, and professional development opportunities for the new role would give them the confidence to engage in such career opportunities,” says Zachariah.
A well-structured facilitated talent mobility programme
Traditionally internal talent mobility was achieved through lateral and vertical movements based on available opportunities, rather than a structured facilitated model. Zachariah says quiet hiring as a part of the organisation’s workforce development strategy can give a strong impetus to such talent mobility, enabling the organisation to use new opportunities to re-engage employees who might be stagnating in their current roles.
According to Deloitte’s 2023 Global Human Capital Trend survey, 81 per cent of executives believe that work is increasingly performed across functional boundaries. This skill orientation augurs well for quiet hiring.
“Reskilling, and upskilling lie at the heart of quiet hiring, as it is important for your employees to be prepared to handle the new tasks, they will be re-deployed to both in the present and future. HR leaders should be able to identify the skill gaps, estimate its potential for future growth and accordingly invest in learning and development for equipping them to advance in their respective segments,” he adds.
Aligning employee aspirations with organisational goals
Ensuring that the aspirations of the employees who are considered for re-deployment are in alignment with the priorities of the business is critical to the success of any quiet hiring strategy.
Zachariah says this process becomes much easier if an organisation has a pre-existing culture that encourages employees to actively focus on career development. “Having an Individual Development Plan (IDP) which helps the employee attain their short/long term goals as well as improve the current job performance, as an integral part of their Performance Management System would help pave the way for creating this culture.”
Peter Drucker, the “founder of modern management”, has aptly stated that “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things”.
“The question to be debated is not on how efficient quiet hiring is as a process but on how effective it is to achieve our objectives,” Zachariah says.