Large-scale workforce changes precipitated by the pandemic have ignited frank conversations around office culture, leading to newly coined terms including quiet quitting and more recently, “quiet firing.” The difference between the two depends on who is in the driver’s seat – the manager or the employee.
With quiet quitting, an employee does the bare minimum at work, in other words coasting just enough to escape scrutiny. But with quiet firing, a manager pushes staff out of an organization rather than directly firing them.
In truth, these purportedly new trends are anything but novel. They’ve been happening for decades but only recently entered the popular vernacular.
How quiet firing plays out
From an employee’s perspective, signs of quiet firing are often subtle and easy to doubt. This is because the manager essentially ceases to manage the employee (to try to get the person to leave).
Employees may notice their boss is never available for meetings. They stop receiving meaningful new work and get skipped over for advancement and pay increases. Since they receive no feedback from their manager as to why, this is confusing and highly stressful.
Other more overt tactics range from denying an employee’s requests for time off to public shaming.
The goal of these moves is always the same: to make the employee want to quit on their own.
Red flags suggesting quiet firing is underway
In addition to the examples cited above, check out our list of a dozen strategies managers may deploy when quiet firing – but note that this list is by no means comprehensive:
- Lowering an employee’s status and/or changing their responsibilities.
- Reassigning key tasks to other employees.
- Establishing unachievable performance standards.
- Putting promotions and/or raises on ice.
- Cutting pay and/or denying expected bonuses.
- Removing overtime opportunities.
- Unreasonably increasing workloads.
- Demanding an employee relocate.
- Changing normal shifts or hours.
- Providing unfairly harsh evaluations or skipping them altogether.
- Ignoring an employee’s contributions or giving someone else the credit.
- Holding back information related to an employee’s duties.
Why do employers engage in quiet firing?
There is no doubt that quiet quitting can benefit businesses, according to recruiter Bonnie Dilber’s viral LinkedIn post.
“It works great for companies…eventually you’ll either feel so incompetent, isolated, and unappreciated that you’ll go find a new job, and they never have to deal with a development plan or offer severance,” Dilber wrote. “Or your performance will slip enough due to the lack of support that they’ll be able to let you go.”
U.S. companies laid off over 8 million workers in the Great Recession period from 2008 to 2010, as reported by Harvard Business Review. And with high inflation and talks of a recession now getting louder, many businesses are looking to make their workforces leaner, and for some, the temptation to quiet fire is proving irresistible.
Some employers may simply not want to rock the boat, so they avoid addressing the problem head-on. Or they may fear the employee will take legal action against the business.
Others may resort to quiet firing because they don’t want workers to get unemployment, fearing it could hurt their bottom line. The business’s unemployment insurance tax rate could be hiked based in part on the number of claims made by former employees.
How quiet firing can hurt your business
Withdrawing responsibility, assigning menial work, excluding from team activities, skipping meetings, setting ambiguous expectations, and denying reviews and raises are classic quiet firing moves. But these tactics are not just unprofessional — they could also escalate into an HR issue or even form the basis of a lawsuit.
What’s more, although quiet firing could spare the company from having to pay out severance or from the bad PR that typically accompanies layoffs, businesses with good reputations are known for treating employees respectfully.
Once your company’s reputation is tarnished, it tends to endure and is very difficult to recover. While it’s not exactly an example of quiet firing, consider the damage to Better.com’s reputation after its highly publicized and embarrassing missteps.
In short, it’s a folly on the part of the company to think they are saving money by forcing people to quit. Rather, it reflects organizational ineptitude and poor people policy.
How quiet firing affects employees
Quiet firing can be demoralizing for not just the singled-out employee but also for the rest of staff. Many will wonder whether they’re next to be ghosted.
As employees begin to feel undervalued and dispensable, their stress and anxiety can poison the workplace. If a quiet firing scenario does end up in litigation, employees may have a valid argument as to the hardships and humiliation they endured, which is particularly risky if the business has zero records substantiating that the person underperformed.
In the end, the company will have a toxic workplace environment in which nobody cares for one another.
How to nip quiet firing in the bud in your business
If you suspect quiet firing is happening in your company, or if you yourself are engaging in it, you need to revisit your people strategy and commit to change. The goal should be a healthy, collaborative workplace culture.
Managers need to continually communicate with team members to bring out the best in them. This includes taking concerted steps to show employees they are valued.
Sneaky tactics like avoiding performance reviews and sidestepping raises will inevitably lead to costly attrition and hurt your bottom line. Good results and great work only come in when employees are treated respectfully and feel valued.
How can you find HR support for your small business? If people skills aren’t your forte, or you simply don’t have the time to dedicate to devising a more constructive work culture, this is where the expertise of professional HR outsourcing companies can boost performance and efficiency and eradicate the “strategy” of quiet firing.
Want more? Escalon has helped over 5,000 companies across a range of industries to optimize routine business functions, like HR and payroll, and operate more efficiently. Talk to an expert today.