Enough of quiet quitting: It’s time to talk about quiet firing

Women and people of colour tend to be at even greater risk of quiet firing, as they’re often underrepresented in leadership roles and tend to get less support from managers. — Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Quiet quitting has heaped attention on so-called “slacker” employees – or those who seem content just fulfilling their job descriptions. But experts say there’s a flip side: “quiet firing”.

The term has generated buzz on the Internet with definitions ranging from employers who actively make working conditions miserable to forcing workers to resign, also known as “constructive discharge”. The phrase can also apply to managers who neglect or otherwise divest time, resources or opportunities from their employees, encouraging them to leave without firing them outright.

“If this is happening to you, your company’s taking advantage of you – and you need to loudly quit,” said DeAndre Brown, a Gen Z social media influencer and self-styled “Corporate Baddie”, in a TikTok.

Human resources managers also say it’s important to take a closer look at quiet firing. Bonnie Dilber, a recruiter at workflow automation software company Zapier, said quiet quitting doesn’t gel with her experience with candidates, who are often very passionate about their work.

“I started thinking about why someone might start doing the ‘bare minimum’, and I realised maybe the problem isnʼt so much the employees but employers or managers that arenʼt doing much to support or invest in their employees – ‘quiet firing’,” Dilber wrote in an email. “When youʼre in an environment that feels like a dead end, itʼs hard to want to give more.”

Examples of quiet firing include denying raises for years on end, blocking employees from opportunities for growth or promotion, or neglecting to give direct and timely feedback. Dilber says employers may use this as an intentional strategy to get people to quit without firing them, or they may simply be new to management and not even realise the impact of their actions.

At a previous company where she worked, the human resources department used an evaluation system that would rate each employees’ “potential”, Dilber said. Workers with solid performance but purported “low potential” were, for the most part, simply left alone.

“But no one really invested in growing them, they weren’t getting raises, and they weren’t considered for promotions,” Dilber said. “Often, they had no idea why, and eventually, they’d leave because they felt unappreciated. In many cases, I saw those people go on to do quite well in their next role with more supportive leadership.”

And in a labour market with about two jobs for each unemployed person, workers who feel unappreciated don’t have to stick around. The US economy added 315,00 jobs in August, showing robust growth even in the face of persistent inflation and rising interest rates.

Ella Washington, an organisational psychologist and diversity consultant, said that a lot of quiet firing happens because most managers aren’t clear on what’s expected of them in terms of giving feedback and building relationships with their team members. As a result, many leaders see coaching their direct reports as an “extra” thing to do, rather than a core part of their job.

While some people can thrive under hands-off management, others can flounder. Recent research from consulting firm McKinsey & Co found that lack of opportunity for career development and advancement was the top reason people quit their jobs, followed closely by uncaring and uninspiring leaders. “While in the past an attractive salary could keep people in a job despite a bad boss, that is much less true now than it was before the pandemic,” the report’s authors wrote.

Many managers also don’t feel equipped to have tough conversations with their employees about their performance. But staying silent does direct reports a serious disservice. “To not provide appropriate feedback and an opportunity to course correct – that is not ethical management and leadership,” Washington said.

Women and people of colour tend to be at even greater risk of quiet firing, as they’re often underrepresented in leadership roles and tend to get less support from managers. Ultimately, it’s important for employers to invest in the development of new managers and make sure the expectations of the role are clear, said Washington.

Well-meaning or not, a bad manager can destroy employee morale, engagement and performance. This dynamic can also push great talent out the door before they’ve had the opportunity and support necessary to grow.

“I think a lot of people who are ‘quiet quitting’ are actually working under poor leaders, which makes it hard for them to stay motivated or have any investment in going above and beyond the bare minimum,” Dilber said. – Bloomberg

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