By now, most people have heard the workplace buzz around “quiet quitting.” When employee engagement plunged to an all-time low of 32%, the trend really picked up steam. The remaining 68% of US workers are flying under the radar, dialing back their emotional investments, and going through the motions. Where workers once went above and beyond, quiet quitters slide by on the bare minimum, almost daring management to let them go.
“Employees are not the only ones exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior at work,” observes Lauren Winans, CEO and Principal HR Consultant of Next Level Benefits. “Managers and company leaders already have their own trend called ‘quiet firing.’ It’s far more common than you might think.”
A recent LinkedIn News poll of over 20,000 employees finds that 48% have seen a quiet firing in the workplace. The survey also reveals that 35% have experienced this practice for themselves.
What is quiet firing?
Company leaders have been quietly firing employees for years. The term involves doing the bare legal minimum to cover themselves as they let go of unwanted employees. Tactics that often do the trick include denying advancement opportunities, reducing privileges and hours, creating hostile work environments, and assigning undesirable tasks. Employees notice supervisors becoming less available, canceling meetings, and failing to offer them rewards or recognitions. After weeks of getting the cold shoulder, they eventually take the hint and quit.
Employees are not always fired based on poor performance; employers often need to cut positions that are expensive to maintain or no longer necessary. If company leaders want to avoid the expense of laying an employee off properly or the awkwardness of a direct conversation, they can use these passive-aggressive techniques to force them to resign over time.
Quiet firing is all too common in the workplace. While a recent Gallup study says quiet quitters comprise half of the US workforce, it is difficult to obtain exact numbers on quiet firings.
“Employers don’t keep records on how many people they push out their doors,” explains Winans. “They’re not proud of those numbers. In terms of leadership, quiet firing is the cowardly way out. Leaders who lack relationship building and communication skills would much rather avoid the issue than engage in direct confrontation.”
Signs you are being “quiet fired”
Employees usually sense something is up early on when their boss is engaging in quiet firing. Tell-tale signs to watch for include a boss who cancels meetings, avoids conversations, changes the topic when employees mention future plans, acts irritated, ignores emails, and withholds feedback pertaining to advancement. A sure sign of being quiet fired is being on the brunt end of unpleasant or impossible projects repeatedly.
As time goes on, employees grow more fearful of reaching out to their employers. They feel anything they do may expedite their termination, so they stay quiet, become less engaged at work, and eventually leave.
Rid your workplace of quiet firing
“Quiet firing is the easy way out for employers, but it can be a traumatic process for employees,” remarks Winans. “Weeks of insecurity, uncertainty, and self-doubt can lead to long-lasting psychological wounds. The experience is bound to affect employees’ confidence as they apply for other jobs and attempt to grow in future careers.”
Organizations, specifically HR teams, need to train managers to resolve issues with open communication and transparency. If an employee is underperforming, effective leaders should identify and address those behaviors.
Ignoring problems doesn’t serve employees, company culture, or the bottom line. Furthermore, if employees are let go for financial reasons, they should hear this in an honest conversation. They should be thanked for their service and offered assistance as they find new positions. Indeed, there is no reasonable justification for the quiet firing.
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