There has been a lot of focus this year on employee behavior and the “Quiet Quitting” trend in the labor force, but some are arguing that there is an equally unproductive culture on the other side of the ledger that has been coined “Quiet Firing.”
“Quiet Firing could be the worst thing an employer ever does. Don’t be that company. Don’t let your leaders be that boss,” writes Michele McGovern in a thought-provoking HR Morning article published Sept. 22, 2022.
“Quiet Firing” might sound like the way you would let an underperforming librarian go in the middle of their shift, but it may just be another way of reiterating that the No. 1 reason good employees leave companies is “bad bosses.”
This is not news, of course, with Hollywood mining the “bad boss” theme time after time – from “9 to 5” in 1980 to “Horrible Bosses” in 2011.
“Bad bosses have forced employees out for decades purposefully by denying raises, failing to offer guidance and limiting training,” wrote McGovern.
While Hollywood’s black comedies usually have some sort of harm coming to those “bad bosses”, the harm from “Quiet Firing” is losing your top talent, something no company can ill afford in today’s tight labor market.
What is the Definition of “Quiet Firing”?
McGovern in her HR Morning article defines “Quiet Firing” as “when management intentionally distances employees from opportunities to grow and succeed.”
Put another way, she writes that it “is the exact opposite of anything HR professionals and leadership teams want to do.”
Is “Quiet Firing” even a real thing? Well, CNBC reported on Sept. 30, 2022, that 83 percent of workers have seen or experienced quiet firing.
“Quiet Firing” can lead to:
- Toxic work environments
- Demoralized, unmotivated and unproductive employees
- Tarnish a company’s reputation making it harder to retain and hire top talent
- Fiscal and legal jeopardy for the company
“Quiet Firing has countless cultural repercussions,” Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at Vistage, told HR Morning. “The employee who is being ‘quietly fired’ will likely have a correlating slip in employee satisfaction, which can then spread like wildfire. When an employee is suddenly getting ignored by their manager and treated poorly … to get them to quit, other employees are likely to become caught in the crossfire and negativity. Quiet Firing also creates a sense of distrust. Other employees will see this tactic in play and fear the same thing happening to them without warning.”
What are the Signs of “Quiet Firing”
In the CNBC report, Annie Rosaencrans, director of people and culture at HiBob, and Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna, says that seven signs of “Quiet Firing” include:
- You haven’t seen a salary increase after one to two years.
- You don’t receive any meaningful feedback from your manager.
- Your manager avoids engaging with you.
- You’ve been singled out to answer tough questions at team or company meetings.
- Your ideas are disregarded.
- You aren’t being challenged or given additional opportunities and projects.
- You’re left out of meetings, events and/or social gatherings.
According to Lewis, those being quietly fired are more likely to quietly quit, which is a vicious circle no company wants to encourage.
Squelch “Quiet Firing” with Positive Interactions
So how can your company make sure that they put the kibosh on “Quiet Firing”?
McGovern outlines 4 ways that companies can make sure they are not encouraging their employees to jump ship:
- Get on the Same Page: Let’s face it, you could argue that “Bosses Are From Mars, Employees Are From Venus, is just as true as the original book breaking down the differences between the sexes. As Inc. magazine said once, “communication is critical in the office. So why does it seem like managers and employees were born on different planets?”
McGovern says that employers and employees all too often avoid “deeper, complicated conversations that help with individual and team alignment” and this leads to them not being on the same page and misaligned expectations.
Constructive feedback, both formally and informally, and ongoing communication are key to stemming all the catchphrases: “Quiet Firing” to “Quiet Quitting” to “The Great Resignation.”
- Train Your Managers to Lead: While you should certainly focus on training your employees, too many companies fail to train their managers to lead.
“Many front-line managers aren’t equipped to lead and engage their employees. They were promoted because they were outstanding individual contributors. And then they weren’t trained to lead,” McGovern writes.
Your managers need to be comfortable with the following skills:
o Providing effective feedback that improves employee performance
o Empathic and active listening
o Communicating in a variety of ways such that employees receive and understand the message
o Building trust between employees and the company and among team members
- Stave Off Exit Interviews with Stay Interviews: While conducting an “exit interview” after an employee departs can lead to valuable insight, it is delivered too late to retain the talent. Instead, companies can conduct stay interviews with current employees which can improve employee retention and prevent “quiet firing.”
CNBC, in “Why the “Stay Interview’ is the Next Big Trend of the Great Resignation”, says that experts recommend that stay interviews:
o Be informal and conversational
o Feedback provided by the employee will be accepted with no fear of retaliation
o Two-way dialogue instead of an interview
o Should happen throughout the year and not be tied to set performance reviews
One of the big benefits of the stay interview is that it will help employers and employees get on the same page and prevent misaligned expectations.
- Transparency At All Levels of the Business: While transparency in terms of hiring, pay, and health costs is a given, companies to prevent “quiet firing” should also be transparent, according to McGovern about:
o Layoffs and Terminations: Companies may feel the need to hide any mention of the possibility of such actions but McGovern urges managers to “Be honest about the possibility of separations or how employees could be affected in any difficult time.”
o Company Stance on Sensitive, Controversial, and Emotional Topics: From the social justice movement to Roe v. Wade to climate change, companies are increasingly tasked with explaining their policies and stances on topics they might otherwise wish to avoid or stay silent on. McGovern says companies do not necessarily have to choose a side on hot topics but need to have an open and clear company vision regarding them, including public comments from top leadership.
o Workplace Policies: Employees are often left in the dark regarding important decisions that affect them. Keeping employees in the loop on things such as your company changing expectations on return to the office, working from home and other company policies is key. A good rule of thumb is that employees should never be completely surprised by a workplace strategy change. If they are, then it is likely a combination of your managers not communicating with staff and the two sides not being on the same page.
Rosencrans in the CNBC article said that “managers should ensure they’re creating opportunities for ‘development, growth and learning,’ especially for millennial and Gen Z employees if they want to retain workers.