Quiet Firing: What It Is, And How To Spot The Warning Signs

Quiet thriving might boost our overall job satisfaction, and it only requires making small but positive changes to how we engage with work. In the quest to help workers' mental health, quiet quitting began receiving attention when the term hit social media. It quickly became associated with Gen Z employees funneling more energy away from their work and setting new work-life boundaries. Still, Shini Ko, a millennial software developer, told Time, "It's negative and dangerous that we frame a healthy work-life balance as quitting." She asked, "Can we just call it what it is? It's just working."

Employers like the CEO of Lensa, Gergo Vari, are taking steps to make sure their staff feels like investing energy in their work is worthwhile. "Employers have to make an effort to enable people to have a say in their own future," He shared. "I want them to stick around, and I'll stick out my neck to encourage them to do so."

But quiet firing is the opposite side of the coin. Workers in the service industry may experience this when they're left off the schedule for weeks without notice or when they aren't able to secure their preferred shifts. However, in an office workplace, quiet firing may be a bit more subtle — salaried employees may not get their hours cut back. Still, they could experience other noticeable disadvantages and ill-treatment.

Why are employers ignoring us?

Since the pandemic began, the workforce has experienced an incredible period of change — 38% of respondents in a PBS survey said they changed jobs between 2020 and 2022. For those who quit their jobs, the top reason was increased pay. November 2021 also saw the most significant jump in quitting stats since 2000, per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What's been called the "Great Resignation" may explain an increase in employer frustration and, potentially, why some might become passive-aggressive toward employees instead of officially firing them. Janice Gassam Asare, a Diversity Equity and Inclusion workplace consultant told PBS, "The Great Resignation really sparked a lot of these conversations around what is causing employees to be burnt out and disengaged." He saw this movement as potentially triggering for employers who might otherwise fire their employees if the workforce didn't currently have the upper hand. Asare added, "I think there's pushback from leadership where there's almost like this loss of control and loss of power that is felt."

With increasingly insecure employers, what can we expect from our workplace regarding common decency, honesty, and professional treatment? Under the quiet firing model, we can't expect much without advocating for ourselves.

Try sitting down with your boss

Understanding the potential reasoning behind quiet firing is key to figuring out a way around it. Annie Rosencrans, the director of people and culture at HiBob, told CNBC, "I think this idea of quiet firing is done unintentionally, or subconsciously, by managers who are fearful or hesitant to give direct feedback when things aren't going well with an employee." She explained, "Managers who know that someone's not working out and know they want them to leave... [may] just ignore them, in hopes that they will leave on their own. That's a very unhealthy thing."

So, how should we proceed if we're encountering quiet firing techniques in lieu of direct and honest communication and feedback? As the CCO of Adzuna, Paul Lewis, told CNBC, "Talk to your manager, challenge them, ask for growth, continue to push, and try to show them how ambitious, how engaged, and how up for the mission you are." Lewis also provided helpful questions that employees can ask themselves if the previous steps don't produce the results they'd hoped for. He asked, "Do you really want to be working for a business that doesn't respect you?" 

Though quiet firing techniques may be designed to get employees to quit, there are other potential methods for dealing with a toxic workplace. DE&I consultant Janice Gassam Asare suggested going to your coworkers to see if you can support each other. And filing complaints with HR may be the next step if the company fails to make the necessary changes.