Published: November 29, 2022 | Updated: November 23, 2022

Quiet Firing: The anti-management

Sholeh Patrick

Sholeh Patrick

The last issue of the Business Journal of North Idaho explored “quiet quitting” — when an employee essentially does the minimum, but nothing more, unwilling to give a job their all. Hardly a new phenomenon in the working world, but perhaps more common and more consciously done these days, especially in cases where workers are unhappy with conditions, either unconcerned with career advancement or believe it to be fruitless in their current job. By some definitions, quiet quitting may also include workers who are simply tired, uninterested, or distracted, not necessarily rebelling.

While quiet quitting is more common, it seems at least some employers are turning the tables with “quiet firing.” Like quiet quitting, it’s not new to workplace dynamics, but how it’s seen and, perhaps, used in what is still a labor-favored market have a decidedly and sadly modern focus: Evading direct communication.

Quiet firing defined

In essence it’s a lot like constructive termination, an old practice in which a boss removes or withholds responsibilities, participation, authority over work or colleagues, and promotions for which the employee might otherwise qualify. Feedback may also be withheld. Quiet firing is a new term applying these to a situation where the employee has, or is believed to have, quiet quit, typically with hopes the employee will just leave.

In both cases, call it passive aggression in the workplace, never the ideal.

If you suspect you’re being quiet fired

Check your burnout level. Are you feeling fried, stressed, or unmotivated? Not getting enough recovery from days off? Burnout affects performance and risks quiet firing. Perhaps you like your work, but conditions keep it from feeling rewarding.

Things may be salvageable. Consider desired outcomes, not simply in ideal form but as applied within the context, limits, and abilities of your supervisor to actually offer them. Prepare a list of goals and realistic suggestions your supervisor has the resources to grant and request a conversation with them to discuss it. Be open to hearing some constructive criticism; if you’re burned out that’s likely been noticeable, even while your value holds. Sometimes workers and employers have different perceptions of the worker’s best potential contributions to the job.

Ideally, a new plan can be created to avoid both quiet quitting and firing.

If you’re tempted to quiet fire an employee

Consider the cons. While this may seem more cost effective than firing someone (and may be the only solution when firing a difficult employee has other potential repercussions for the company), it also tends to have negative effects on the rest of the team who support that employee. There is a contagion of negativity from watching a colleague experience quiet firing, a lack of certainty and potential demotivation from seeing less respectful treatment of others or seeing them passed up for advancement or reward.

Morale can suffer.

If quiet firing is chosen, as with open firing, experts advise employers to consider legal consequences and carefully document problems, performance failures, communications regarding expectations, and warnings. Workplace policies should be well communicated to all employees and applied fairly and consistently.

First consider alternatives, and communicate

Employers are leaders, and workers tend to follow their leads. Whether employer or employee driven, the passive-aggressive approach to the relationship is never the best scenario. Open communication, clarity, and mutual effort benefits both sides of every relationship. In short, human resources experts from various sources suggest: Communicate (and document) clearly, patiently, and when appropriate, compassionately.

If quiet quitting is suspected, before quiet firing a worker check in with them. Meet privately and ask if they’re okay. Is anything going on in their lives that’s difficult or distracting? Is their role on the team the right fit for them? Is there too much on their plate, or do they need better support or training for what they’re doing? Are job parameters, techniques, and expectations clearly communicated?

Perhaps that’s really what’s happening, rather than a conscious effort to quiet quit. Perhaps a solution can be found, such as time off, a changed schedule, a different role, or team support while that problem is addressed. Being able to discuss this openly, and without fear of being fired for it, with an employer who expresses true concern and appreciation for their team members creates an environment where people want to work. That also goes a long way toward encouraging employees to see the employer as invested in worker well-being, and helps the workplace feel more positive and team oriented.

Maybe we need another new twist on an old concept: Direct communication. It may not work every time, but like in other types of relationship it benefits both sides to try.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email