It all started with a TikTok video by zaidleppelin. The video went viral and the Internet could not stop talking about the term “quiet quitting” and what it means for the workplace.
In short, quiet quitting refers to the act of employees slowing down their work patterns to do only what is necessary within the parameters of their job descriptions. That means no going above and beyond, no working late hours, and no taking on more responsibility than, quite frankly, they’re paid for. (The term was actually coined in China in 2021 through a movement known as “lying flat” or “tang ping,” according to The New York Post, but began reaching new heights of popularity this year following the TikTok post.)
An employee shouldn’t be chastised, after all, for doing the job they were hired to do, and nothing more. But even when overloaded with tasks, many employees relent, never speaking up and becoming resentful when they realize these extra efforts aren’t being recognized. This is when quiet quitting can rear its head.
The online debate about quiet quitting has been fierce. Some believe quiet quitting isn’t quitting at all but simply means doing your job. Others, meanwhile, think quiet quitting is unfair to employers, akin to “phoning it in,” doing the bare minimum, and waiting to get fired, laid off, or reaching retirement while still getting paid.
What About Quiet Firing?
The popularity of quiet quitting has led to the coining of a new term: quiet firing. As the name implies, quiet firing is when management purposely makes things difficult within the work environment in hopes that it will drive an employee to quit. It’s effectively an employer’s answer to quiet quitting: if you won’t do more than the base job description entails, we’ll make it so miserable that you’ll simply have to leave. The closest comparison in legal terms would be constructive dismissal, defined when an employer creates intolerable working conditions, leaving an employee no other option but to voluntarily quit.
Last month, Zapier’s Manager of Recruitment Bonnie Dilber wrote about quiet firing on LinkedIn, and her post went viral. She described the “rampant” trend as involving actions like employees not receiving feedback or praise, getting a raise of 3% or less while others get more, one-on-one meetings being cancelled or moved, opportunities for growth and new projects being limited, and a manager never discussing career opportunities to move up.
“You’ll either feel so incompetent, isolated, and unappreciated that you’ll go find a new job, and they never have to deal with a development plan or offer severance,” writes Dilber. “Or your performance will slip enough due to the lack of support that they’ll be able to let you go.”
Dilber puts the onus on management here, however, to examine practices and identify places where employees might be in a position where they feel, intentionally or unintentionally, as though they are being “quietly fired.” Once identified, it’s important that employers work on improving these situations to avoid the need for either party to “quit” in some way.
Is Quiet Firing Really Happening?
LinkedIn conducted a poll with its subscribers to find out if quiet firing really is happening and how many people have actually experienced it. Shockingly, 35% of LinkedIn members said they have faced quiet firing themselves while 48% say they have seen it at work. Only 13% believe it’s “not a thing.”
A Forbes article by contributor Caroline Castrillon highlights signs employees can look for to determine if their bosses might be guilty of quiet firing. Among these include witnessing important projects being delegated to subordinates, being given the worst tasks, seeing workloads increase “to an unmanageable level,” being left out of the loop, or suddenly being asked to document everything about your job.
Can an employer be in hot water for quiet firing? That’s a grey area. The legal definition of constructive dismissal requires proof of a hostile work environment, including unreasonable work demands. According to Canada.ca, in a constructive dismissal situation, “the employer has failed to comply with the contract of employment in a major respect, unilaterally changed the terms of employment or expressed a settled intention to do either thus forcing the employee to quit.” The employee must leave within a reasonable amount of time to suggest that they do not accept the changing conditions of the job. In this case, an employee can attempt to sue for wrongful termination, even if they resigned and weren’t fired.
But quiet firing is far more subtle. It involves small omissions and oversights, and the act of neglecting an employee’s needs. Quiet firing might not necessarily fall into the realm of constructive dismissal, but certainly leaves an employee feeling as though they are stagnant, unappreciated, undervalued, and, in some cases, severely overworked.
Employee vs. Employer: Why the Showdown?
Both quiet quitting and quiet firing represent a disconnect between employees and employers that requires looking deeper at the heart of the issue.
It’s a showdown between employees versus employers, and both quiet quitting and quiet firing can lead to intended consequences. They can backfire: an employee may simply be passed over for raises, promotions, and more desirable projects due to their attempts at quiet quitting while an employee may lose a quality employee by quietly firing them and driving them to scale back their efforts without actually leaving.
What’s more, quiet firing merely masks the issue that caused an employee to want to quiet quit in the first place. Ask yourself why they feel that way. It is likely time to re-examine working conditions, workloads, and policies for the team overall. Ask yourself if that particular employee, and others on the team, are being taken advantage of in an unfair way, and if so, what can be done about it.
The real question here is, why would either side feel they need to resort to these tactics? If an employee feels working conditions are so bad, they should be looking for a new job anyway, or at least have a candid discussion with their boss before resorting to such passive-aggressive methods. Conversely, if an employer believes it’s necessary to quietly fire someone, they should first have a conversation and find out if there are ways to improve on both ends. Instead of punishing the employee, consider coaching, mentoring, and helping them enhance skills and become more valuable at a job they actually want to do.
It’s not uncommon in many jobs for employees to go above and beyond to show their skills, be recognized for promotions and raises, and because they enjoy the job. Doing more than what is in a job description is a choice, not an expectation. In a healthy work environment, an employee should have the freedom to make that choice, and an employer should recognize it. Both parties will benefit, loudly and proudly, no quiet actions necessary.
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