How to Tackle ‘Quiet Firing’ at Work
The concept of “quiet quitting” has been spreading virally on social media, but another, equally passive aggressive workplace practice is also generating discourse. While quiet quitting refers to workers doing the bare minimum expected of them at work, the internet has coined a new term for what managers could end up doing in response—“quiet firing.”
Social media influencer DeAndre Brown was one of the first people to mention the term in a viral TikTok video on Aug. 24, where he describes “quiet firing” as a workplace that fails to reward an employee for their contributions to an organization, forcing them to leave their jobs.
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“It works great for companies…eventually 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,” wrote recruiter Bonnie Dilber in a viral LinkedIn post.
Recent Pew Research Center reports that employees blame low wages and limited growth opportunities as the reason for their 20-year high resignation rates in November 2021.
As many workers share their experiences with “quiet firing” online, career experts encourage employees to be more vocal about their needs with their leadership and co-workers to combat the practice.
Your manager should be contacted
If you think you’re being quietly fired, “speak with leadership, advocate for yourself…and come together with other people who have the same needs as you do or who are looking for different changes in the workplace and then give it some time and see if those changes are actually made,” suggests Janice Gassam Asare, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Racial Equity Consultant.
The idea of an employer effectively forcing an employee to resign isn’t entirely new. Constructive discharge—whereby an employer actively makes working conditions for an employee so unpleasant that they quit, has been widely practiced for many years. This could fall under the umbrella term of “quiet firing,” but so would neglecting an employee or divesting time, opportunities or resources away from a worker in a more passive approach that would also prompt a resignation.
“It’s happened for years,” says Annette Castro, a 22-year-old research technician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Castro spent two years working at an ice cream shop near Philadelphia to finish college. She was promoted eventually to night manager. But when Castro took off two weeks—which she had requested months in advance—she was left off of the upcoming schedule after she returned. Castro inquired as to her work hours, but she did not get any answer. “I feel like I was ghosted by my company,” Castro tells TIME.
Castro’s experience mirrors a workplace norm that the younger generation is bringing attention to—one that often opts for a lack of communication that is not conducive to a productive work environment.
Advocate for yourself by looking for other people
At the root of “quiet firing” is poor communication, suggests Jessica Kriegel, Chief Scientist of Workplace Culture at Culture Partners. “If a manager is conflict avoidant, or afraid of having a difficult conversation, then they might not… have the guts to tell the truth about how you are perceived within the organization and the work that you’re doing,” Kriegel tells TIME.
Kriegel also suggests that managers themselves may also be “quiet quitting.” When a manager does that, then “by default, that means that their employees are not getting the kind of leadership care and attention that they used to get.”
Most career coaches agree with the idea that being open and honest with your boss is the best way of addressing dissatisfaction. Employees must ask their managers if the manager will allow them to discuss termination. If the initial conversation is not productive, Kriegel suggests speaking to your manager’s boss about your fit in the organization.
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But aside from direct communication with your manager, experts say it’s important for employees to look into their resources—whether that be through an ombudsman, outside officials that employers can reach out to when they have issues, or other employees who can advocate for and with them—to ensure that they are being heard.
Remote or hybrid work may make it more difficult to establish relationships with coworkers, but it’s still possible to do so if you know how to leverage the rapport you have. “Ask your manager if they can introduce you to someone on another team because you’re interested in getting to know more people,” Kriegel says. “Career development today really is about who’s who you know, and the relationships that you’ve built within your organization.”
Gassam Asare discovered through her experience as a consultant that many employers are reluctant to give constructive feedback to people from racially diverse backgrounds. According to her, this means people of color face quiet firings more often.
“I have clients that sometimes say, we don’t know how to deal with this employee, right? We’re afraid that this employee will react in a negative way if we give them feedback about their performance,” Gassam Asare says. “So rather than giving them constructive feedback, which would help them to grow and develop, they just avoid giving feedback altogether.”
These numbers reflect this. The Mckinsey 2021 Report found that Black employees account for 14% of all workers, while only 7% hold a managerial or higher level job.
Do your homework
Gassam Asare says workers should be familiar with procedures for promotion and raising their salaries at work. “Looking back into the documents that were given to you can reveal a lot of information about the process.” This can make daunting conversations about progression easier to navigate.
Similar to the above, employees can make their case for promotions or raises by maintaining a log of achievements and the added value that they bring to the company.
You can find strength in numbers
Gassam Asare warns against quitting, particularly with fears about the looming recession as well as a series of layoffs or hiring freezes. She suggests instead that employees look into joining unions or employee resource groups to protect their rights.
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“Eventually you might have to come to the point where, you know, it’s no longer the environment that you want to stay in, but I would caution people against that,” Gassam Asare says. “I think both workplaces and employees are in vulnerable positions. So I do think exhausting all the methods you can if you think you are being quietly fired is so important.”
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