Worker disengagement is not a new trend, but it is the latest viral challenge HR leaders are facing. The term "quiet quitters" has recently been coined to describe employees choosing not to go above and beyond at work.
As a Gallup poll reveals, "quiet quitters make up at least 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, probably more." Detachment at work has been increasing since 2018, based on Gallup data collected since 2000.
Some managers are responding by using "quiet firing" practices. According to a Resumebuilder.com survey, 1 in 3 managers are using passive-aggressive tactics to make work uncomfortable for the employee, in hopes that the "quiet quitter" will just leave.
Quiet firing, like quiet quitting, is not new. A LinkedIn News poll found that 83 percent of respondents reported having faced it themselves or seen it used in the workplace. In a market where retention and staffing shortages reign, it is more critical than ever for leaders to acknowledge and avoid the behavior.
In new findings from SHRM Research, fewer than 36 percent of respondents to a survey from SHRM are reporting that quiet quitting is actively occurring within their organization. But of HR professionals who do report that their organization is experiencing quiet quitting, 3 in 5 (60 percent) say their organization's culture leads to this behavior, with qualitative data revealing management issues (e.g., lack of engagement, communication issues, poor people management) and remote and hybrid work (e.g., poor supervisor support, lack of accountability) as common themes affecting workplace culture and encouraging quiet quitting.
"A quiet-firing environment will likely lead to the development of a quiet-quitting culture," said Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna, a job-search engine. "An employee who is quiet quitting shouldn't trigger an employer to start quiet firing them."
Instead, Lewis says, this is the time to have an open conversation about how the employee is feeling. Discussions should include asking about any support they may need and identifying steps to re-engage the individual.
"Quiet firing, like quiet quitting, is ultimately a transparency issue," said Nick Goldberg, founder and CEO of London-based EZRA Coaching. "Organizations should be viewing this as a call to improve communication skills across teams. 'Quiet' really has no place in a healthy work environment."
Recognizing Quiet Firing
According to Annie Rosencrans, director of people and culture at HiBob, an HR tech platform, there is no single symptom to diagnose a culture of quiet firing. She says it is a combination of actions that include:
- Passing over an employee for promotions or raises despite high productivity and a strong work ethic, without providing feedback as to why.
- Withholding feedback from workers (constructive or otherwise) on submitted projects.
- Assigning projects that are consistently beneath an employee's skill set or job description while colleagues have opportunities to grow and learn.
- Regularly canceling one-on-one and progress meetings.
"Another seemingly subtle behavior may be consistently giving an employee an unpopular shift pattern or fewer hours," Lewis added. "Or it could be leaving a person off calendar invites for key discussions important to their work and knowledge."
5 Strategies to Avoid Quiet Firing
Ignoring a quiet quitter is appealing because it feels easier than addressing the issue with the individual. These five tips can help you prepare for understanding the "why" behind the employee's behavior and craft a realistic action plan that supports engagement.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. "Quiet firing can sometimes come around when an employee is struggling in a certain area and their manager doesn't know how to resolve this or is conflict-avoidant," Lewis said. "Train managers on how to have difficult conversations and how to give constructive feedback."
Get to know your staff. People are more than their job. Families, interests, talents and hobbies sometimes compete with work priorities.
"By creating a real connection with the people you manage, you become partners instead of adversaries when challenges at work arise," Goldberg said.
Conduct informal check-ins. Stay interviews are critical to engaging employees and avoiding quiet-firing practices.
"If many employees feel they aren't heard, HR can lead the charge in encouraging managers to set up formalized check-ins and to check employee timelines to see when they had last been promoted or given an earned raise," Lewis said.
Practice. Rehearse what you want to say and how to say it in advance of a challenging discussion.
"Practice with a family member or colleague, get feedback, and practice it again until your tone and language match exactly the meaning you want to convey," Goldberg suggested.
Increase communication. In today's workforce, communication is crucial for team morale, engagement and happiness at work.
"By creating an environment conducive to open and transparent dialogue, employees will feel comfortable reaching out to their superiors for questions," Lewis said. "Also, with this type of culture, managers can know where the employee is struggling and what can be done to fix this by giving them the chance to share their struggles and ask questions."
The Cost of Quiet Firing
Ignoring quiet firing wastes time and resources. Goldberg explained that the organization isn't getting the support it needs and the employee isn't getting any closer to reaching their professional goals.
"Quiet firing robs employees of the meaningful work experience they seek. When a job lacks meaning, [then] loyalty, retention and overall satisfaction decrease at an organizational level," Goldberg said. "If organizations want to end the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, they need to make smart investments in developing leaders to create a purposeful, open organizational culture where staff doesn't feel like they have to resort to quiet quitting or quiet firing."
Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.