‘Quiet Hiring:’ A New Name for a Revived Practice

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer January 23, 2023
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​The trend of repackaging established workplace behaviors and practices into new buzzwords continues. In the wake of last year's "quiet quitting" and "quiet firing" phenomena—catchphrases for employee disengagement and passive performance management—comes "quiet hiring," when employers fill talent gaps by shifting employees around and hiring contractors or part-time workers.

The rebrand may be suspect, but the workforce strategy is pressing, as organizations anticipate an economic downturn while continuing to navigate a labor market bereft of available workers.  

"The main reason employers are doing this is because of the talent shortage," said Emily Rose McRae, senior director of research at Gartner. "It's not just hard to find talent. In some cases, the talent is not there, or hiring takes so long that the business is seriously impacted. Hiring a data scientist can take six months or longer, for example."

Quiet hiring enables businesses to be ready and adaptable to change, said Jennifer Kraszewski, SHRM-SCP, vice president of human resources at Paycom, an HR and payroll technology provider based in Oklahoma City. "The practice of companies upskilling current employees and moving them to new roles or focus areas, either on a temporary or permanent basis, in order to fit new or evolving business needs has been around for many years and is something smart businesses often do regularly," she said.

The practice has taken on new relevance in the recent labor market climate characterized by the 4.8 million surplus of open jobs over available workers, reduced hiring budgets and elevated turnover.

High turnover is expected to be "relatively permanent, consistently higher than it was before the pandemic," McRae said. "So, if you don't have enough talent, you have to maximize the talent you have."

Jeff Schwartz, vice president of insights and impact at Gloat, a talent marketplace and internal mobility platform based in New York City, said quiet hiring uncovers the opportunity to move beyond static jobs and standard recruiting and reimagine how work could be done in projects and gigs, an idea energized by the emerging skills-based hiring trend. "It recognizes that the potential of our current employees is far more than their current jobs and job descriptions suggest," he said.

Brian Ferguson, a talent acquisition leader and founder of The Talent Trailblazer, a recruiting consultancy in Lakeway, Texas, said quiet hiring provides a vital solution in times of economic pressure and when traditional recruitment options may be limited due to labor shortages. "By temporarily redistributing tasks [among] current staff, businesses can ensure their essential requirements are met and financial goals achieved without committing long-term resources [toward] new hires," he said.

Quiet hiring can take two different forms: internal and external. External quiet hiring means hiring short-term contractors. Internally, the practice is more open to creativity and potentially includes short-term redeployment, internal mobility programs, rotational programs, and project or gig work.

For example, McRae said if you need more data scientists, you could look to people in HR and marketing who conduct and present data analysis. "If you can shift the complex statistical programming tasks of the data science role to a contract role or existing data scientists, you can then move HR and marketing data analysts to cover the other half of the role—presenting results to stakeholders," she said. "That is actionable quiet hiring."

Another example is when a company redeploys its tax team during the off-season to other projects, Kraszewski said.

In still another example reported in August 2022, Australian airline Qantas asked for 100 employees, including managers and senior executives, to work as baggage handlers for three months as it dealt with an acute labor shortage.

Career Pathing

Experts agreed that quiet hiring can also be an excellent opportunity for workers' professional development.

"Temporary assignments can help employees gain new skills and experiences and lead to long-term career advancement," Ferguson said. "Quiet hiring can also be a good way for employees to try out different organizational roles and discover new interests and passions. By clearly articulating the value of these assignments and how they can help employees advance their careers, employers can help ensure that their employees feel motivated and valued."

Quiet hiring can be seen as a potential solution for quiet quitting, Kraszewski said. "Many employees quiet quit because they feel like they have plateaued at work and are not interested in the work they are assigned anymore. People are given the opportunity to explore a completely new opportunity and even switch departments or teams, moving them away from the work that had them feeling unfulfilled in favor of an assignment or responsibility that can challenge them in a new way."

Risks, Downsides

When considering quiet hiring practices, an organization should identify potential risks and downsides.

"One risk includes potential skills and knowledge gaps left when an individual or team pursues a new opportunity," Kraszewski said. "There's no on/off switch—it will take time to train employees, even if they are transferring internally."

McRae said those being moved to a new role, even part time, can't be expected to keep up with all their previous role's work. "You have to make a decision to sacrifice in one part of the business in order to succeed in another part of the business," she said.

"Being able to identify where and for whom this transition should happen is important," McRae added. Shifting employees internally has the potential to create resentment from those who get chosen to move and from those who don't.

"You also don't want to set people up for roles in which they will not be successful," she said. "Expecting all of your customer service reps to retrain on data science in 30 days is not reasonable, for example. Look to skill adjacencies and feasible role redesign."

Another pitfall to avoid is harming diversity, equity and inclusion. "As much as shifting talent can be useful, it can also exacerbate existing issues around equity and inclusion in terms of access to opportunities," McRae said. "Organizations need to be aware not to only provide the opportunity to shift to people with college degrees, for example, and instead reorganize people based on their skills."

Compensation must also be considered in any quiet hiring decisions, she said. "If you're asking people to do more or do something that is not particularly desirable, compensate them for that. Compensation could be money—either a bonus or a raise—or it might be more PTO [paid time off] or more flexibility. Communicate that the compensation is recognition for the extra or unexpected work."

The success of quiet hiring will depend on how it is presented to employees. Saying it needs to be done is not enough. "The message should not be 'You're interchangeable,' " McRae said. "It should be 'You are valued, and we want to place you where you can have the biggest impact on the business.' "

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