Quiet Firing Is the Passive-Aggressive Response to Quiet Quitting — Here's Why It Fails Don't use tactics like constructive dismissal to pressure people into leaving your organization. Improve your company culture with these techniques instead.
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I once promoted a part-time employee into a full-time position. He did well for the first month, and then his performance tanked because he wasn't thrilled with the pay and was overwhelmed with responsibility. He did just enough work to collect a paycheck and spent most of his work hours applying to jobs at other companies.
I didn't want to fire him. So, I tied his hours to the number of clients he served. Eventually, the clients expired, and by default, he had no job. This was terrible leadership on my part. I should have ripped off the bandaid and let him go. Instead, I prolonged a period of negativity for both of us.
What is quiet quitting?
I grew up in the '80s with baby boomer parents who taught me to value hard work. Times have changed, and people consider "quiet quitting" — where people do just enough to keep their jobs — to be a negative response to hustle culture. Many TikTokers jumped on the trend in support of the concept. However, one TikToker's pushback was to explain that quiet quitting doesn't actually change a person's work schedule, pay rate or level of happiness.
Emotions can overwhelm people when their expectations don't match their professional outcomes. They may experience fear or anger, and feelings of helplessness become passive aggression. The end result is quiet quitting. Consequently, many managers have responded with "quiet firing."
What is quiet firing?
Quiet firing is a passive-aggressive technique that managers use to get people to quit their jobs. Some TikTokers have explained the symptoms of quiet firing, like pulling responsibilities from people and not providing feedback for improvement during performance reviews. In fact, 1 in 3 managers have responded to quiet quitting with quiet firing, according to a survey project that I helped with. Quiet firing has been compared to constructive dismissal, and advice for employees includes talking to your boss and documenting everything.
Why does quiet firing fail?
Quiet firing could cost a lot more than a clean separation. Most obvious are the direct costs of paying an employee who's ineffective. Additionally, the negative relationship between management and the employee will be obvious to many other people on the team. Tension will increase, and as you continue to make the worker's life miserable, they will retaliate. The end result is a toxic work environment where everyone wants to leave.
What should employers do instead of quiet firing?
If a worker has checked out, don't react with passive aggression. Instead, start with a conversation. Ask them what they were most excited about when they first joined the company. Ask what might have changed since then.
Ask them about their values and whether they feel the company's core values are aligned with their own. If the answer is "no," then dig deeper to learn more. If the answer is "yes," then the problem is fixable.
Work with your employee to set a goal that engages them. Agree on a set of metrics for success against which the employee's performance will be measured. Then tie those metrics to each project they work on, and check in regularly.
If things don't improve after this, it may be time to amicably part ways so that everyone can move forward. Find a replacement who can do the job well and whose values are also aligned with the company's. Then give the worker a reasonable severance package, and wish them luck.
This applies to managers, too. You may notice poor leadership practices among your managers, including "quiet firing." Address it quickly and directly. Give them feedback, training, tools and an opportunity to do better. Show them that good leaders care about their teams. If that doesn't work, then replace them, too.
How to prevent quiet quitting in the first place
As an employer, there are a number of methods for reducing the likelihood or magnitude of quiet quitting within your organization. Start by fostering an environment of open communication. Work with your management team to put systems in place where they check in with other team members — and you.
Make sure you review everyone's pay structure and history of increases. Inflation in 2022 was reported to be over 9%. If pay increases haven't at least kept up with inflation, then it may be time to give people raises if you can afford it.
Next, recognize that quiet quitting is often a function of poor leadership. Invest in leadership training, and create a culture of inspiration and purpose — rather than fear and punishment. Try mentorship, pay for a trainer, or invest in leadership books.
In addition to money and leadership training, reinforce a sense of purpose and values among your team members. Host a workshop to rehash your company mission, vision and core values. Invite your team to be part of the process of rehashing what your company stands for. They'll feel valued, and they will be more vested in its success.
In summary, work to constantly improve your company culture. For example, your team may value flexibility in hours, work days, meetings and responsibilities in order to maintain a good work-life balance. Others may value attending trade shows or earning company-sponsored certifications. Figure out what your people value, and see what opportunities you can offer to help them bring these values into their work.
It's time to get past this era of passive aggressiveness. Make your organization part of this movement, and foster a culture of communication and values. Take steps to stomp out passive aggressiveness whenever it manifests itself. Your team will feel better, and they'll be inspired to be a valuable part of your organization.