UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Sep 18, 2023

Quiet hiring is when an organization addresses emerging staffing needs without hiring new employees — often by giving existing employees additional responsibilities. It might involve assigning an employee to a new role within the company or asking an employee to take on a “stretch” project that expands their skill set. In some cases, it may even involve hiring temporary contract workers instead of full-time employees.

While the concept of internally recruiting high-performing employees is nothing new, the term “quiet hiring” exploded in popularity on the heels of other “quiet” buzzwords, like “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing.” Once an under-the-radar Silicon Valley practice, quiet hiring went viral after consulting firm Gartner listed it on its future of work trends list for 2023.

Quiet Hiring Definition

Quiet hiring is when an organization assigns an employee to a new role or responsibilities instead of hiring new full-time employees. It can also refer to decisions to rely on freelancers or contractors instead of hiring.

With quiet hiring, companies can shift employees internally to adjust to the evolving needs of the business. By reskilling and upskilling existing employees with in-demand skills, companies can solve their pressing personnel needs while bypassing the competitive battle for tech talent, the struggle to find quality candidates and the exorbitant costs of hiring.

“There’s still a massive need for talent, which is the whole reason organizations are starting to look within the organization for the skills they can’t get outside (the organization) and can’t afford to hire massive numbers of new headcount for,” Emily Rose McRae, who leads Gartner’s Future of Work research team, told CBS News.

Indeed, “lack of quality candidates” was seen as the top hiring challenge for the 3,800 HR professionals surveyed in HireVue’s Global Trends Report. About 50 percent of respondents said they placed a greater emphasis on internal mobility in 2022. This was especially true in industries dealing with layoffs and hiring freezes.

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What Does Quiet Hiring Look Like?

Quiet hiring can take a few different forms.

 

Upskilling Employees to Take on New Roles

In one scenario, quiet hiring could involve training one segment of existing employees to help out with another part of the business that their previous skill set wouldn’t allow for.

For instance, in a Gartner Live Q&A, McRae said quiet hiring could involve the reallocation of HR or marketing employees to open positions in data science. Those employees would then be reskilled or upskilled to help the data science team, and contract workers could be brought in to perform work that requires more technical training.

 

Giving Employees ‘Stretch Assignments’ 

Companies might also quietly hire by growing their internal talent marketplace through “stretch assignments.” These challenge employees to take on projects outside the comfort zone of their job description. It could include taking the lead on a new project, volunteering to mentor or train a junior employee or heading up the implementation of a new technology. Whatever the individual circumstances might be, the goal of a stretch assignment is to develop new skills and gain experience in new situations.

 

Employing Contract or Temporary Workers

Another piece of the quiet hiring picture is hiring temporary or contract employees to take on responsibilities that would ordinarily be performed by a new full-time employee. Hiring contractors is a way for companies to be more agile in how they respond to the needs of the business, and it’s become increasingly common in the past year. About 35 percent of respondents in Hirevue’s survey reported increasing their contractor versus full-time hiring in 2022.

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Benefits of Quiet Hiring

When done well, quiet hiring allows companies to nimbly respond to business needs while equipping employees with new skills and exposing them to new areas of the business.

 

Leverages Internal Talent

By training employees with in-demand skills, companies can tap into an internal talent pool of people who have the organizational context and experience to address the unique challenges of their business without a learning curve.

And for employees, these new roles and responsibilities often result in additional skills and experiences that can make them more relevant and marketable in an ever-evolving job market.

 

Higher Employee Engagement

Employees are also more engaged when their company takes an interest in their professional development — typically through training and advancement opportunities — especially those that are aligned with their career goals. A Better Buys survey found that employees who are given access to professional development opportunities are 15 percent more engaged and 34 percent more likely to stay with the organization than other employees.

 

Stronger Employee Retention

Being reassigned to a high-priority area of the business also shows the company’s commitment to keeping an employee within the organization.

“Generally when people are given stretch assignments and told that they are part of a strategic goal that the organization has ... people are very enthusiastic and are very high performers,” McRae said in the Gartner Live Q&A.

Employees who gain experience across business functions will also develop a much better understanding of the business, which will make them a much stronger candidate for any potential leadership opportunities that may arise in the future, McRae added.

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Drawbacks of Quiet Hiring

Companies should be careful in how they approach quiet hiring. Otherwise, they risk creating unnecessary problems for themselves and their employees.  

 

Increased Likelihood of Employee Burnout 

If a role reassignment is implemented in a heavy-handed, top-down manner without employee buy-in, the company could see engagement levels go down.

Miriam Connaughton, chief people and experience officer at Simpplr, said employees could become disengaged or burned out if they are assigned a task that does not align with their skills or interests — or even if they’re simply given too much work.

“What can be a stretch assignment to one person becomes incredibly stressful for somebody else if they don’t feel supported or they don’t feel ready,” Connaughton told Built In.

 

Deteriorating Company Culture

Employees are less likely to feel engaged if they are asked to take on extra responsibilities without a larger strategic vision. Connaughton likens it to “cashless promotions.”

Everyone’s got to pitch in from time to time, “but when it’s unsustainable, and it’s unrecognized, maybe underappreciated,” Connaughton added, “I think that’s when it all falls down.”

 

Lower Quality of Work

Employees may struggle with an additional role or more tasks on top of the work they already perform, rushing through assignments to keep up and producing sub-par work as a result. And if a company fails to offer the appropriate compensation and training for quiet hiring, employees may be even less motivated to do their best work.  

“I think companies should be very intentional about what kind of support they give people when they provide these opportunities,” Connaughton said. “It requires the employer — when they’re doing it well — to upgrade and update their whole talent mobility, internal skills market and learning and development strategy as well.”

McRae also said companies should be compensating employees with pay raises, bonuses or other benefits if they are taking on new roles or responsibilities to help the organization. This structured approach makes it clearer to employees what exactly they’ll be gaining when they accept additional duties.

Related ReadingHere’s How to Build a Skills Program to Retain Employees

 

Steps Employees Can Take in Response to Quiet Hiring

If you suspect you’ve been quietly hired, you’re not alone. In a Monster.com poll from January of 2023, 80 percent of respondents said they had been quietly hired, and half of those workers said their new role was not aligned with their skill set.

Loren Rosario-Maldonado, founder of leadership development consultancy Cultura, said a new role must come with clear expectations and guidelines. If an employee is taking on a stretch project, there should be a mutual understanding of how the additional workload will impact their role and how they are evaluated.

“Ask questions, seek clarification and express any concerns you may have,” Rosario-Maldonado said. “Remember, your voice matters in your workplace, and it’s your right to understand changes that may directly impact you.”

 

1. Ask Questions

Your manager should know that any major change like this should be accompanied by substantial dialogue. If they don’t initiate that discussion, you should feel more than comfortable bringing up those topics yourself. In some situations, your manager might need help in leading that conversation.

“Sometimes leaders don’t know how to communicate,” Rosario-Maldonado said. “When the employee asks questions, that helps the leader or the manager address those concerns in a way that helps the employee feel seen.”

Employees might be hesitant to raise questions or concerns in the midst of layoffs, budget cuts and economic uncertainty, but these are important topics to address and shouldn’t create any animosity if framed correctly.

“If you don’t have the psychological safety to talk to your manager candidly about how you’re feeling about work, that’s a red flag,” Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture at Culture Partners, told Built In.

Here are a few questions that may help facilitate those conversations:

  • How is success measured in this role? 
  • What support is available to help me navigate this change? 
  • How will this role help me develop professionally and get to the next step in my career?

 

2. Clarify Expectations

If you are asked to take on additional responsibilities, clarify your existing workload to your manager, so they can understand the time associated with your existing workflow — and how that could affect your ability to take on new tasks.

“Be specific,” Rosario-Maldonado said. “What will that look like if I take on this project? What are the hours that I am required to contribute? ... This can help you understand the workflow involved to help you manage your work. That demonstrates good time management.”

Managers should also be realistic and genuine in these conversations. If an employee is continually being pulled into new projects, and their concerns about workload are minimized or brushed off, that employee may lose trust with the manager and, subsequently, the organization, Rosario-Maldonado said.

 

3. Express Concerns

If you are taking on a new role and you don’t feel like you have the tools to help you make the transition, express your concern to your manager to see how they can support you in gaining those skills.

If the role is changing significantly in responsibilities and workload, it may be appropriate to ask how the job is classified in terms of compensation. In fact, McRae said employees who agree to take on new roles and responsibilities should be compensated with pay raises, bonuses or other benefits.

“Don’t go in blindly to anything that you’re asked to do,” Connaughton said. “Explore it, have a good open discussion about it and be prepared that, if it doesn’t meet what you’re willing to say yes to, then find a way to graciously say no.”

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is quiet hiring?

Quiet hiring is the practice of giving current employees more responsibilities instead of bringing on new hires. This could mean giving an employee another role, giving them extra tasks through side projects or upskilling, or hiring a contract or temporary worker.

Is quiet hiring illegal?

No, quiet hiring is not illegal. But it may lead to employees feeling overworked and underpaid for the additional responsibilities they’re asked to perform, leading to burnout, reduced morale and increased churn.

Is quiet hiring good or bad?

It depends. When done well, employees get to expand their skill sets and build their careers by taking on more responsibility or a new role. But quiet hiring done poorly can lead to a drop in employee engagement and ultimately result in burnout.

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