Quiet firing occurs when a manager fails to provide adequate training, support and career development to an employee, causing that employee to leave the organization.

What Is Quiet Firing?

Quiet firing occurs when a manager fails to provide adequate training, support and career development to an employee, causing that employee to leave the organization. Whether it is done deliberately to squeeze out an employee, or as an unintentional consequence of negligent management, quiet firing is a harmful leadership practice.

At its best, quiet firing is an unintended consequence of absent leadership. Even well-intentioned managers can fail to show up for their employees. They may be too uncomfortable to have an honest discussion about an employee’s performance, or they may not have the resources to meet the expectations of an employee. Either way, quiet firing isn’t always intentional.

But, sometimes it is. Under certain circumstances, quiet firing can be a deliberate and calculated move to compel an employee to quit, thus avoiding the monetary, legal and even psychological hurdles involved with firing someone outright.

“[It’s] a passive aggressive way of scooting someone out the door,” HR and business consultant Sara Causey told Built In. She likens it to slow playing in poker, where a person bets weakly or passively despite their strong hand — essentially bluffing the other players. In instances of quiet firing, this means managers are excluding their employees and making them feel “unwelcome,” she continued. “It puts the writing on the wall in a different way.”

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Quiet Firing vs. Quiet Quitting: ‘They Go Hand in Hand’

By now, quiet quitting has become a familiar concept. A 2022 Gallup study found that as much as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of employees who are psychologically checked out of their job. They aren’t necessarily leaving, but they aren’t putting in any extra effort either.

Low employee engagement, frequent absenteeism and burnout — key markers of quiet quitting — are typically the result of poor work-life balance. And leadership has a lot to do with that. Managers who fail to offer adequate training, support and career development opportunities to an employee can inadvertently, or even intentionally, cause that employee to lose interest in or passion for their job — ultimately resulting in their leaving the organization in pursuit of something else. 

In other words: Quiet firing and quiet quitting often feed into each other. 

“Quiet firing is the beginning of quiet quitting,” Pavel Turner, a business performance advisor at HR tech company Insperity, told Built In. “They go hand in hand.”

How Are Quiet Firing and Quiet Quitting Different?

Quiet firing is carried out by an employer, and quiet quitting is carried out by an employee. When a manager quietly fires someone, that means they fail to provide adequate training, support and career development to an employee. And an employee is quietly quitting when they are disengaged from their work and not putting in any extra effort. While distinct in nature, both concepts have a contributive relationship with one another, with one often causing the other to happen. 

The conversation around quiet quitting and quiet firing has been getting a lot of media attention post-pandemic as a result of both remote work and the Great Resignation of 2021, during which an unprecedented number of workers voluntarily left their jobs. But neither of these concepts are new. Rather, we are simply putting a new spin on what is an age-old practice, according to Julia Erickson, a leadership coach and co-author of Betrayed by Work.

“‘Quiet quitting’ used to be a ‘lack of productivity.’ And ‘quiet firing’ used to be known as ‘managing someone out of a job.’ Different generations like to come up with different names for things,” she told Built In. “But I think there might be more of it happening because of the pandemic. The pandemic did fundamentally change people’s relationship to work.”

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Why Does Quiet Firing Happen?

Indeed, just as the Covid-19 pandemic changed people’s relationship to work, so too did it change managers’ relationships to their employees. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the ongoing shift toward remote or hybrid work, which has had an inevitable impact on how managers interact with their subordinates and the kind of working relationship that can be cultivated. 

While Turner is pro remote and hybrid work, he does see quiet firing as a sort of “byproduct” of the digital-first work environment that’s taken off in recent years. Interacting with co-workers and managers either mostly or entirely online doesn’t foster the same kind of connection that in-person experiences do. And it can be easier to let awkward, yet important, conversations slip through the cracks.

“We’ve never experienced this much remote work,” Turner said. “Since we are in this new environment, employers are still trying to adapt to how they’re going to keep employees more engaged. How are we going to train our managers to make sure that the lines of communication are always open? And how are we going to keep these employees in a position to succeed?”

In time, though, he believes things will regulate. “It’s a brand new era we’re living in. And it’s amazing, it’s great, but everything comes with their pain points,” he added.

Why Does Quiet Firing Happen?

  • A manager doesn’t know how to adequately communicate with an employee in a digital-first work environment.
  • A company wants to avoid the financial and legal requirements of officially terminating an employee.
  • To avoid the bad publicity of a mass layoff.

Another world event that can cause a surge in quiet firing is economic decline, which typically results in mass layoffs. We’re seeing this right now across the entire tech industry, with companies like Peloton, Salesforce and Coinbase making considerable cuts to their headcounts just months after massive hiring frenzies. 

But it’s important to remember that terminating an employee in the traditional sense is a rather costly matter. And that cost is exacerbated by its impact on things like employee turnover and retention. Some companies don’t want to pony up.

“They’re hoping that the employee will read that writing on the wall for themselves and just leave on their own.”

“Instead of being able to offer severance, or providing that employee with the chance to file for unemployment benefits,” Causey said.“It’s easier for the company if you resign and say ‘I’ve already found something else and I just want to leave,’ than if they have to go through the process of firing or laying you off.”

Quiet firing is also a more low-key alternative to the notorious Zoom firings and office lockouts that have made so many headlines recently. Tactics like these are bad optics. So, some companies (most notably Meta and Tesla) have encouraged “self-selection,” as Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly put it in a leaked audio recording of a June 2022 staff meeting — setting strict guidelines on things like in-office work and productivity goals in an effort to make the work environment so inhospitable to certain employees that they leave on their own.

“If people quit on their own, it’s not a news story,” Causey said. “[Employers] get to avoid the bad publicity, and they don’t have to look or feel like the bad guy in this situation.” But that’s beginning to change, she continued. Sites like LinkedIn and Reddit have become flooded with stories of quiet firing, with ex-employees naming names. “This information is findable.”

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Signs of Quiet Firing

The circumstances surrounding an instance of quiet firing typically have an impact on how it manifests. For the most part, no two instances of quiet firing are alike. But there are some general signs one can watch out for. 

5 Signs of Quiet Firing

  1. You’re being overly criticized, with very little (if any) praise.
  2. You aren’t being invited to critical meetings or events that you otherwise would have been invited to.
  3. You feel out of the loop when it comes to pertinent information.
  4. Your manager isn’t having discussions with you about your future at the company.
  5. You haven’t gotten a raise or bonus in a while, and you’ve been skipped over for promotions.

“It usually starts with being criticized,” Erickson, the author and leadership coach, said. “All of a sudden you notice that you’re not getting even a little bit of praise that you may once have gotten.” Everything you do seems to be wrong, and it may feel like your manager is “nitpicking,” or that you’re being “singled out.” 

This then becomes a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy” because you start “undermining your self confidence,” she added. “It’s a painful experience to be fired quietly.”

“It’s a painful experience to be fired quietly.”

Another common sign of quiet firing is “sudden exclusion,” Causey said. This can mean exclusion from important meetings, critical information pertaining to a particular task, and even conversations about your own future at the company. 

“There doesn’t seem to be any plan that’s being laid out for you to move forward in the company,” she continued. “Your colleagues and your boss — everybody is beginning to close ranks. And suddenly you’re not on the inside of that anymore. That is definitely a red flag.”

Finally, compensation — or lack thereof — is another telltale sign of quiet firing. And that means more than just raises or bonuses. This can also manifest in being skipped over for promotions, even when one is due or warranted.


Can I Avoid Getting Quiet Fired?

If some of these signs are resonating with you, it is your duty to yourself to “trust your own gut instinct,” Causey said. Then, you need to do something about it. 

Unfortunately, that often means looking for another job.

“If you wait to be officially told something, you’re waiting too late,” Causey continued. “If you have been stamped ‘disapproved’ and you’re being slow played out the door, I would say it’s better, in the vast majority of cases, to simply move on.”

“If you wait to be officially told something, you’re waiting too late.”

She suggests employees “use [their] time wisely,” and take the initiative of polishing up their resume and applying to other jobs. Now is the time to be selfish, particularly if the work environment you’re in is toxic

“Let’s be very clear, corporate America is always going to do what’s best for it. It doesn’t answer to you and me, it answers to the shareholders and the board of directors and these billionaire investors,” she said. “The onus is really on the employee that’s in that situation to find another job.”

How to Avoid Quiet Firing

  • Open a line of communication with your manager. This gives you the space to say what’s on your mind, ask for what you want and check in on your progress.
  • Document the experiences you are having in your job, both good and bad.
  • Read up on your company’s rules and regulations pertaining to things like raises, promotions and pay scales.
  • If all else fails, take the initiative and begin a new job search. Now is the time to be selfish, particularly if your work environment is a toxic one.

Bear in mind, though, the onus is also on the company to hire and promote people into management positions who are actually capable of managing someone, which includes having transparent conversations. “Not everybody is cut out to be a people manager, and I think we need to be cognizant of that,” Causey added. 

That being said, the main course of action employers at risk of being quietly fired can take is right there in the name — make some noise. Don’t allow things to be quiet anymore. 

“If you think you’re being quiet fired, or you find yourself quiet quitting, the most important thing you can do is sit down with your manager, open the lines of communication, and explain how you feel,” Turner said. This could mean advocating for yourself, it could mean asking for more responsibility, it could mean checking in on personal progress, and more. But opening that line of communication is a good place to get back on track with a manager.

A recent write-up by Harvard Business Review also suggests that victims of quiet firing be diligent about documenting the experience of working for the company — the good, the bad and the ugly. Also, it’s good to read up on a company’s rules and regulations when it comes to things like raises, promotions and pay scales to get a better frame of reference for the situation at hand. That way, an employee will know whether they have grounds to escalate a complaint, take any legal action or negotiate before simply leaving on their own. 

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How to Quit Quiet Firing Your Employees

A recent LinkedIn News poll found that 48 percent of its more than 20,000 respondents have witnessed quiet quitting in the workplace, and 35 percent personally faced it over the course of their careers. But a true, quantifiable picture of how pervasive quiet firing is in the workplace is hard to come by, mainly because it isn’t exactly a management practice to be proud of.

Fortunately, there are several things managers can do to keep from quietly firing their employees, and forgo all the unpleasantness that comes with it.

How to Quit Quiet Firing Your Employees

  • Communicate with employees openly and often.
  • Use tools like DISC assessments to ensure that the communication with each individual employee is as productive and constructive as possible.
  • Emphasize emotional intelligence, where the focus is on building a relationship with an employee in addition to monitoring their productivity.
  • Don’t just criticize bad work, praise good work.
  • Discomfort is not an excuse for avoiding an awkward or hard conversation with an employee — it’s your job as their manager to work past it and have the conversation anyway. 

The main antidote to quiet firing on a manager’s end is communication with an employee. That doesn’t necessarily mean performance reviews and status updates all the time, sometimes it can mean career coaching or just a casual conversation. Whatever the case, maintaining an open line of communication is important — not only to foster a trusting relationship, but also promote engagement and accountability on both ends.

To ensure that communication is as productive and constructive as possible, Turner said managers should lead on tools like DISC assessments to get a better understanding of the specific communication styles of each employee, and what works best for whom.

“Humans are all different. Some people communicate better than others,” Turner said. “DISC assessments allow [employers] to handle their employees based on their personality and what they’re comfortable with.”

Another thing managers should focus on is emotional intelligence, where the focus is on building a relationship with the employee in addition to monitoring their productivity. Even if an employee is struggling to meet the demands of the job, having an emotionally intelligent conversation with them can really turn things around. It can even prevent the need for a manager to fire that employee — quietly or otherwise.

“A leader, by virtue of position, has so much more power than they may think,” Erickson said. “When you engage people, when you empower them. When you really bring them in and engage their minds and respect them, boy, performance turns around. … So, rather than criticize people, praise people.”

And if a difficult conversation about an employee’s lackluster performance needs to happen, it is on the manager to make sure that it does happen, even if it ultimately leads to that person getting fired.

Causey likens these kinds of conversations to root canals at the dentist — a painful but necessary process that, ultimately, saves everyone a lot of pain and discomfort.

“I understand that sitting down with an employee and having that very awkward conversation about performance is not fun. It’s uncomfortable. But when we become company owners or people managers, guess what? You’re saddling up for that discomfort,” she said. “You have to be willing to do that. You have to feel the fear, feel the discomfort, and do it anyway.”

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