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 is when a manager fails to provide adequate training, support and career development to an employee, causing that employee to leave the organization. Whether 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.”
Quiet Firing vs. Quiet Quitting
Employers Quiet Fire, Employees Quiet Quit
Quiet firing is carried out by an employer. When a manager quietly fires someone, that means they fail to provide adequate training, support and career development to an employee.
Quiet quitting, on the other hand, is carried out by an employee, and happens when the employee is disengaged from their work and not putting in any extra effort.
Quiet Firing and Quiet Quitting Often Go Hand in Hand
Quiet firing and quiet quitting tend to feed into each other.
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.
“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.”
They’re New Terms for Familiar Concepts
The conversation around quiet firing and quiet quitting gained media attention 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.”
Why Does Quiet Firing Happen?
Digital Communication Barriers
Quiet firing may be a “byproduct” of the digital-first work environment that’s taken off in recent years, according to Turner. 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?”
To Avoid Costs and Legal Steps of Termination
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 pay up.
“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,” Causey said. That way, the company doesn’t have to offer severance.
To Avoid Bad Publicity After Layoffs
Quiet firing is also a more low-key alternative to the notorious Zoom firings and office lockouts that have made so many headlines. Tactics like these are bad optics. So, some companies 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.”
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.
1. You’re Being Overly Criticized
“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.”
2. You’re Not Invited to Meetings or Events
Another common sign of quiet firing is “sudden exclusion,” Causey said. This can mean exclusion from team meetings or events you would normally be invited to, and coworkers shying away from you outside of business needs.
3. You Feel Out of the Loop
You may find yourself lacking critical information needed for a particular task or project, being left out of routine email threads or not getting important updates on changes made to the team or company. If you start feeling like an afterthought on work matters, this could be quiet firing in action.
4. Your Manager Isn’t Discussing Your Future
“There doesn’t seem to be any plan that’s being laid out for you to move forward in the company,” Causey 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.”
5. You’re Not Getting Raises, Bonuses or Promotions
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.
What to Do If You’re Being Quiet Fired
Talk With Your Manager
The main course of action employees 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.
Document Your Work Experiences
A 2022 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.
Read Up on Company Rules
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.
Look For a New Job
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.
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.
How to Stop Quiet Firing Your Employees
A 2022 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.
Communicate Openly and Often
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.
Ensure Communication Is Productive and Constructive
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.”
Emphasize Emotional Intelligence and Building Relationships
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.
Praise Good Work and Don’t Only Criticize
“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.”
Embrace Difficult Conversations
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,” she said. “You have to be willing to do that. You have to feel the fear, feel the discomfort, and do it anyway.”