Managers Admit to “Quiet Firing”

JobSage, an online platform that brings insight to jobseeker issues, including inclusive workplaces, opportunities for growth, a sense of purpose, meaningful feedback, and flexibility, surveyed 1,000 U.S. employers about “quiet firing.” If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s the management equivalent of “quiet quitting.” Quiet quitting has been in the news for months as workers post about their decision to put in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary to keep their jobs.

They say they’re rejecting the notion that their employers will recognize and reward extraordinary effort: nights, weekends, and overtime that are creating burnout and ruining work/life balance. Most don’t intend to actually quit; they’re simply conserving energy, putting in minimal effort while collecting full pay.

Now, some employers are speaking out about something that has been going on for decades: quietly pushing out workers who are disgruntled, slow, underperforming, or having trouble getting along with the team (among myriad other reasons.) It can be complex to fire someone, even with just cause. So some managers take small steps over time in hopes the worker will make their own decision to move on.

In fact, 56 percent of the managers from the JobSage survey said they had employees they wish they could fire. That list may get longer, since nearly one in four managers say they are more suspicious of their employees since they’d heard about “quiet quitting.”

The survey reveals some of the ways managers subtly push team members out. Some techniques are passive; 17 percent of managers opt not to offer individual coaching or career development planning. About 20 percent of managers refused to consider raises and promotions when the subject came up, something that sends a clear message to a worker who thinks they might have a future with the company.

The more insidious quiet firing method involves slowly nudging an employee out of the most important or meaningful parts of their job. Twenty-six percent of employers surveyed said they’d reduced workload for employees they hoped would quit (something retail is famous for.) It may take months for someone to notice that they’re being left off the most exciting projects, not invited to key meetings, or given more and more routine or non-essential tasks and roles. They may find their annual performance ratings declining year over year with no clearly defined feedback on performance problems.

They may be assigned new roles or collateral duties that don’t use their primary skill set or take on tasks that they’re not suited for or will struggle mastering. They may be transferred to a project or department that is considered undesirable, feels like a demotion, or is rumored to be on the chopping block. Sooner or later, the worker’s personal brand becomes irrelevant, second tier, even expendable.

Older workers have complained about being pushed out by these methods for years. Over 78% of people aged 40 to 65 that AARP surveyed in 2021 said they’d either seen or experienced ageism in the workplace, up from 61% before the pandemic. Many complain that the best assignments, the most interesting projects, are given to up-and-comers rather than senior staff members.  Many suspect they’re being pushed out so companies can hire cheaper workers or save on retirement, bonuses, or pension benefits.

Quiet firing works, even if the employee can see it happening. Some may be stubborn and angry enough to stay no matter how unhappy they’ve become on the job. Others may not have anywhere else to go in a softening labor market. But most people with options will take them, leaving for a manager or company who appreciates them more. Leaving voluntarily means the employee keeps their dignity and the employer doesn’t have to pay out unemployment or risk a complicated and risky termination.

Nearly a third (29%) of managers say they’ve “quiet fired” an employee. Half of workers identify as “quiet quitters.” There is probably no way to know how much the two data sets overlap. But it’s certainly something quiet quitters should think about, especially if their quiet quitting techniques seem to go unnoticed – or worse, supported by their managers.

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