Of all the workforce trends to emerge in recent years, “quiet firing” is the one employees should dread the most. With the Great Resignation, American workers left their jobs in droves, and with quiet quitting, employees did the bare minimum to keep their jobs but were largely disengaged from their position and company. In both of these scenarios, the worker was the one in control. But with quiet firing, where managers take a passive-aggressive response to forcing employees out without actually letting them go – the tables are turned.
“Quiet quitting was widely used first and when looking into the trend, it was clear the idea of scaling back at work was not one-sided,” says Katie Duncan, content manager with JobSage, an employee transparency platform which recently surveyed 2,000 managers and employees in the U.S. about quiet firing.
Quiet Firing Defined
Quiet firing is an informal term that went viral in 2022 as workplace employment trends shifted, according to Duncan.
“It refers to a manager pushing out employees by treating them poorly or changing their work responsibilities, instead of directly firing them,” Duncan explains. “While quiet quitting refers to the employee pulling back at work, as to help with burnout, quiet firing is the manager’s decision to change an employee’s workload or job responsibilities.”
In the JobSage survey, which gathered data across various industries, 56% of managers said they have employees they wish they could fire. Nearly a third of managers surveyed admitted that they’ve actually quiet fired an employee, using tactics like reduced workload, no promotions and no raises. Plus, a quarter of managers surveyed said they’re more suspicious of their employees because of the quiet quitting trend.
Quiet firing can apply to any industry or organization, according to Esther Cohen, director of marketing at Workamajig, a project management software company. Cohen says that quiet firing likely started right after the Great Resignation, which goes back to 2021, as a response to quiet quitting.
“Other similar trends such as ‘bare minimum Mondays,’ ‘chaotic working’ and even today’s high inflation of over 6% might have impacted the emergence of quiet firing,” Cohen says.
While the trend of quiet firing affects all generations, a report by Workamajig found that younger generations are resigning at a higher rate than older workers, partly due to workplace trends such as quiet firing. The study showed that 37% of Gen Z and millennials walked away from their jobs at some point in 2021.
Cohen says that quiet firing often expresses itself as overworking employees and creating a hostile work environment that “slowly forces them to walk away,” rather than directly dismissing them. “Withholding support, career development opportunities and recognition are ways to quietly fire employees, forcing them out of the organization,” Cohen says.
She notes that while these management power plays might be common in specific workplaces, they clearly aren’t good leadership practices, and managers should replace them with building healthy relationships based on trust, good communication and transparency.
12 Signs of Quiet Firing
How can you tell if you’re being quiet fired? Cohen and Duncan point out a dozen potential red flags that may indicate quiet firing is taking place. Your manager or other organization leaders may:
- Underutilize your talents or skills.
- Shift some of your key tasks to other employees without a reasonable explanation.
- Purposely block your growth opportunities.
- Set unreasonable performance goals.
- Deny or not offer a well-deserved promotion.
- Assign unwanted responsibilities that do not align with your role.
- Fail to provide recognition or constantly undervalue your contributions.
- Reduce your workload.
- Not offer raises.
- Not offer new work challenges.
- Not discuss your career trajectory.
- Wrongfully demote you without warning or reason.
How to Deal With Quiet Firing
Since one of the roots of quiet firing is poor communication, Cohen suggests that employees regularly check in with their supervisor and proactively ask about their performance, their team’s struggles and how they can help achieve their department’s overall goals.
“Ask for measurable ways to determine when goals are being hit so you and your manager objectively know when this happens,” Cohen says. “Additionally, ask for concrete feedback and be willing to take action and improve areas that may need attention.”
Duncan recommends directly addressing your manager to ask questions about work challenges, career trajectory, raises or anything else that may have changed or gone unaddressed.
“It’s also important to ask managers what you can do to reach career goals and to set a plan together,” Duncan says.
Cohen says it’s important to ask about career development opportunities and understand your company’s policies for promotions.
“Work directly with your manager to reach your next desired role, defining clear action steps within an achievable timeframe,” Cohen says. “Finally, if you feel discouraged or dissatisfied, approach your manager and have an open and honest conversation. Be transparent about your feelings and expectations, and don’t be afraid to ask for resources, training or support when needed.”