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Meet Quiet Firing, the counterpart to Quiet Quitting

In recent weeks, career platforms and social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook/Instagram have been abuzz with the term “Quiet Quitting,” a predominantly-Gen Z phrase used to describe the rejection of the notion of going above and beyond at work. In the time since it has dominated the internet, the trend has gone on to spark massive responses from all parties, that even career experts such as Arianna Huffington have come forward to speak publicly on the issue. Amidst the chaotic discussion surrounding the topic, many more career experts have now stepped up to talk about a new quiet, that is Quiet Firing.

A different kind of quiet

Unlike quiet quitting which is demonstrated in a loud and boisterous manner, quiet firing, true to its name, is the act of quietly retrenching an undesired employee from work. The former is associated with employees pushing back against the standard norm of “work”, while the latter seeks to preserve the employer’s interests by “weeding” out certain employees. Quiet firing came shortly after quiet quitting’s newfound fame, and people claim that it was the catalyst for quiet quitting.

Quiet firing is loosely defined as a series of repeated, targeted ill behaviors carried out on an employee to coerce them into quitting their jobs. While the definition of quiet firing remains broad, people who have been quiet fired share a few common themes - Feeling “miserable”, “horrible”, “being treated passive aggressively” and “having a diminished sense of self-worth.” Here are some clear traits/examples of a quiet firing in the making.

● Denying employees career advancement opportunities

● Depriving employees of wage increment

● Inexplicable removal of certain tasks and responsibilities

● Providing little to no feedback to help employees grow

● Excluding employees from any major tasks, projects or events

● Intentionally nitpicking an employee’s work

● Gaslighting

● Constant belittling, condescension towards the employee

● Creating a toxic workplace to the point that you can no longer tolerate it and decide to leave

● Stripping of direct report, that is employees no longer to report to you, in cases of higher positions with focus on people management

● Any other unwarranted behaviors or actions not listed here that seeks to elicit a negative response from the employee to the point of quitting

In employment law, quiet firing is also known as constructive dismissal. In short, the goal of quiet firing is to wear the employee down, drive them past the breaking point and prematurely quitting their jobs instead of waiting for the HR to give the axe.

To quote Forbes on their take on quiet firing,

“Unrelenting criticism, public humiliations, nagging, fault finding, thwarting any chances of advancements and souring senior management on you will eventually wear you down. There is only so much abuse you can take.

After a while, you realize that things will never change. You start quietly quitting, getting in touch with recruiters and searching for a new job. You figure you’d rather leave of your own accord than continue being punished and ultimately fired.”

Why employers quiet fire

While the nature of quiet firing is intriguing at best, there are several reasons we can think of as to why employers quiet fire:

1. To avoid paying severance packages for unwanted employees

2. To avoid looking the “bad guy” part

3. The employer or the management simply cannot bring themselves to be the bearer of bad news

4. To avoid being press charged under the grounds of unlawful termination i.e. discrimination, bullying, harassment

5. Some employers have simply developed a sour relationship with their employees and hold a grudge or personal vendetta

6. Employers are seeking to cut cost or reduce financial losses

Getting an employee to quit on their own accord demands less effort than terminating them via official procedures. Plus, in countries where unions and employment laws are taken with the utmost seriousness, companies who lay off employees without proper reasoning risk facing severe PR backlash and major lawsuits to justify the let-go. Furthermore, if found guilty of unfair termination, the employee could file a legal complaint towards the company which may cripple the business and result in bankruptcy. Not to mention the entire process of suing is lengthy and taxing on all parties involved.

In the words of managing partner of Williams HR Law LLP Laura Williams, “Instead of taking that tough decision of ‘we’re going to end the employment relationship,’ it’s ‘let’s see if we can get them to leave.’ And again, we won’t have that financial obligation to make the termination payouts.”

Can you do anything about quiet firing?

Unfortunately, Forbes columnist Jack Kelly claims little can be done once you’re marked for quiet firing, believing it is “a lost cause.” However, he encourages those who are soon-to-be quiet fired to find time to speak to their employers in an open fashion. He advised employees to be transparent about the episode and seek to understand if an agreement can be reached between both parties to keep the employer-employee relationship going. Enlisting the help of fellow close colleagues or coworkers to vouch for your ability may also strengthen your appeal significantly, adding that employees have “nothing to lose.”

Meanwhile, several other responders including Raw Signal co-founder Johnathan Nightingale and Toronto-based HR expert and founder of A Modern Way to Work Amanda Hudson recommends keeping a paper trail to back yourself up in the event of a quiet firing. Keeping a paper trail basically means documenting every single interaction between you and your employer, whether virtually or in-person. Today, employers are incredibly careful with the way they terminate employees and as such, are more likely to keep a paper record of all exchanges that have taken place. Likewise, you as the employee, should do the same in order to refute unsubstantiated claims made by the management. Adopt an “everything that you say can be used and held against you” mindset and treat the HR as you would with the police. While paper trails may not prevent the inevitable from happening, it can protect you from an unnecessary “slander” or hurt your career credibility in your future job hunt.

Washington Post workplace columnist Karla L. Miller suggests calling out on your employer’s actions if you believe you may be involved in an episode of quiet firing. However, though it may deter employers from terminating you in an unethical manner, such behaviors may continue to fuel the management’s desires to find further reasons to quiet fire you.

Lastly, speaking to the HR may help alleviate and address the issue at hand, however, as HR may sometimes be the ones enabling the quiet firing too, it is always best to keep a track record of the interactions between your, your manager and the senior management in the company, as that is the best defense that you may have to cover yourself.

It’s nothing personal

Kelly believes that most quiet firing episodes are a result of the tough economy that the world is facing at the moment, which has driven many companies to prioritize their survivability through cutting and mitigating costs, which relates back to how most employees are required to undertake more responsibilities for the same amount of pay.

“The unpleasant reality is that managers are tasked with determining who will stay or be selected for a layoff when conditions deteriorate and the company needs to cut costs. It’s not an easy spot for the manager to be in. They’re told by senior management to evaluate their team and ascertain a ranking of the top performers down to the least productive members. The lower-ranked people are now in jeopardy of being part of the next round of layoffs. You may be a solid performer, but unfortunately someone has to go…Sadly, when companies are forced to cut costs, it’s the worker who gets the shaft. The C-suite needs to watch over the organization's finances and reducing headcount is one of their go-to solutions. Try not to take it personally, as it’s only business.”

While this does not excuse or justify the management’s behavior, it does show that much like ourselves, our employers are individuals who have been put in a tough spot and forced to make a tough call themselves, as unwilling as they are.

A long way to go…

The evolution of quiet quitting to quiet firing clearly shows that there is much to be done in the communication between employees and employers. On one hand, you have employees who are pushing back against the “hustle and overworked” culture. On the other, you have employers who are now quiet firing even more than ever in response to the quiet quitting trend. Well-meaning or not, quiet firing is not an effective way to dispose of unwanted employees. And in the long run, it may pose the counterintuitive effect of creating employee disengagement, hurting employee morale and destroying employee loyalty, which leads to further quiet firing or quitting. It’s clear that a balance needs to be struck in the unfolding drama that is the quiet era. Everyone is replaceable at work, but it doesn’t need to be ugly. Maybe what truly needs to happen at this point is a roundtable discussion for everyone to lay their feelings bare. Transparency and honesty will go further than lies and deception.

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