What Is Quiet Firing and How Can You Prevent It?

Worried that quiet firing is happening to you? Here’s a crash course on quiet firing and what you can do about it from both the employee and employer perspectives.

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What Is Quiet Firing?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Quiet firing happens instead of both outright firing and coaching an employee to improve, and it can look many different ways
  • Without the tools, training, and experience necessary to coach team members through poor performance, managers might engage in quiet firing instead
  • Companies should have the resources that managers need and HR departments should be able to assist managers through challenges so that quiet firing doesn’t happen
  • Employees should ask for concrete and measurable ways to determine good work so that both they and their managers can objectively see when those marks are being hit
  • Employers should ensure that feedback and development follow clear processes and conduct exit interviews to discover why employees are leaving

Quiet quitting is all the rage these days. But what about its counterpart, quiet firing?

While quiet quitting might be a relatively new idea, quiet firing is a new term to describe an event that’s anything but novel. Have you witnessed someone being pushed out of your organization? Perhaps the icing out happened to you.

Either way, quiet firing has been happening for decades. It’s just now getting a new name and some attention.

One of the main reasons it’s getting attention now is the impact that quiet firing has not only on employees, but on businesses that engage in the practice, too.

Worried that quiet firing is happening to you? Concerned that your managers are engaging in the practice? Here’s a crash course on quiet firing and what you can do about it from both the employee and leadership perspectives.

What is quiet firing and what does it look like?

The practice has gone by many other names in the past. Forcing out. Pushing out. Icing out. The terms might be different, but the idea is the same.

Quiet firing happens instead of both outright firing and coaching an employee to improve. Instead of letting someone go or working with them to improve, the strategy of quiet firing is to make the person’s work life so unpleasant that they quit themselves.

As Annie Rosencrans, the director of people and culture at a people management company called HiBob explains, discussed the term with Fast Company. There she says that “quiet firing is a rebranding of a concept that’s been around for a while. It’s when managers have lost faith in the ability of their team members to do their jobs. Rather than giving them direct feedback or opportunities to develop new skills, they hope the person will self-select out.” Beyond just hoping, sometimes managers go as far as actively treating employees badly so they quit.

Quiet firing can look many different ways

The tricky thing about quiet firing is that it can look so many different ways. It can look like an absence of development or promotional opportunities. It can mean not getting projects that you’re interested in. As The Washington Post notes, it can be something as insidious as a new office location.

As 1 Washington Post reader noted, their employer ordered the company back to the office in a new, hard-to-reach location. “The reader said it seemed strange that the employer seemed willing to risk losing workers, including those newly hired during the coronavirus pandemic, by forcing them into a difficult commute.”

But then they remembered something. The employer had recently opened a new facility in another state with cheaper labor costs. The employer had been slowly but steadily shifting work, resources, and opportunities to the new location. “Moving our local office to a cheaper, less accessible location was just another step toward showing us the door. Mystery solved,” the reader said.

Quiet firing, as you can see, doesn’t even have to be an individual affair.

What causes quiet firing?

There’s no single, clear-cut cause for why a manager or organization engages in quiet firing. The cause can be poor company culture where the people who comprise it aren’t treated with the basic respect that any person deserves.

Everyone deserves to be told the truth, not slowly edged out — whether that’s in the form of direct feedback, performance improvement plans, or direct firing.

Quiet firing can be the problem of specific managers, too.

Quiet firing can be the problem of specific managers, too. Ill prepared, inexperienced managers who are overwhelmed by managing people can turn to the practice when they don’t know what else to do. Without the tools, training, and experience necessary to coach team members through poor performances, managers can take what might seem like the easier route out: quiet firing.

Another cause of quiet firing can be the lack of a strong HR department or leadership. Companies should have the resources that managers need. Human resources departments should be able to assist managers through managerial challenges so that quiet firing doesn’t happen.

What to do if you’re being quietly fired

The 1st thing to do is try to take honest stock of the situation. Gather intel from the people around you — friends, partners, family, coworkers. Ask yourself honestly if the problem might actually be you. There’s no excuse for a manager neglecting to engage in critical feedback or addressing the situation directly.

But might it be true that you have been disengaged for a while? Maybe you’re tired of the job. Maybe you’re burned out. Or, maybe you’re more ready for your next opportunity or challenge than you realized. Maybe it truly is time for you to look for the door for your own reasons.

If after taking an honest look at things you know that the problem isn’t you, then it’s up to you to directly address the situation that your manager is avoiding. Make it clear to your manager that you’re dedicated to the job and that you want to not only succeed, but progress forward at the company.

Ask for concrete and measurable ways to determine good work. This way, both you and your manager can objectively see when those marks are being hit.

What if your manager is causing the issue?

However, your manager might be the inescapable issue. If your direct manager’s lack of experience or something similar is the source of the problem, branch out. If you have documented evidence of being passed up for promotions, not getting development feedback, and other issues, you can bring them to HR.

The goal is to understand the cause of the quiet firing as best you can and address it directly.

Whether or not you go through HR, consider reaching out and connecting with other managers. Perhaps you can get the development help you’re looking for elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to move to a different team under a different manager.

The goal is to understand the cause of the quiet firing as best you can and address it directly.

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How to prevent quiet firing at your company

Especially if you’re trying to attract and retain talent, managers who engage in quiet firing can be a major problem. First, HR leadership should be stepping in.

Rosencrans, from the Fast Company article, notes that she has regular check-ins with managers to understand who on their teams is struggling and why. The key is that she proactively asks managers what they’re doing about struggling employees and won’t take disengagement as an answer.

Businesses also need to be proactive in ensuring that their managers are up for the task and equipped with what they need to succeed. People should be promoted into managerial roles not just because of their hard skills, but because of their people and power skills. They should also have training available as well as mentorship to help them become the best managers they can be.

Make it clear that quiet firing is not an acceptable practice at your company. Create concrete feedback and developmental frameworks that managers must engage in. This can help ensure that they’re engaging with performance issues rather than sweeping them under the rug.

Finally, be sure to conduct exit interviews. Dig into why people are leaving your company. If you’re hearing that people are quitting because of a lack of engaging work or promotional or developmental opportunities, chances are you have a problem on your hands.

Ensure that feedback and development follow clear processes

The goal is to ensure that feedback, development, and progression at your company follow clear processes. The harder it is for managers to promote without evidence, the harder it is to leave someone in the dust without reason.

If you discover that this has been going on for a while and you’re just learning about it now, it can seem like a lot to handle. The best thing you can do is to understand the issues as clearly and deeply as possible. Then, put processes and systems in place to make it harder for the issue to continue.

You don’t have to solve everything all at once. Just start making progress in the right direction.

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