Does your boss want you to quit? The phenomenon of ‘quiet firing’
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‘Quiet quitting’ has been a much-debated topic in recent weeks. It encourages employees who are riding out their notice period to resolutely stick to their job description, i.e. to not go beyond their role’s requirements, and to put their mental health above the pressures of the job until they officially move on.
Many have said that this sentiment shouldn’t just apply to someone leaving a job. They argue that no employee should outperform at work unless they’re compensated for their effort. The idea that someone should undertake work outside of their job description, just to get in the boss’s good books, is seen as archaic and outdated—especially since the pandemic, which looks to have changed most employees’ priorities (for the better). 2022 has seen a record number of job vacancies, even higher than the number of people unemployed. With more options than ever, it’s no surprise that workers are valuing their contribution to the company they work for in earnest and putting themselves first by lowering their effort and output.
However, bosses aren’t taking this movement lightly, as the phenomenon of ‘quiet firing’ continues to rise. Instead of dismissing an underperforming employee and subjecting the company to the legalities of such a move, quiet firing sees employers consciously treating the relevant employee badly and underhandedly encouraging them to leave their job. So as to avoid any consequences from the HR department, these interactions will be passive aggressive and difficult for others to pick up on.
Examples of quiet firing include not giving deserved raises or promotions, allocating menial tasks to the employee that are significantly below their skills and experience level, being unavailable for 1-to-1 meetings, or drastically changing the employee’s workflow and delivery expectations without warning.
Both phenomena are intrinsically interlinked; if an employee feels underappreciated, they won’t put as much effort into their work. And if they are underperforming, their employer won’t put them forward for promotions or big projects. It’s essentially a cycle of miscommunication.
Since the appearance of quiet firing in numerous articles, many have criticised it, complaining of its insidious, cowardly, and malicious intent. Encouraging an employee to leave by treating them badly might have repercussions on the individual’s self-worth and depriving them of a deserved promotion might make them feel insecure about their work, which could negatively impact their mental health. If they feel forced to apply for another job, the experience could mark them as a flight risk to other employers, which could make it difficult for them to move on.
Both buzzwords are being bandied about a lot on social media, but they’ve been practised in different industries for decades—they’ve just been given new names. Quiet firing could qualify as constructive dismissal, which GOV.UK defines as being ‘forced to leave your job against your will because of your employer’s conduct’—this could prove appropriate grounds for an employment tribunal.
It’s clear that the solution would involve better communication. You could argue which came first: the chicken or the egg, i.e. the ‘working to rule employee’ or the ‘employer taking his bat home because an employee won’t work for free’—but within the context of the office, the employer has more power. Therefore, they should be the first to strike a peace treaty and solve problems occurring within their workforce.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Quiet quitting and firing will remain…in a decade, we’ll inevitably call these terms something else.