Quiet quitting, quiet firing: Two sides of the same coin

Quiet quitting quiet firing sides same coin
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The Great Reshuffle has made mass attrition the current hot topic among American workers amid the end of the hustle culture.

In its wake are a heavy focus by millennials and Gen Z employees on topics like work-life balance, workplace culture, and two essential new terms – quiet quitting and quiet firing.

Although they’re separate terms, they’re both signs of the same underlying issue – a toxic work environment with a poor culture, dissatisfied employees, and unsupportive (and unsupported) managers.

In workplaces like this, it isn’t surprising that employees lose motivation and eventually become quiet quitters. 

Let’s explore quiet quitting and quiet firing, how both issues come from a negative workplace, and what your HR department can do about it.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is when an employee does the bare minimum at their job, usually to cope with burnout or toxic company culture.

There are many different ways an employee displays “quiet quitting,” such as skipping every non-mandatory meeting or showing “clock-in/clock-out” behavior.

This is when an employee stays with a company but is no longer giving it their full effort. They’re fading off into the background and essentially “quietly” quitting.

Note that this shouldn’t be confused with quick quitting – when an employee stays with a company for less than a year before making an exit.

With quiet quitting, you retain the employee, but they have reduced engagement, performance, and morale. 

For more information on the topic, read our in-depth blog on quiet quitting.

What is quiet firing?

Quiet firing is when a manager doesn’t provide adequate coaching, support, and development for their employee, and it eventually causes the worker to leave the company.

This is similar to quiet quitting, but on the other side: A manager hoping to quietly, subtly fire employees without leveraging layoffs or direct terminations. 

It can be as simple as denying employees learning opportunities or giving them undesirable, tedious work. But at its worst, quiet firing is when a manager allows an employee to endure harassment or a toxic culture until they can’t take it anymore.

This practice is detrimental to your organization because it increases employee turnover, damages your brand image, and causes workplace trauma.

But these factors also raise an important question, is quiet firing linked to quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is often a tactic to deal with quiet firing. Some employees shut down and give only the most basic effort to deal with less than adequate management.

One study showed that the least effective managers had 14% of their people quiet quitting and only 20% willing to put in extra effort.

However, the most effective managers had only 3% of their people quiet quitting and a substantial 62% willing to go the extra mile to get things done.

Meaning the right support from workplace management can be the difference between quiet quitting and a productive, engaged workforce.

Quiet firing signs

So how can your HR department uncover quiet firing in your company? They’re generally subtle, but there are distinct signs you can look for in your workforce.

Here are the top signs of quiet firing:

Sign

Details

Poor communication

Employees don’t receive feedback; Messages are continually left unanswered Some employees are excluded from meetings for no clear reason; Employees struggle to schedule one-on-ones with managers; Employee opinions and contributions aren’t encouraged or celebrated

Stalled career progression

Talented employees are overlooked for promotions Long-term employees don’t see an increase in salary or solid bonuses Employees rarely see new projects Workers are assigned tedious or undesirable work Employees never have conversations about career growth

Reduced socialization

Employees aren’t invited to lunch or drinks after work Employees need to start conversations with managers, and managers never initiate discussions Employees don’t engage much in casual conversation

Of these quiet firing signs, this last one needs a special mention.

Reduced socialization isn’t usually a result of people actively trying to be cold. Instead, many employees distance themselves from others who fall out of favor with managers to maintain their position, ultimately harming overall employee well-being. 

Unfortunately, this kind of “self-preservation” mindset is something employees may have to adopt in toxic workplaces, and is a contributor to why employees become quiet quitters.

These signs are strikingly similar to the signs of talent hoarding since both cause turnover, disengagement, and burnout, although the motives behind each are vastly different.

Top sign quiet firing

It’s ironic that the act of trying to keep an employee (talent hoarding) may appear the same as trying to force them out (quiet firing).

To learn more about this subject, read our full blog on talent hoarding.

Quiet firing examples

Let’s take a look at a couple of real-life examples of quiet firing.

The first is a story from Reddit, by user SaintAmidatelion.

Quiet firing example

The poster speaks on behalf of their cousin, who worked at an office building near her home. Out of the blue, the company relocated her to another office much further from her home.

She spent only one month working at this new office before she was told she was being relocated again. This time it was even further away.

During this time, they also stacked progressively ridiculous and difficult tasks onto her workload.

The Reddit user ends the post with:

“Of course, the company wanted her to quit instead of firing her.”

Unfortunately, you can find examples like this across social media, from TikTok to Linkedin and beyond.

The second is a story from Sheena Muirden, our content marketing coordinator.

In her previous sales position, Sheena was struggling to meet sales targets consistently due to a lack of proper training.

Rather than offering coaching or assistance, her manager slowly took clients off her roster. Including ones that she had a great relationship with and ones that specifically said they wanted to buy through her.

This act made it even harder for Sheena to reach her quota, and she was so demotivated and demoralized that she quit.

Thankfully, there’s a silver lining to this story.

Now Sheena is an outstanding marketing coordinator at TestGorilla, where she’s part of a positive culture, receives much-deserved support, and has amazing career opportunities ahead of her.

Quiet firing can be a nightmare for employees and companies alike, but with the right support, you can put a stop to it and create a great place for people like Sheena.

The adverse effects of quiet quitting and quiet firing

So, how do quiet firing and quiet quitting impact your organization?

Adverse effects quiet quitting quiet firing

Although the two are different trends, they both have a similar effect on your company in the end. Let’s take a look:

Impact

Description

Burnout and disengagement

Ignored or abused employees are much more likely to get

employee burnout

, which could cause total disengagement.

Damaged company image

Unsupportive managers and a disengaged workforce can damage your brand image and make your company an unattractive place to work.

High turnover

Employees can only deal with the negative environment that quiet firing and quitting cause for so long, and many of them make an exit eventually.

Workplace trauma

Employees subjected to continued harassment and toxic behavior could develop

workplace trauma

that impacts them for years.

Lower performance

Employees are much more likely to deliver less-than-stellar work when they’re disengaged, burnt out, and denied real growth.

Low morale and teamwork

When dealing with dreary, negative environments, employees can’t help but grow detached from their organization and their peers.

“Quietly fired” employees may be a future detriment

Employees that are pressured to quit may eventually resurface as a partner or client, leading to strained relationships.

The last point is unfortunately common. 

If an employee quits under quiet firing pressure, it’s likely they’ll stay in the same industry, and you won’t see the last of them.

This not only strains the potential relationship, but ties into the point we made about brand image: The employee could convince their new organization not to do business with you.

A toxic workplace is the underlying cause of both quiet quitting and quiet firing

It seems like most workplace issues lead back to a toxic culture, and quiet quitting, quiet firing, and quick quitting are no exceptions.

A study by MIT Sloan showed that the greatest driver of attrition is a toxic corporate culture, which contributes 10.4 times as much to attrition than compensation issues.

Top predictors of attrition

Source

Let’s look at a few ways that a toxic culture impacts a company with a few quiet firing examples:

Employee

Toxic experience

Ada, 41-year-old account executive

Ada keeps her head down at work because her boss screams at her for missing targetsAda’s boss hopes his attitude will make her quit so he can replace her

Dewayne, 25-year-old web designer

Ready to leave the company because his manager keeps delaying his career growth Dewayne’s manager is preventing his growth due to resenting his quick success

Lee, 34-year-old project manager

Regularly left out of messages and meetings Lee’s superiors are hoping that ignoring him long enough will get rid of him

Taylor, 30-year-old customer success associate

Taylor is regularly bullied for being non-binary with no action from their superiorsTaylor’s managers are hoping that this harassment will force them to quit

This type of toxic culture isn’t just driving quiet firing – it’s a key force behind The Great Resignation.

Employees are leaving positions en masse in search of new jobs with fulfillment, career progression, and good company culture. These workers won’t stand for poor treatment, and they’re ready to find a company that accommodates their needs.

For more information on this topic, read our article on how toxic culture is driving The Great Resignation.

How to reduce quiet quitting and quiet firing: 8 best practices for building a healthy culture

Thankfully, it isn’t all doom and gloom – you can reduce quiet quitting, quiet firing, and toxic practices at your organization.

Try developing an improvement plan for your business and instilling a culture around coaching, offering more upskilling opportunities, and building an environment that focuses on skills.

Summary

Strategy

Description

Start from the top

Assess your leaders’ behaviors and encourage them to be accountable

Build a coaching and one-on-one meeting culture

Create a culture where open communication and regular one-on-ones are the norms

Create shared responsibility for meeting targets and development

Encourage managers to be actively involved in employee growth, like creating professional development plans

Focus on skills and capabilities when promoting internally

Consider your employees’ skills when promoting internally and keep the process transparent

Offer more training, upskilling, and reskilling opportunities for your employees

Ensure upskilling and reskilling opportunities are available to your people, so they know they’re valued

Perform stay and exit interviews

Ask unsatisfied employees why they’re disappointed and ask satisfied employees what you’re doing right

Make sure to hire for “culture add” when bringing in new recruits

Gradually build a healthy culture by using skills tests to hire positive individuals

Work towards creating a psychologically safe workplace

Build a workplace where employees feel safe to speak their minds and make mistakes

1. Start from the top

Most toxic behavior only continues because there are no strict rules from above. 

Toxic behaviors spread around the company if people know that leadership routinely engages in them. Or at the least, leadership doesn’t police them.

Look at how your leaders behave and examine what’s seen as acceptable behavior in your company. Do you see something that needs to change? Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Urge leaders to accept responsibility and be accountable for their actions

  • Encourage leaders to take feedback seriously

  • Invest in a third-party consultant

  • Promote new policies to curb toxic behavior

Starting from the top can inspire countless positive behaviors. When a company champions its values and leads from the top, it can create lasting change.

2. Build a coaching and one-on-one meeting culture

We find that most issues can be resolved with solid, thorough communication.

Create a culture where issues and development areas are spotted and resolved productively. One study showed that employees who receive daily feedback are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year.

We recommend regular (every one to two weeks) 1:1 meetings for both managers and employees.

This gives you a chance to talk to employees and discover whether or not they’re being quietly fired. Ask them things like:

  • “Have you worked on any new projects lately?”

  • “How’s your professional development going?”

  • “How is communication here? Do all your questions get answered?”

Additionally, one-on-one meetings are a great time to talk to your managers about quiet quitting and quiet firing.

Try coaching and training your managers on:

  • How to have difficult conversations

  • How to be more supportive

  • How to be more inclusive

  • How to offer coaching and development opportunities

We believe nothing should be left unsaid, so the more conversations we have about quiet quitting and quiet firing the better.

3. Create shared responsibility for meeting targets and development

Your company should encourage an atmosphere where managers share responsibility for goals and targets, including professional development.

In fact, shared responsibility is one of our top tips on how to be a good manager.

Additionally, managers should be actively involved in their people’s development. Employees want support, and managers learn valuable skills the more they help workers grow.

One good starting point is creating professional development plans for employees, including those doing remote work or hybrid work.

A professional development plan is a document that lays out an employee’s goals and the strategies they can use to achieve them.

This process usually involves the employee conducting a self-assessment using their best judgment and objective skills tests. Afterward, their manager helps them determine the ideal path forward.

For more information, be sure to explore our guide on creating professional development plans.

4. Focus on skills and capabilities when promoting internally

Internal mobility is a crucial part of a healthy company culture. Employees want development, and organizations need strong candidates to fill roles.

You can facilitate this process by putting a strong focus on skills over certifications and work history. 

For example, you may not immediately see the link between a business analyst and a project manager. However, you can see that both roles require excellent communication and problem-solving abilities if you use skills tests to assess them, 

We also recommend making internal mobility transparent to avoid favoritism or perceived unfairness. You can make this simple by implementing an internal talent marketplace.

These databases provide a space where employees can log their skills and get unlimited access to career path recommendations.

You can ensure your database is accurate by evaluating your employee’s abilities with skills testing. This gives you valuable information, such as:

  1. Which employees are ready for a promotion

  2. Employees’ potential career paths

  3. Potential learning and development opportunities

  4. Potential skills gaps you need to address

Skills gaps can be a huge detriment to any company, but identifying and addressing them can boost your organization.

For more on this topic, read our article on how to use skills tests to address internal skill gaps.

5. Offer more training, upskilling, and reskilling opportunities for your employees

You don’t want your employees to feel like they aren’t going anywhere.

Ensure that upskilling and reskilling opportunities are available to your workers so they know they’re growing in your organization and have a solid future.

Here’s the difference between upskilling and reskilling:

  1. Upskilling: The process of supplying employees with training to add to their current skill sets and role

  2. Reskilling: When you equip employees with the skills to pursue a brand new line of work

Many leaders may think that reskilling sounds like quite a jump, but it’s rapidly becoming a popular (and necessary) practice. Business leaders in 2020 predicted that about 40% of their employees would need reskilling to keep up in the future.

For our full guide on when to upskill and when to reskill, read our blog on upskilling and reskilling.

6. Perform stay and exit interviews

Remember how we mentioned that conversations and communication are everything? This is related to that point.

Conduct interviews to understand the reasons why your people are quiet quitting or leaving. Alternatively, perform stay interviews to understand why certain employees love your company or why they’re successful.

These interviews are a great opportunity to learn more about your organization and gradually improve it. They also provide great insight into what you’re doing right so you can keep it up.

For a full guide, including sample questions, check out our blog on exit interview questions.

7. Make sure to hire for “culture add” when bringing in new recruits

It’s important to hire people that help you build a more positive culture. It’s a long process, and it won’t happen overnight, but it’s a necessary step in the right direction.

Finding people that encourage a more inclusive workplace is essential. And it’s a lot more possible than it used to be, thanks to personality and culture assessments.

For example, here are a few of TestGorilla’s specially designed personality tests:

  1. Enneagram test

  2. 16 Types test

  3. Big 5 Test

  4. DISC test

  5. Culture Add test

The first four tests are available in TestGorilla’s free plan, and you can find all five tests (and many more) in our test library.

Let’s quickly discuss our Culture Add test.

“Culture add” is the practice of weaving like-minded individuals into a growing culture rather than forcing a perfect fit like “culture fit.”

This enables you to build a diverse, flourishing workplace with a wide range of perspectives, opinions, and creative ideas.

Learn more about hiring for culture in our culture add post.

8. Work towards creating a psychologically safe workplace

One of the best ways to combat a toxic company culture is to encourage psychological safety.

Create a workplace where people feel comfortable coming to work and being themselves. Too many employees feel afraid to step into work each day (or log on if they’re remote) due to harsh punishment, yelling, and harassment.

Psychological safety at work refers to the freedom to ask questions, make mistakes, and take risks. It’s a practice that prioritizes learning and doesn’t harshly penalize small errors.

It’s unfortunate that only one in five employees feel comfortable sharing constructive criticism at work. Especially because feedback can be vital to every worker’s growth.

A psychologically safe work environment is even more important for employees with trauma and is a crucial part of building a trauma-informed workplace. These people are already suffering, and they shouldn’t have to feel on guard at work.

For strategies on this topic, read our blog on psychological safety at work.

Quiet quitting, and quiet firing: Solved with a more positive culture

Quiet firing and quiet quitting can be a detriment to your organization, but if you take the right steps, you can get rid of them for good.

Focus on creating a healthy culture through positive leadership, more training and upskilling opportunities, and prioritizing skills when moving employees up internally.

To learn more about building a positive company culture, check out our blog on culture add vs. culture fit.

If you want to get started hiring for a better culture, browse our personality and culture tests.

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