Is Quiet Quitting/Quiet Firing Affecting You Too? (10 Tips)
“Quiet quitting” is when an employee “switches off” psychologically, doing the bare minimum to avoid being fired or becoming burned out. “Quiet firing” is when a manager gives up on a team member, withdrawing support, communication and guidance. Both can lead to toxicity in the long run. Author and coach Fiona Passantino shows us how to spot it… and how to turn the tide.
As the pandemic fades in our collective memories, we may find ourselves still grappling with unprecedented burnout and frustration with our jobs. In addition, tight labour markets and global personnel shortages continue to plague many of our workplaces.
Perhaps it’s not that surprising that we are quitting in large numbers, with 39% of us saying it was largely due to work overload or excessive working hours. The Great Resignation, which began in early 2021 in the wake of the pandemic, continues.
We can quit in body, but increasingly, we have opted to quit in spirit. We appear at work, log in, respond to emails, carry out our work, but we disengage and withdraw psychologically.
Understanding quiet quitting
As we returned to work after the pandemic – to our daily commutes and other distractions that come with being physically present at work – the expectations for increased productivity and blurred work-life boundaries remained. This partially explains the increase in employee stress and burnout we have seen post-pandemic.
Quiet quitting describes an employee who “switches off”, taking stock of her work-life balance, values and choices, and makes a decision to re-draw boundaries and reclaim her mental health. She does not leave the organization. She does only what is needed to avoid being fired and to avoid burnout. No more logging in after hours, working on weekends or during vacations.
How widespread is this trend? In the US, as many as 50% of the workforce might be quietly quitting.
Understanding quiet firing
Quiet firing is when managers disengage and “switch off” from members of their team; when they fail to communicate, coach, support and develop an employee, passive-aggressively pushing them out of an organization. With tighter budgets and increasing pressure to trim the workforce, nudging under-performers out is less expensive and risky than laying them off or firing them.
Whether this is conscious or unconscious behaviour, the result is the same: employees are set up to fail due to manager neglect until they feel that leaving is the only option. Unconscious quiet firing might be due to the quiet quitting of a manager; in 2022, managers reported higher levels of burnout than their team members and leaders.
Signs you may be the victim of quiet firing include:
- measurable changes to your status or responsibilities without clear explanation
- demotions or re-assignments without clear reasons why
- increased admin or other (undesirable) “busy” work you didn’t sign up for
- pay cuts or lack of bonuses
- a reduction in working hours or structural changes like smaller team sizes or being allocated to a different unit or manager.
More insidious are the unmeasurable, “soft and fuzzy” actions: Managers can withdraw psychologically, “ghosting” you or frequently cancelling one-on-one meetings. Meetings, when they do occur, can be “business only”, lacking bigger picture career guidance or performance feedback. It can mean excessive negative or unfair feedback or constant criticism, even in front of other team members. You may not be getting credit for your work, or that credit is going to others.
How to fight the quiet…
- Clearly define your own boundaries. Are you bothered by emails or messages sent on weekends or evenings? If 18:00 is “clock out” time, make sure everyone around you knows this.
- State your purpose. If everyone knows the “why” behind what you do, they will be looking for ways to bring you closer to your purpose. Be transparent about what you want, what gives you energy and what zaps you. Chances are, you can trade tasks with your co-workers to have more of the type of work that ignites you.
- Stick to a structure. If your workload is getting too high, keeping you from producing quality work, be disciplined about your “flow” time. Everyone needs some hours in the day to do the deep creative work that is necessary to a project. Block time in your calendar if you need uninterrupted work time and physically remove distractions from your workspace, such as your phone, your audible notifications and your email.
- Pitch your ideas. If your manager is not interested in your ideas on projects already underway, then these ideas might have to be positioned differently. If you have new ideas on how you can work more efficiently or with a better result, introduce them at the end of your regular one-to-one meetings as a “final pitch” section of the meeting, which is meant to be a bit more fun; you will probably get a better result.
- Take the one-on-ones seriously. Don’t cancel your regular meetings with your boss; this is the time to check in, take her temperature and gather the feedback you need to be better at your job. Make sure to prepare with talking points, all your questions in advance, and send this to her three to four before each meeting. She will be far less likely to cancel if she knows her time will not be wasted, and she can cover a lot of ground.
- Clearly communicate goals and responsibilities. Gallup tells us that as many as 60% of remote or hybrid employees don’t understand what is expected of them, and remote work makes it more difficult for managers to be in touch with their teams. Communication starts at the top with well-defined, measurable goals and a clear picture of what success looks like. Goals are more meaningful when employees actively participate in setting them, with an individualised development plan and personalised career path.
- Create a culture of belonging. Engagement comes from being a valued member of a team with mutual respect and the feeling that you are making a difference. Most of us are looking for more than just a pay cheque; we also want jobs that align with our core values and purpose. Remind your team every daywhythey are here and how their contribution is unmissable.
- Stick to the one-on-ones. Employees who have at least one meaningful conversation with their manager on a weekly basis are nearly four times more likely to be engaged at work. This is crucial for celebrating successes, adjusting priorities and offering support when an employee is hitting a brick wall. Even 15-20 minutes a week, if used well, is enough.
- Give feedback as an opportunity to improve. Recognize and reward employees who go above and beyond. Be specific, relevant and timely; giving a general “thanks” once in a while isn’t enough. For the negative behaviours, no mistakes are 100% one person’s fault, so get the full story. Negative feedback should never be given in front of others and always paired with positive; no one does everything wrong all the time.
- Respect private time. After-work hours, on holiday or when sick, employees are expected not to log in. This needs to be stated literally, and these boundaries need to be respected.
Quiet quitting or firing may seem like an easy way to avoid hard conversations in the workplace. But in the long run, no one wants to be a zombie at work and no one wants to work in a hostile environment. Both affect team morale. When the team sees that active disengaged managers or employees are tolerated, it makes everyone question why they are giving their 110%…
Have you experienced quiet quitting or quiet firing? How did it show up? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
PHOTO: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio
ILLUSTRATION: Fiona Passantino