Tthe concept of “quiet refusal” has gone viral on social media, but another, equally passive aggressive workplace practice is also generating discourse. Although a quiet exit refers to workers doing the bare minimum expected of them at work, the internet has coined a new term for what managers might do in response – “quiet firing.”
Social media influencer DeAndre Brown was one of the first people to mention the term in a viral video on TikTok on August 24, where he described the “quiet layoff” as a workplace that fails to reward an employee for their contributions to an organization, forcing them to leave their job.
“It works great for companies… you end up either feeling so incompetent, isolated and unappreciated that you go find a new job and they’ll never come up with a development plan or offer compensation,” writes the recruiter staff Bonnie Dilber c a viral post on LinkedIn.
A recent Pew Research Center report shows that many employees cite low pay and a lack of growth opportunities as reasons for the 20-year high resignation rate reached in November 2021.
With many workers sharing their experiences with the “quiet layoff” online, career experts are encouraging employees to be more vocal about their needs to management and colleagues to combat the practice.
Talk to your manager
If you think you’re going to be quietly fired, “talk to management, advocate for yourself… and get together with other people who have the same needs as you or who are looking for different changes in the workplace, and then give it some time and see if those changes have really been made,” offers Janice Ghassam Assare, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and race equality consultant.
The idea of an employer effectively forcing an employee to resign is not entirely new. Constructive discharge – where an employer actively makes working conditions so unpleasant for an employee that they leave – has been widely practiced for many years. This may fall under the general term of “quiet firing,” but so would neglecting an employee or depriving a worker of time, opportunities, or resources in a more passive approach that would also result in resignation.
“This has been going on for years,” said Annette Castro, a 22-year-old researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Castro worked at an ice cream shop in Philadelphia for two years to finish college and was eventually promoted to night manager. But when Castro left for two weeks — which she had requested months in advance — she was cut from the upcoming schedule upon her return. Castro asked about her hours, but got no response. “I feel like I was ghosted by my company,” Castro tells TIME.
Castro’s experience reflects a workplace norm that the younger generation is paying attention to—one that often chooses a lack of communication, which is not conducive to a productive work environment.
Look for others to help advocate for you
At the root of the “quiet firing” is poor communication, suggests Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture at Culture Partners. “If a manager avoids conflict or is afraid of having a difficult conversation, then they may not have … the courage to tell the truth about how you’re perceived in the organization and about the work you’re doing,” Kriegel told TIME.
Kriegel also suggests that managers themselves can also “quietly quit.” When a manager does this, then “by default it means that his employees are not getting the kind of care and attention from management that they used to get.”
Career coaches generally agree that the best way to deal with this frustration is to be transparent with your manager. If the manager is unwilling to have the termination conversation, employees should ask if there are still opportunities for growth at their current company. If the initial conversation isn’t productive, Kriegel suggests talking to your manager’s boss about your fit with the organization.
But in addition to communicating directly with your manager, experts say it’s important for employees to look at their resources — whether that’s through an ombudsman, external employees that employers can turn to when they have problems, or other employees who can advocate for and with them – to ensure they are heard.
Remote or hybrid work can make it difficult to build relationships with coworkers, but it’s still possible if you know how to use the connection you have. “Ask your manager if he can introduce you to someone from another team because you want to get to know more people,” Kriegel says. “Career development today is really about who you know and the relationships you’ve built within your organization.”
Gassam Asare has found in her consulting experience that employers often tiptoe around offering constructive feedback to employees from racially marginalized backgrounds. That means people of color are more likely to face a quiet dismissal, she says.
“I have clients who sometimes say we don’t know how to deal with this employee, do we? We fear that this employee will react in a negative way if we give him feedback on his performance,” says Gassam Asare. “So instead of giving them constructive feedback that would help them grow and develop, they just avoid giving feedback at all.”
This is reflected in the numbers. Mckinsey Report 2021 found that black employees make up 14% of all employees, but only 7% of the black workforce hold senior or management-level jobs.
Do your homework
Workers should also familiarize themselves with workplace promotion and promotion protocols by reading the employee handbook, says Gassam Asare. “By looking back at the documents you were given, you can reveal a lot about the process.” This can make daunting progress conversations easier to navigate.
Likewise, keeping track of achievements and the value they’ve added to the job, as well as the pay scales for their roles, can help employees make the case for promotions and pay rises.
Find strength in numbers
Ghassam Assare cautions that giving up should only be a last resort, especially if there are concerns about looming recession and several layoffs and hiring freezes. Instead, she recommends looking into employee resource groups or even joining unions to make sure workers know their rights and can speak up if they feel they’re being undervalued.
“Eventually, you might have to get to the point where, you know, you don’t want to stay in the middle anymore, but I would caution people not to do that,” says Gassam Asare. “I think both jobs and employees are in vulnerable positions. So I think exhausting all possible methods if you think you’re going to be quietly fired is so important.
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