Employers use quiet firing to push workers out the door without having to deal with any confrontation or communication. In this article, we explore the hidden costs of this trend and provide you with alternative long-term solutions.
Table of contents
With the threat of a recession looming, the US is seeing mass layoffs and firings across companies of all sizes. Studies show that many employers are now using a passive but dangerous approach to trimming their workforce: quiet firing.
This is when employers make jobs or work environments unappealing in the hope that a worker leaves voluntarily, quitting instead of being fired.
Employers often do this to avoid the psychological and financial costs of pushing workers out. But it has many long-term consequences that damage company culture and team morale.
- Studies show that employers have increasingly been quiet firing—meaning they’re pushing their workers to quit by making their working conditions unbearable.
- You can identify quiet firing in your company by looking for specific signs. This includes isolating workers, reassigning their key responsibilities, and more.
- Long term, this strategy can lead to a toxic environment, unwanted attrition, and a damaged company reputation.
- Use open communication, internal mobility, and career support to prevent quiet firing in your company.
In this article, we explain what quiet firing is, how to identify it, and why you shouldn’t do it. We also offer effective but sensitive solutions to help you navigate firing workers.
What Is Quiet Firing?
Quiet firing is the indirect process of pushing workers to resign by creating an unpleasant working experience for them. It’s also known as “silent firing” or “passive firing.”
When quiet firing, some employers stop providing workers with career development support. Others start excluding them from meetings or social events. Often, they stop offering promotions and raises. They’ll also stop recognizing workers’ contributions.
By doing this, companies end up creating a hostile work environment. This makes employees feel unappreciated, demotivated, and left with no choice but to quit.
Jarir Mallah, Ling App’s HR Specialist and Hiring Manager, describes the trend as a “slow-moving process where an employee is actively or passively discouraged from being successful in their role.”
Why is it trending?
This form of passive termination existed long before it was labeled. But the internet and social media have helped draw more attention to it, as people now have a platform to share their work experiences. This has popularized workplace trends such as quiet quitting, quiet hiring, and now quiet firing.
The term can be traced back to social media influencer DeAndre Brown, who mentioned it in a viral TikTok video in August 2022. Since then, other TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn users have openly talked about their encounters with it.
@imdrebrown Quiet firing? Not elite! #quietquitting #quietfiring ♬ original sound – DeAndre Brown
In fact, 35% of people who responded to a recent LinkedIn News poll said they’ve experienced quiet firing. Meanwhile, 48% of respondents claimed to have seen it happen to others.
How does it work?
Companies not offering support for professional development and career growth makes employees feel disengaged from their jobs. Low recognition and unfair performance reviews can also be demoralizing for employees. Workers lose confidence in their role, company, and sometimes themselves. These working conditions harm their mental health and eventually push them out the door.
A Pew study looked into the underlying reasons behind the Great Resignation—the mass quitting of US workers starting in 2021. 63% of employees quit because of no opportunities for advancement. 57% resigned due to feeling disrespected at work.
Meanwhile, Forbes found that 36% of employees wanted to leave their jobs due to a lack of recognition.
Clearly, mismanagement and quiet firing have played their role in these exits.
Signs to look out for
Workers must understand when and why they’re being quiet fired. This will help them act on it appropriately.
Plus, employers should know how to identify if it’s happening in their company. This is tricky because this strategy is discreet. It’s even harder to detect in a distributed workforce where it’s easier to neglect team members.
Look out for these red flags and warning signs to identify if you might be engaging in silent firing:
Changes in job responsibilities
- Setting a worker up for failure by adding an unreasonable amount of new responsibilities
- Reassigning key parts of their role to other employees
- Demoting them without reason
- Assigning unfavorable tasks to them
- Not offering them meaningful opportunities
- Assigning work that doesn’t align with their skillset
Changes in working conditions
- Reducing their shifts
- Assigning them to job locations that are far away or otherwise inconvenient for them
- Changing their work hours to times that don’t suit them
- Pushing them to cancel meetings they used to lead
- Not inviting them to meetings they should be at
- Excluding them from social interactions and company events
- Taking away perks such as flexible working
Changes in manager communication and recognition
- Providing either no feedback or only negative feedback to them
- Neglecting one-to-one check-ins
- Not giving them any additional training or career development support
- Isolating them by withholding important work-related information and company updates
Changes in pay, promotions, and rewards
- Keeping their wage stagnant when they would usually receive raises or bonuses
- Preventing them from earning more money through overtime work
- Not providing bonuses or other incentives that their coworkers are receiving
- Not recognizing them when they do good work
How can employees respond to being quiet fired?
From the employee’s perspective, there are a few steps you can take if you believe you’re being quiet fired. Use one or more of the below strategies to act on the situation.
Assess if it’s really passive firing
Look at the overall picture to check whether what you’re experiencing is personal targeting. For example, if there are no bonuses or incentives for anyone, not just you, the company could be experiencing financial trouble.
Similarly, if no one is receiving training and development support, it may reflect a poor culture instead of passive firing.
Once you’ve considered all the factors, decide if it’s quiet firing or not.
Speak to your manager openly about your concerns. Approach a mentor or HR if your manager is part of the issue.
Prepare for the conversation by documenting your experiences. Be specific about your concerns and ask for clear action items. Make sure you’re finding constructive solutions rather than simply complaining about the problem.
Seek support from a mental health professional
Be conscious of how the situation is impacting your mental health and well-being. You may benefit from counseling to navigate the circumstances.
Use your employee handbook
Refer to your employee handbook to familiarize yourself with the company’s policies and procedures. This document will inform you of the company’s view on discrimination, harassment, performance management, and so on. You can use it to determine the best course of action.
If you choose to leave, have an honest discussion before you go
You may consider quitting if all else fails and your work environment has become unbearable.
Before you resign, have a candid discussion with your manager or HR. Be frank about why you believe the company is pushing you out, such as for cost-cutting reasons.
Communicate the terms under which you’re willing to leave. This could be asking for a payout or a positive recommendation—whatever is important to you.
File a formal complaint or seek legal help if needed
File a complaint with HR if you believe you’re a victim of workplace bullying, discrimination, or harassment. You are also entitled to take legal action in these scenarios. Make sure you have all your experiences documented and speak to a lawyer on how to proceed.
Why Do Companies Quiet Fire?
Employers may want to fire an employee due to cost-cutting or role redundancy. Or, the worker may be stagnating or underperforming. Finally, some employers may quiet fire in response to quiet quitting, which is when an employee hasn’t resigned but does only the bare minimum at work.
But why do they choose to quiet fire instead of following the right protocol for terminating employees?
The company may want to avoid the costs associated with firing. Employers in financial difficulty may be unable to afford severance for laid-off employees.
Melissa Terry, HR at VEM Tooling, suggests that employers may also want to “avoid the legal repercussions of terminating an employee, such as wrongful termination claims.”
Ben Michael, VP of Operations at Michael & Associates, says quiet firing may also “help employers avoid confrontation and get out of paying unemployment benefits.”
Many employers use this approach to avoid the psychological stress of firing employees. It’s best practice for them to be transparent with the worker about why they’re being fired. But instead of having an honest conversation, they avoid the confrontation altogether and engage in quiet firing. This is especially common among leaders who aren’t good communicators.
Deeper management and culture issues
There could be a larger problem with the company’s culture and management style that contributes to quiet firing. It could be that there’s no proper procedure in place for terminating employees. Additionally, line managers may not be effectively trained in feedback, communication, or employee support.
Sometimes, silent firing comes down to a manager having a personal conflict with a worker. They may not get along with an employee, or they might have a clash in working styles or values.
They could also be siding with someone else at the company who has a conflict with the employee.
Since personal conflicts and favoritism don’t justify terminating a worker, some line managers resort to tactics like quiet firing instead.
Why Should Companies Stop Doing It?
Alex Ugarte, Marketing & People Manager at London Office Space, correctly states that companies that rely on this approach may be “prioritizing short-term goals over long-term success.”
The tactic seems like an easy way out, but it can have several hidden consequences.
It can create a toxic work environment and lead to unwanted exits
Today’s employees are quick to notice discrimination, bullying, or harassment at work. When employees see a coworker being mistreated, it can lead to a loss of morale across the team. They may question the company’s values and lose confidence in their leaders.
Furthermore, when some workers have key responsibilities stripped away from them, it increases the workload for other employees. They’ll still need to meet their targets, but they’ll have less support. This puts added pressure on workers and can lead to feelings of resentment. These resentful team members may also quit, leaving the company with a high turnover rate and unwanted new recruitment costs.
It can burn bridges with employees
Parting with workers on a bad note can permanently destroy your relationship with them. For example, you may want to rehire a top performer in the future. Or, you might need to contact a former employee to ask a specific question. They’re unlikely to help if they were mistreated before quitting.
It’s unethical and can damage the company’s reputation
Many company leaders and HR professionals condemn the practice for being unethical. Bonnie Whitfield, HR Director at Family Destinations Guide, is one of them.
Bonnie also suggests that “in today’s age of social media and online reviews, word can quickly spread about a company’s practices.”
“Employers who engage in quiet firing may find it difficult to attract top talent in the future, and their brand image may suffer as a result,” she notes.
Companies who engage in this practice may also damage their reputation with customers and investors. This can do serious damage to a company’s long-term success.
Alternative Tips for Parting Ways with Workers (From an HR Expert)
Quiet firing may save you a quick buck in the short term, but it has lasting costs for your company.
Below, I’ve outlined better, more ethical ways of letting your workers go.
Be transparent and honest in your communications
Foster a culture of openness and honesty in your company. This not only deters quiet firing but also prevents employees from quiet quitting.
Do this through regular check-ins and feedback sessions with your workers. Anonymous surveys are also a great way to identify and address potential cases of passive firing, especially if your team is scattered in the field.
Finally, be transparent about why a worker is being fired. Tell them if it’s due to role redundancy, restructuring, or something else. They’re less likely to burn bridges when leaving if you’ve built a good rapport with them over time.
My advice: Use a work management app like Connecteam to manage company communications. Its in-app chat lets you connect with workers wherever they are. You can also use the company newsfeed to share important announcements with them. Plus, Connecteam has surveys and polls so you can gather feedback and make employees feel included and heard.
Sign up for a free trial to test out Connecteam’s communications tools and other features today.
Train your line managers on goal-setting and performance management
People who quiet fire their workers lack the skills to be effective managers. Ensure that all your line managers are well-trained in setting SMART goals for their workers. This means the goals should be: specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
They should also identify underperformers early and provide them with the training they need. After all, workers who perform well don’t need to be fired in the first place.
However, sometimes termination is linked to broader company issues. Ensure that your line managers are trained in handling difficult conversations so they deliver the message sensitively and effectively.
Consider interventions for manager-worker conflicts
Conflicts between line managers and workers are not uncommon. As an employer, get involved or encourage early intervention by HR if you spot manager-worker conflicts. Or, consider moving the employee to a different team. Identify and act early before the employee is discreetly pushed out the door.
Offer redeployment support and positive recommendations where suitable
Go out of your way to help laid-off workers find their next job. You could offer career advice, positive recommendation letters, or make useful introductions to others in the industry.
Conduct exit interviews to identify quiet firing cases
Use exit interviews as a way to gather feedback from leaders. These insights can help you make informed business decisions to improve company culture. Exit interviews are also an effective way to identify if a manager was quiet firing and prevent it from happening again.
Quiet firing, meaning passive or silent termination, is when companies push employees to leave by making it difficult for them to succeed at work. They do this by withholding promotions and raises, being unsupportive of the worker’s career, excluding them from meetings, and more. By creating a hostile working environment, they hope that the worker will resign.
While this can help avoid some of the costs and stress associated with firing, it can be very damaging in the long run. It can reduce team morale and create a toxic work environment for everyone. It’s also unethical and can ruin your reputation with customers, investors, and the labor market.
It’s best to be direct with employees about why they’re being fired. In this article, I provided several tips to do this effectively. Using these strategies can help you identify quiet firing in your company and prevent it from happening in the future.