What is Quiet Firing? Is it Happening to You?

Finger to lips in a shhh manner.When it comes to the involuntary removal of someone from their job, you’ve probably heard of these terms: fired, terminated, sacked, discharged, axed, let go, and perhaps several others. Here’s one you may not have heard: quiet firing.

The traditional approach to firing someone might go like this. The boss calls in the employee about to be terminated and explains why (whether valid or not) the person is being discharged. Sometimes, notice is given. Other times, it is effective immediately, and the person may even be escorted out the door by security. In other cases, especially in unionized organizations, the termination may be the concluding step to a prescribed and potentially lengthy formal disciplinary process often known as progressive discipline. With this approach, except when an offense is considered extremely serious, the employee is typically advised of the nature of their noncompliance with rules, policies, etc., and afforded ample time to correct their behavior to avoid further discipline that leads to eventual termination.

How Quiet Firing Works

Unfortunately, “quiet firing” is the new trend in town. With quiet firing, rather than dealing with performance issues or rule violations traditionally, the work situation is deliberately made so unbearable that the employee eventually voluntarily decides to quit, transfer, or seek employment elsewhere. This tactic may happen in any of several ways.

The worker may be assigned undesirable tasks or assignments far below their skill level. An employee’s favorite or important projects may suddenly be reassigned to someone else. The person may be transferred to a distant or unpopular geographic work location. The employee may be assigned unwanted or excessive mandatory overtime, or conversely, they may be given too few work hours or even reduced to part-time status. Of course, a creative manager may devise many other devious ways to quietly nudge an employee to leave.

Why is Quiet Firing Used?

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “To avoid the financial, psychological, and legal costs associated with forcing people out, some companies may intentionally create a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave voluntarily.” The article goes on to state that even “companies such as Meta and Tesla increasingly seem to be using quiet firing as a workforce reduction strategy on a wider scale.”

I have another thought on why these tactics have become popular. Perhaps the real reason is that managers and supervisors are simply not doing their jobs. These folks do not want to have the “difficult” conversations, whether the legitimate need for layoffs due to corporate financial difficulties or the need to counsel or even terminate an underperforming employee. Nobody likes such unpleasant conversations, but they are necessary at times and part of the managerial duties for which they are being paid.

Yes, terminations can result in legal action or union grievances, requiring significant time and cost. However, avoiding these discussions and hoping to just make the problem go away through quiet firing is the coward’s way out. Upper management should be on the lookout for such behavior and hold these supervisors and managers accountable for not doing their jobs.

What if it Happens to You?

If you suspect you may be the victim of quiet firing tactics, here are some suggestions:

  • First, try and look at the situation objectively, which can be very difficult. Could there be legitimate business reasons for what is taking place? Also, look at yourself. Are you actually underperforming in some way? In reality, are you a less-than-ideal employee? If so, correcting these deficiencies could resolve the problem.
  • Document the actions you believe suggest quiet firing is being used. Include dates, times, who was involved, what was said, and other specifics. If you need to take action later, speaking in generalities won’t suffice; you will need details to prove your claim.
  • Discuss your concerns with your supervisor or manager. If quiet firing is at play, perhaps your initiation of dialog will begin those difficult discussions that are being avoided.
  • You may want to contact an attorney or union representative. The quiet firing actions taken by management may constitute discrimination or some other illegal employment practices.

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image courtesy of Cottonbro Studio at Pexels.com.             


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