'Quiet firing' | HR's latest catchphrase is highlighting a 'rampant' leadership trend

HR's latest catchphrase is highlighting a 'rampant' leadership trend

‘Quiet quitting’ has become an incredibly popular term in recent weeks.

The phrase was coined by a TikTok user called @zkchillin, who explained: “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life – the reality is, it’s not.”

But now LinkedIn is enamoured with another catchphrase... quiet firing.

The term describes the act of bosses who don’t sack employees, but instead take steps to make them feel ostracised and unappreciated, as well as restricting career opportunities, to the point that they will eventually leave the company on their own steam.

The logic, it is said, is that ‘quiet firing’ allows firms to save money (and time) by not investing in career development plans or offering pay rises, while also avoiding the need for severance pay.

The term has gone viral on LinkedIn thanks to Bonnie Dilber, Recruiting Manager at cloud integration software firm Zapier, who addressed the many column inches dedicated to ‘quiet quitting’ in recent weeks.

“The ‘Quiet Quitting’ thing is funny to me. I think the real conversation should be around ‘Quiet Firing’ as it's rampant”, Dilber wrote.

She explained: “You don't receive feedback or praise.

“You get raises of 3% or less while others are getting much more.

“Your 1:1s are frequently cancelled or shuffled around.

“You don't get invited to work on cool projects or stretch opportunities.

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“You're not kept up-to-date on information that is relevant or critical to your work.

“Your manager never talks to you about your career trajectory.

“This happens ALL THE TIME.”

Dilber went on: “It works great for companies...eventually you'll either feel so incompetent, isolated, and unappreciated that you'll go find a new job, and they never have to deal with a development plan or offer severance. Or your performance will slip enough due to the lack of support that they'll be able to let you go.

“Instead of worrying about ‘quiet quitting’, I'd encourage companies to look at their management practices and identify places where people are being ‘quiet fired’ by poor managers who don't want to do the work to support, train, and coach their teams.”

The case for investing in your employees

The theory that staff will jump ship if not given fair access to learning & development opportunities is backed up by 2022 research by the Association of Project Managers (APM), which shows that almost half of all employees are frustrated that they have ‘nowhere to go’.

APM’s research, which polled 2,000 full and part-time employees, found that more than half are inclined to look for work that’s more suited for their skills – a situation that should be raising red flags for employers. With the Great Resignation still in full swing, many employers are working hard to attract and retain talent – so ensuring there’s a clear path to progression should be an easy win in the ‘war for talent.’

Ample research shows that offering a path to progression is an essential tool in retaining employees and enabling employee growth – yet time and again, it seems to be something that’s missed by employers. Research by Right Management earlier this year found that 73% of employees believe their employer doesn’t carry any responsibility for their career development, and 81% of employees have no written career plan in place with their manager. This is a huge missed opportunity; helping employees with their career development builds loyalty, a huge contributing factor to productivity – as well as increasing the overall skillset of the business.

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Amy Smyth, Head of Career Management at Right Management Europe, said, as reported on by Business Leader: “Nearly a third of people never discuss their career plans with their manager – and it’s time that changed.

“Too many employers have missed opportunities to develop and retain talented workers at a time when the global skills shortage is presenting huge challenges for businesses – so it’s important that new roles provide the UK workforce the support they need,” she added.

Indeed, the number of unfilled jobs reached the highest so far this year in July, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC). Their research shows that there were 1.85million active job postings in the last week of July. Although the economy may be slowing down, the ‘war for talent’ so far shows no signs of abating.

“If they’re not growing, they’re leaving”

Writing for talent management company CharlieHR’s blog, Ben Gately, CEO at CharlieHR says that: “If your people aren’t growing, they’re leaving.”

He said that CharlieHR experienced ten resignations in two years, a blow to growth that he believed was down to the way the company handled career progression.

“I felt like I was giving inadequate answers to questions about progression, and – at the risk of sounding paranoid – I started to pick up a degree of frustration about progression in people who had been here a while,” he explained. “We’d lost that scrappy, startup-y energy, and people were at risk of feeling like they’d stagnated.”

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Gately said that, as the company had grown, they hadn’t reviewed their career development system – which focused mainly on personal development. As a result, there was no set procedure in place for pay rises, promotions, or the roles people would be promoted into – and “cracks began to show”.

He created a career progression framework which defined every role at CharlieHR, showed employees what role they could progress to, and stated what they needed to do to get there. Although this meant a significant outlay from the business to fund the creation and implementation of the framework, Gately said: “…With our ability to hire, our retention, and the motivation of our team on the line, I was willing to make that investment.”

Gately’s example is one of unintentional shortcomings, and certainly not a case study of ‘quiet firing’, but it is nevertheless a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of not properly investing in your workforce.

Are HR leaders too busy to invest time in their employees?

The case for bad leaders intentionally shunning some employees is a very serious one. However, it is not always the case that a lack of communication from managers is rooted in malice. At many firms, it is simply the case that leaders are too snowed under to recognise their employees properly.

In fact a recent survey revealed that a whopping 98% of HR professionals are struggling with work pressures. Carried out by workplace communication app Workvivo, the survey of 520 HR professionals in the UK and USA demonstrated that workplace burnout is an endemic problem for the people function. 94% of HR professionals said they felt overwhelmed in the past six months, while 88% of respondents said they dreaded work.

The pandemic and the Great Resignation have piled pressure onto HR departments, who have found themselves under-resourced and overwhelmed as they’ve struggled to juggle the transition first to remote and then to hybrid working, with all the changes to tech, processes and staffing that goes along with that.

The pandemic also meant that staff required much more support from HR departments, emotionally as well as practically. Add to that the challenges of finding and retaining staff in an ever-tightening labour market, and you have the perfect storm.

Sadly, despite the huge and dramatic increase to their workload over the last two years, only 29% of respondents felt that their work within their organisation was valued. Unsurprisingly, this lack of recognition has resulted in 78% of respondents saying that they’re now looking for new opportunities – in doing so, ironically, adding to the burden on HR departments that is being caused by the Great Resignation.

HR crisis-in-waiting

Commenting on the survey findings, Gillian French, Workvivo’s Expert-in-Residence in Employee Experience, warned that they demonstrate a clear and urgent need for leadership intervention to avoid an HR crisis.

“These results show a serious situation whereby only one in two feel like their organisation values the HR function,” she said.

“Since the start of the pandemic HR professionals have had to pivot, expand and step up at work in ways that they had never imagined, and it's taking its toll. These people have been at the forefront of the dramatic changes to the world of work and need support from their organizations.”

“If this situation continues without intervention, leaders will be looking at serious cultural impact and worsening problems around retention and the employee experience more broadly. Significant attention and focus is needed on the people function as well as investment in the employee experience for all.

“In practice this means committing to more people-friendly practices like flexible working or increased annual leave – but a box-checking exercise won’t be enough to fix this. Organisations must examine their culture and truly listen to their employees about what needs to change,” French concluded.

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