‘Quiet firing’ | The latest toxic workplace trend? Here's what HR can do about it

The latest toxic workplace trend? Here's what HR can do about it

Have you heard about quiet firing? Recent talk within the business community is that there could be a contrary event taking place in organisations - something known as ‘quite firing’.

In this article, we’ll take a look at just what quiet firing is, the impact it can have across an organisation, and what leaders can do to address it.

Last year we wrote about the rise of quiet quitting and what it meant for employers, but an upcoming trend of ‘quiet firing’ is taking place and impacting both employers and employees.

What is ‘quiet firing’?

Quiet firing isn’t new, but it’s taken hold as a term within HR to explain a set of behaviours from people leaders towards certain workers.

A quick search on LinkedIn shows an explosion of posts and discussion around the phenomenon over the last two months alone. But the behaviours behind the phrase are long established in the workplace.

Quiet firing behaviours from managers include:

  • Ignoring certain staff.

  • Failing to respond to their queries or concerns.

  • Passing them up for increased responsibilities.

  • Relying more heavily on ‘preferred’ workers.

  • A frostier attitude towards some team members.

  • Denying access to development opportunities or training requests.

  • Not offering pay rises comparable with peers.

  • Not offering feedback, praise or appreciation.

And it turns out that many of us have experienced these behaviours from a leader throughout our careers. In fact, LinkedIn data suggests that almost four in 10 workers have been victims of quiet firing.

This tells us two things. One, that it’s more commonplace than business leaders may wish to believe. Secondly and more alarmingly, it’s an effective practice for moving on unwanted employees without having to have a tough conversation.

Why quiet firing is a problem for organisations

This form of professional gaslighting is damaging for everyone involved. It suggests a management tier that is adverse to holding rank and difficult conversations and instead falls back on a suite of behaviours which, consciously or not, they hope will encourage a team member to walk themselves.

And it can also lead to a swelling of disenfranchised, unengaged, and underproductive employees.

But the problems don’t stop there. Quiet firing can also lead to:

  • Wide-scale disengagement, both from disenfranchised staff but also their peers who may observe the poor treatment of a colleague, or through the viral nature of active disengagement within a workforce.

  • Leaving an employee in a post who is not up to the job will dampen wider organisational productivity, creativity, profitability, and individual standards.

  • This behaviour will likely also contribute to worsening mental wellbeing of the employee, which is both morally wrong but can also come at a financial cost.

  • The maltreatment of an employee can become a legal issue.

  • Quiet firing is particularly harmful to women at work, with data from Irwin Mitchell finding that one in four has experienced quiet-firing behaviour from a boss.

Deborah Casale, Partner at Irwin Mitchell, commented on the behaviour: “There really is no excuse for treating employees in this way.

“If there is a problem with a member of staff, employers should deal with the issue rather than making the individual feel so uncomfortable or undervalued that they leave.”

The behaviours that constitute quiet firing can be grounds for constructive dismissal, so not only can the outcome damage productivity and workplace morale, but it can also deliver legal and related financial (not to mention reputation) damages.

What HR can do about quiet firing

First off, the answer isn’t to start firing the quiet firers!

The behaviours behind quiet firing can indeed be a symptom of ill-equipped people leaders, but the root cause can be something which the organisation itself has the ability and responsibility to mitigate.

Overworked managers

Managers have busy briefs, and overworked leaders can become more insular and focused on their own burgeoning to-do lists rather than the happiness, engagement and development of their teams.

Organisations can too often believe that managers will tell them if they’re struggling and need more support to carry out all of their responsibilities - but we know that doesn’t always happen!

Download now: A guide to improving staff wellbeing & retention through your HR team

It falls on business leaders, and indeed HR, to check in on their management tier and ensure they’re able to carry out everything the organisation requires of them.

A lack of engagement

Disengaged managers are a key issue for organisations as their apathy towards work, and the company’s wider goals will likely rub off on their teams.

Disengaged leaders are also far less likely to be invested in the development of the people they manage. Many of the behaviours associated with disengagement at a management level will contribute towards the effects of quiet firing.

HR has a responsibility to ensure the engagement of everyone within the organisation, from the fresh-faced intern to the long-established department head.

A culture of mistrust

Psychological safety in the workplace is critical for all employees, whether junior or senior, to speak out if they come across an issue or need to ask for help.

Cultures where mistrust has begun to set in will lead to more individualistic thinking and behaviours. For management, this can lead to brushing problems under the corporate rug and failing to ask for additional support when they need it… for fear of appearing that they aren’t able to do the job themselves.

Lack of training

Many team leaders and managers rise to the position by being great at their jobs. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be great at managing people.

Promoting from within without offering additional training resources, especially surrounding people management, can lead to some of the behaviours behind quiet firing - even if they’re inadvertent.

The wrong technology

An indirect reason why management may be stressed, and begin to exhibit the behaviours surrounding quiet quitting, is that the available technology doesn't support them in their work.

Managers have wide-reaching responsibilities across project delivery, meeting goals and objectives, and supporting their teams to deliver their best work.

When the tools on offer fail to support across all these areas, or actively make things harder, then management stress leading to disengagement can set it.

There are a range of HR and finance platforms available that support managers in delivering for the organisation and direct reports. The platforms offer everything from project planning and employee scheduling, to pulse surveys and employee feedback systems, making it easier than ever to gauge employee sentiment, report on problems, and understand how to effectively make positive changes.

If you believe quiet firing is something that’s actively taking place in your organisation, then alongside addressing culture, training and overworking issues, assessing the tools you’re offering managers to support them in their work is another important avenue to investigate.

At Phase 3, our employee experience review services can help in finding where weaknesses in the entire employer lifecycle may be and advise on ways to address them, from initial onboarding to manager experiences including people management processes.

If you think that your current software stack is doing more harm than good, then check out system review and health check services too.

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