Quiet firing | Why silence isn’t golden when it comes to employee management
Written by Gerard O’Hare on 13 November 2023
Parting ways with an underperforming employee is an unenviable but sometimes necessary aspect of managing a workforce. However, in 2023, some employers are circumventing this difficulty through the practice of ‘quiet firing’.
In this blog, we explore this latest buzzword and provide examples of behaviours that typify quiet firing. We also discuss the potential detriments this practice poses for businesses and suggest more ethical approaches when navigating the delicate terrain of employee dismissals.
What is quiet firing?
Quiet firing is a covert means of employee dismissal employed by organisations to avoid the discomfort of direct confrontations, legal entanglements, or potential damage to their reputation.
In essence, the employer – or more specifically, a line manager – intentionally creates an undesirable work environment in the hope that an employee will resign voluntarily, rather than having to address performance issues directly. They may do this by isolating the employee, decreasing their responsibilities, or fostering a hostile atmosphere.
Quiet firing is often motivated by a desire to bypass the uncomfortable conversations or procedural complexities associated with formal terminations. This clandestine approach, however, often has adverse effects on employee morale and productivity and can result in long-term harm to the organisation.
It’s important to note that quiet firing isn’t a new phenomenon; the tactic of encouraging employees to ‘jump before they are pushed’ has occurred for some time. However, the recent adoption of the term by the media has sparked increased awareness and discussion surrounding practices that may have existed but were previously overlooked. This heightened awareness seems to reflect a growing desire for more transparent and ethical approaches to employment-related issues.
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Examples of quiet firing
Quiet firing can manifest in various forms. Some common tactics employed by employers and managers include:
- Isolation and exclusion: Deliberately isolating the employee from team activities, meetings, and decision-making processes is a key indicator of quiet firing. This isolation can make the employee feel undervalued and disconnected, prompting them to resign.
- Unreasonable workload: Increasing an employee’s workload to an unsustainable level is another subtle method. Overloading an employee with tasks beyond their capacity can lead to burnout, making them more likely to seek employment elsewhere.
- Lack of feedback: Withholding constructive feedback and performance evaluations is a passive-aggressive way of pushing an employee out. Without guidance, employees may become frustrated and demotivated, eventually opting to leave.
- Micromanagement: Excessive micromanagement, wherein every aspect of the employee’s work is closely monitored and controlled, is another covert aspect of quiet firing. This intrusive management style can create frustration and diminish autonomy, contributing to the employee’s decision to leave.
- Undermining confidence: Subtly undermining an employee’s confidence through comments such as “Are you sure this job is the right fit for you?” or suggesting doubts about their suitability can erode self-esteem over time, making them more inclined to consider resignation.
Why is quiet firing bad for businesses?
While employers might initially believe they have sidestepped problems by quietly firing someone, this practice can, in fact, prove detrimental to organisations in various ways. Quiet firing can:
- Damage the employer’s reputation: Word travels fast in professional circles. If employees perceive that a company practices quiet firing, it can damage the organisation’s reputation, leading to difficulties in attracting and retaining employees in future.
- Result in lost productivity: Quiet firing prolongs the inevitable, resulting in decreased productivity as employees become disengaged and demotivated. The uncertainty surrounding their job security can create a toxic work environment, affecting overall team performance.
- Have legal ramifications: In cases where the employee feels they have no choice but to resign from their position due to the employer’s egregious actions or a toxic work environment, employees may be able to claim constructive dismissal. This is somewhat ironic given quiet firing is often motivated by a desire to evade disputes and legal complications. The compensation awarded in constructive dismissal cases can vary widely and is influenced by factors such as the specific circumstances of the case, the duration of employment, and the financial losses incurred by the employee – but it could be tens of thousands of pounds.
What are the alternatives to quiet firing?
Dealing with employee performance issues openly and constructively is crucial for fostering a healthy workplace culture. It promotes transparency, ensures fair treatment, and provides an opportunity for improvement. Instead of resorting to quiet firing, consider the following alternatives:
- Open communication: Transparent communication is key. If an employee is not meeting expectations, discuss the issues openly and provide constructive feedback. Establish a plan for improvement and offer support where necessary.
- Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs): Instead of resorting to quiet firing, implement a PIP. Clearly outline expectations, set achievable goals, and provide the necessary resources for the employee to succeed.
- Training and development: Invest in training and development programs to help employees acquire the skills they need. This proactive approach demonstrates commitment to employee growth and can contribute to improved performance.
3 top tips to avoid quiet firing issues
Invest in management training
Managers may resort to quiet firing due to a lack of confidence or knowledge in handling performance matters effectively. This proactive step will ensure managers are better equipped to address issues openly and constructively.
Acknowledge non-performance-related factors
Quiet firing isn’t exclusively linked to performance concerns; managers may have other motivations for seeking to push an employee out, including personal conflicts. Being alert to these dynamics and promptly acting on any concerns or complaints is crucial.
Establish clear policies
Implement and communicate clear workplace policies that emphasise fair and transparent employee evaluations and dismissals. This not only sets expectations but also provides a structured framework for managers to address performance issues fairly and ethically.
In the ever-evolving landscape of employment, ethical and transparent practices are crucial for long-term success. Quiet firing may seem like a convenient way to address performance issues, but its negative repercussions far outweigh any perceived short-term gains. While the act itself might be discrete, the consequences can resonate loudly.
By adopting open communication, implementing performance improvement plans, and investing in employee development, employers can maintain a positive work culture, safeguard their reputation and, if needs be, navigate dismissals ethically. In the end, a respectful and fair approach to employee management is not only the safer option but also contributes to a more positive, productive workplace.
Before you quiet fire...
Whether you need support resolving conflicts or navigating the performance management process, WorkNest is here to help you address employee issues transparently and ethically, eliminating the need to resort to quiet firing.
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