The supposedly new trends of “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing” have been around for decades under other names. But just because they’re nothing new doesn’t mean they can’t present real problems.
If you’re a harried employee who suspects your manager is quiet-firing you, is there any way to break the silence and save your job?
In both cases, the solution starts with examining your own assumptions about what it means to be productive and do good work. It also means finding objective, quantifiable ways to measure work output and quality that are clear to both employers and employees.
Employers looking at empty offices on Fridays or noticing a distinct lack of after-hours chatter on the intranet may be thinking, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.” They may be concerned that their employees are taking advantage of remote work and flexible scheduling to do less than an honest day’s work for a full day’s pay.
But a lack of performative round-the-clock noise doesn’t mean work isn’t getting done. Firming up boundaries between work time and personal time may look like slacking off — or it may mean workers are ensuring they are bringing their full, undiluted focus to work tasks, and then doing the same for their leisure time. Working differently doesn’t mean working less.
Employers with concerns about quiet quitting should ask themselves: Is the work we pay for getting done? Do we have relevant, quantifiable measures in place to judge the quality of that work? Finally, if the output is good by those measures, does it matter where, when and how it’s being done?
Obviously, missed deadlines, dissatisfied clients, and unfilled demand are objective output problems that need addressing. And if it turns out that office presence and after-hours engagement are essential to maintaining high-quality output, employers should be able to explain why.
Problems with work output may be due to causes outside employees’ control — which is why, when noting performance issues, it’s important to ask employees for their perspective. Their responses should make clear whether it really is a matter of disengaged workers phoning it in, or something larger and more systemic.
What if you’re an employee and suspect you’re being “quiet-fired” — nudged out by a manager who can’t fire you but is making your job increasingly unpleasant and unrewarding? Again, start with a careful look inward. Consider whether it’s possible you’re underperforming and delivering less or lower-quality output than you’re being paid for.
Check your mental and emotional state, and get a second opinion from an outside observer who knows you well. Burnout, anxiety and depression have insidious ways of settling in that are visible to everyone but their host.
If you think you’re performing as well as ever, but your manager still seems dissatisfied, make clear that you want to succeed. Ask for quantifiable measures of what constitutes good work, so you and your manager can see when you’re hitting those objective marks.
This may not be enough to win over a manager who really wants you out, but if months or years of managerial “gaslighting” have left you wrestling with self-doubt, it can be empowering to see that your performance is not the problem, and the outcome of this silent standoff is out of your hands.
Take, for example, the reader whose employer was ordering everyone back to the office — but had relocated the local office to a hard-to-reach location. The reader said it seemed strange that the employer seemed willing to risk losing workers, including those newly hired during the coronavirus pandemic, by forcing them into a difficult commute.
But then the reader remembered that the employer had recently opened a new facility in another state with lower labor costs, and had been shifting more work, resources and opportunities there. After connecting those dots, the reader said, it all became clear: “Moving our local office to a cheaper, less-accessible location was just another step toward showing us the door. Mystery solved.”
While being ousted for any reason is discouraging, the reader found knowing the reason oddly motivating. “Your reporting suggests I’m part of a trend. Knowing that is power,” the reader wrote. “I’m interviewing and am hopeful that with the labor market as it is, even with my age, I’ll be able to land something soon.”
Knowing the business motive behind the quiet firing could also give this reader some financial leverage: A company eager to shed staff might be willing to speed the process with a severance package. But to my mind, it’s equally rewarding to be freed from a pointless struggle to stay where you’re not valued.