When it comes to managing people, the practice of “quiet firing” could be a sinister threat to any workplace culture. Rather than dealing with issues head on, this management practice is a menace to employees who need support and direction, and even to the best performers who sense that workplace problems are unresolved or purposefully mishandled.
Quiet firing happens when employees are eased out of their jobs without explicit communication or formal termination. This can include underutilizing employees, denying promotions and raises or making the work environment uncomfortable or unbearable.
Recognizing the signs of quiet firing can be difficult, as they are often subtle and go unnoticed. Here are several indications that quiet firing could be an issue for your organization.
• NO PROMOTIONS, NO RAISES
Employees are sometimes consistently denied promotions and raises, despite their hard work and accomplishments. As a result, they might feel frustrated, demotivated and undervalued. Quiet firing examples include making unnecessary pay cuts or skipping annual raises; denying bonuses that were expected; and managers who make promises about promotions but fail to follow through.
• NO SUPPORT, NO FEEDBACK
Managers might sometimes refrain from giving employees constructive feedback or help. This intentional lack of communication can leave an employee feeling isolated and unappreciated. Pay attention to the following manager behaviors: meetings that are canceled regularly, especially 1-on-1s; offering vague and unconstructive feedback; and becoming less responsive to questions and concerns.
• ALIENATION AND EXCLUSION
Quiet firing can create a hostile or unwelcoming work environment, leading to feelings of disconnection or being bullied. Examples of quiet firing include leaving an employee out of important meetings and decisions; excluding an employee from team-building activities or social events; or subjecting an employee to passive-aggressive behavior or microaggressions.
• NO DEVELOPMENT PLAN, NO CHALLENGES
If an employee expresses that a job has become stagnant, it might signal quiet firing. This can make an employee feel undervalued and underutilized. Watch for these signs: decreased training and development opportunities; assigning responsibilities below an employee’s skill level; and a lack of newly assigned tasks or projects.
A manager who practices quiet firing might give an employee an overwhelming workload or unreasonable deadlines. Feelings of employee burnout can lead employees to quit or be fired. Watch for manager behaviors, such as asking an employee to work excessive overtime; failing to provide needed resources; and assigning unrealistic timelines and goals.
• UNEQUAL OR UNFAIR TREATMENT
It could be a sign of quiet firing if employees are treated differently than their colleagues, such as receiving different hours, working conditions or duties. This can create a sense of resentment and mistrust. Employees may be subjected to receiving disproportionate negative feedback or criticism; not getting recognition for achievements or contributions; and discriminatory behavior or language.
Recognizing the similarities and differences between quiet firing and mismanagement is essential. Quiet firing deliberately pushes an employee out of a job without a formal process. Mismanagement falls in the category of poor or ineffective practices.
The adverse effects of quiet firing can be far-reaching and impact workplace culture. It could lay the groundwork for legal claims of discrimination or retaliation. Additionally, quiet firing can hurt recruitment and retention, as word spreads about the company’s harmful practices and reputation. Left unchecked, quiet firing can pose a dangerous threat to the workplace.
Employees who feel isolated, disconnected, undervalued and underappreciated are far less likely to be effective in their roles. And even the best employees will notice if their colleagues are treated poorly. Good employees might choose to leave because they feel the creep of toxic management practices.
Quiet firing doesn’t effectively address problem areas, and it’s no way to develop and retain employees who otherwise could be better engaged and more productive.
Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is the survey partner for Nevada Top Workplaces.