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Quiet Hiring and Quiet Firing: Employer Responses to Quiet Quitting

What quiet quitting has taught us about recruiting high-value talent, and toxic management.

Elsier Otachi
Technical writer with 8+ years of SaaS and HR Tech reviewing expertise
October 4, 2022
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Long working hours. Inadequate pay. Employee burnout. Declining engagement. All these factors contributed to the rise of quiet quitting. While business leaders are still deciding what to make of quiet quitting, and even what it is, new spin-off phrases have already arisen.

In This Article

Quiet Hiring and Quiet Firing: The Results of Quiet Quitting

Whether you agree or disagree with the quiet quitting movement, it’s certainly brought some major issues into the light. Employers are re-evaluating the employee experience they offer. Employees are rethinking their work-life balance, and HR leaders are learning a lot about what workers want.

Quiet quitting involves workers rejecting overtime and extra responsibility in favor of their free time and mental health. Because of how normalized over-and-above performance has become, a lot of employers expect workers to do more than their job description, and are concerned by this recent shift.

But there’s also a cost for employees who take a step back. They miss out on the opportunity to be seen as ambitious, high-value talent in the eyes of recruiters.

What is Quiet Hiring?

Since quiet quitting translates to workers stepping back from extra responsibility, what happens to workers who step forward? They get quiet hired.

Quiet hiring is a recruiting method that hones in on high-achieving talent for career advancement. With good reason. High achievers deliver 400% more output than the average employee. Nurturing these individuals, flagging them for promotion, and showering them with high salaries and benefits makes good business sense. In fact, Google has made it part of their recruitment strategy.

Quiet quitters who, by definition, don’t take on more than the required workload, and don’t lead initiatives that aren't required, also don’t get quiet hired. It stands to reason that any employee who desires to reach the C-suite probably needs to be a high achiever. Quiet quitting is a surefire way of getting left behind.

To be clear, getting outperformed by high achievers is not the same as getting quiet fired.

What is Quiet Firing?

Quiet firing is a distressing term that came to light shortly after the world learned about quiet quitting. It refers to toxic leadership where a manager withholds guidance, career advancement opportunities, and praise from workers to drive them to the point of quitting for real.

While quiet firing isn’t necessarily related to an individual quiet quitting, it can be a form of retaliation. A quid pro quo of minimal input from both sides leading to a parting of ways. However, an employee who is going above and beyond their job description may still get quiet fired simply because of poor management culture.

The best solution for getting quiet fired is to confront management and take a clear stance.

Engaged employes at their desks.

The Employee Engagement Crises

According to Gallup, only 34% of employees were engaged while 16% were actively disengaged in their work and workplace during 2021. This is compared to the 36% engaged and 14% disengaged workers reported in 2020.

This slight drop in engagement was concurrent with the pandemic and the Great Resignation, which saw a historically high 47.4 million people voluntarily leave their jobs for better work in 2021. And, another 40% consider quitting their current jobs in the next 3–6 months.

A disengaged workforce is bad for business. As Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says, “When they don’t feel cared about, people eventually stop caring.”

But do quiet quitting and disengagement mean the same thing?

How Does Quiet Quitting Happen?

Ben Travis, founder of HR Chief recently ran a poll on what people understood quiet quitting to mean. While the majority agreed it is about setting healthy boundaries so that work doesn’t infringe on an employee's life, 43% of respondents understood it differently. They perceive a movement of workers actively avoiding work, or doing work of sub-par quality.

The results of a poll on what quiet quitting means.

While individual workers may have their own intentions, the general stance is that quiet quitting, by definition, is not an action taken to hurt the company. Quiet quitters fulfill their job duties and might even excel at their jobs, but they don’t work overtime to do it, and they don’t take on work that is not theirs.

That’s the essence of quiet quitting—an anti-hustle culture movement of limiting your workload to what is necessary instead of going the extra mile. It doesn’t quite mean the employee has become disengaged, is shirking their responsibility, or that they don’t care about their job. It also raises the following question:

If it is perceived that an employee under-delivers because they stick to the duties in their job description, is their output substandard, or is their job description incomplete?

Kathy Caprino, a global career and leadership coach and author, says quiet quitting is to refrain from “...doing work you think is beyond what you were hired to do and not getting compensated for.”

While quiet quitting may seem like a work boycott to employers, in reality, the employee’s goal is to detach their identities from their jobs. Is quiet quitting a bad ideas if it allows employees the space to take care of their mental health and avoid burnout?

The Benefits of Quiet Quitting 

While it may be disconcerting for employers to see high-performing employees leave the office on time for a change, good things can come from quiet quitting.

Improved Profits and Productivity 

Burnout is harmful to your employee’s health, and expensive! Mistakes made, loss of productivity, and employee absenteeism caused by employee burnout cost companies billions of dollars each year. Although it seems counterintuitive, employees who leave on time, take days off, and get good rest are more productive than ones experiencing high stress and burnout.

Bear in mind that remote employees are not exempt from the hustle culture mentality and burnout. Remote work makes it even harder to set boundaries between an employee’s work and personal life. While employers are nervous that remote work promotes coasting, the statistics show these employees but in significantly longer hours and higher levels of productivity than their in-office counterparts.

Improved Employee Wellness 

Poor health means employees are inclined to miss work. Cutting back on office hours allows workers to put a stronger focus on their mental and physical wellbeing.

A Happier Workforce

Happy workers are more productive, easier to deal with, and a boon to your employer brand. A culture where employees have realistic workloads and are encouraged to take time off leads to a positive employee experience, employee referrals, a high employee net promoter score, and improved retention.

The Pitfalls of Quiet Quitting

While there are a lot of positive things to say about quiet quitting, it does come with drawbacks.

Resentment Amongst Employees

From an office relations perspective, some employees might feel that the quiet quitters aren't carrying their weight, resulting in conflicts.

A Career Advancement Conundrum

In an organizational culture where workers are not showing initiative or taking responsibility beyond their job description, it may be difficult to know who to promote. Who can you trust with the added responsibility of a higher corporate rank?

Similarly, career development plans generally include training employees for new skills and credentials in anticipation of an upward move. If employees show no interest in this, they may simply lack the skills required for the next level of their career.

Disengaged employee at his desk.

What Factors Led to Quiet Quitting?

In case you don’t know, here’s a bit of background on how the quiet quitting buzz took off:

Since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, disgruntled and actively disengaged employees have been using social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter to express their views.

One particular TikTok video posted by Zaidleppelin garnered more than 3.5 million views on the platform, with many TikTok users weighing in with their own quiet quitting experiences.

Several factors contribute to the rise of this workplace trend, including:

  • Inadequate remuneration: Mercer’s Real-time Insight Survey 2022 found that inflation and salary increases didn’t match. The result: employees earn less money and wonder why they should work so hard for little pay.
  • Burnout: Employees are tired, stressed out, and depressed. They feel like they don’t have enough hours in a day to tackle tasks at work and in their personal lives. Asana’s Anatomy of Work report found that 7 out of 10 employees suffered burnout in 2021, translating into less engaged staff, more mistakes, higher risk for low morale, and increased resignations. 
  • No progression or development opportunities: Today’s workers don’t expect to spend the rest of their career at one company. They want true career growth so they can step up from the roles they have held previously.
  • Unmanageable workload: During the pandemic and Great Resignation, unprepared companies pushed more responsibilities on workers without additional compensation, leading to further burnout, frustration, and mental health challenges.
  • Lack of purpose and meaning in work: When workers feel like their jobs lack purpose or they can’t connect with the company’s strategic vision, they’ll find it easier to dial back their engagement at work.

Other common causes include micromanagement, limited time off, lack of trust and psychological safety, and inadequate communication between management and workers.

Expert Opinions About Quiet Quitting

To understand the nature of quiet quitting and its effects in the workplace, we’ve gathered opinions from experts about the phenomenon, as well as advice on employee engagement strategies that can help.

Compensate Workers for Any Extra Work

Ed Zitron, a media consulting business owner, told NPR that quiet quitting stems from companies overworking their employees without compensating them for it. Zitron, who also publishes Where’s Your Ed At, a labor-focused newsletter, says paying employees for additional work ensures they’ll go above and beyond knowing they’ll be rewarded for it.

Connect More Deeply With Your Workers

Kathy Caprino, a global career and leadership coach and author, believes today’s leaders and managers should make time, sit down with their employees and in teams, and have candid discussions about what works for them and what doesn’t. Address whatever needs to change in the organization.

Employee engagement software can help you solicit and track employee feedback, recognize their achievements, and promote positive activity in the workplace. These tools draw actionable insights from employee feedback. This means you can understand their sentiments and promote positive activities that benefit the wellbeing of your employees, as well as the business.

Let Employees Rebalance and Create Space for Important Things

Diversity and inclusion officer, Rachel W, fully supports quiet quitting.

In a recent LinkedIn post, she says, “Work is just one aspect of life. Family, friends, hobbies, rest, etc. are taking center stage as we know now more than ever that time is a precious non-renewable resource.”

She adds that it’s normal for employees to do what’s important in the totality of their lives. Organizations should allow them to rebalance and create space for those things. “Most of us want to make sure we are using our time and talents to not only help companies profit but also fulfill our purpose here on earth.”

Tweet by Adam Grant about quiet quitting

Provide Meaningful Work, Fair Pay, and Respect

Organizational psychologist, author, and podcaster, Adam Grant, supports the view that quiet quitting can be traced back to bad managers and unhealthy or toxic work environments.

Grant opines that organizations with toxic cultures view burnout as proof of commitment and reward employees who overwork with time off or vacations to recover.

In healthy cultures, Grant adds, well-being is a top priority, everyone gets time off, and vacations are encouraged to rejuvenate. He also urges managers to start with meaningful work, respect, and fair pay if they want their workers to go the extra mile.

​​Acknowledge Employee Boundaries

In a podcast titled, “How Quiet Quitting Is Changing the Workplace”, Lindsay Ellis, a workplace reporter at the Wall Street Journal, mentioned some key things from her interviews with Gallup and Korn Ferry on adjusting the workplace to meet young professionals’ needs.

Ellis says supervisors need to connect with their employees, show a clear path between their work and its purpose, and have clearer expectations along with support and guidance. One important thing she notes is that employees are setting boundaries and want space and time for themselves. Managers and teams that respect workers’ boundaries may retain their employees longer than those who fail to do so.

Rethinking Our Attitude Towards Work

Quiet quitting has been defined and redefined. Some believe quiet quitting is a misnomer and should really be about carving out time for self-care. Still, other experts fear less engagement stemming from quiet quitting might translate to lower productivity and that it is corrosive to workplace cultures.

The bottom line is that, while disengagement is not healthy for the employee or the organization, quiet quitting may be the catalyst we needed to recalibrate our mindset toward work. Listening to and connecting with your workers, setting realistic expectations, offering fair pay, and respecting their boundaries are critical to redefining today’s changing workplace.

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Elsier Otachi

Elsier Otachi is a B2B writer for SaaS and E-commerce companies. Her 8+ years of content marketing experience involve creating in-depth, research-backed, thought leadership content for HR Tech brands, including Deputy and HR.com, as well as technical reviews of HR software. Elsier has qualifications in Professional, Technical, Business, and Scientific Writing, as well as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Outside of work, Elsier enjoys reading a good book, spending time with her family, or replaying her favorite music playlists.

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