What to Do if You Think Your Boss Is Trying to ‘Quietly Fire’ You

7 minute read

The concept of “quiet quitting” has been spreading virally on social media, but another, equally passive aggressive workplace practice is also generating discourse. While quiet quitting refers to workers doing the bare minimum expected of them at work, the internet has coined a new term for what managers could end up doing in response—“quiet firing.”

Social media influencer DeAndre Brown was one of the first people to mention the term in a viral TikTok video on Aug. 24, where he describes “quiet firing” as a workplace that fails to reward an employee for their contributions to an organization, forcing them to leave their jobs.

Read More: Employees Say ‘Quiet Quitting’ Is Just Setting Boundaries. Companies Fear Long-Term Effects

“It works great for companies…eventually you’ll either feel so incompetent, isolated, and unappreciated that you’ll go find a new job, and they never have to deal with a development plan or offer severance,” wrote recruiter Bonnie Dilber in a viral LinkedIn post.

A recent Pew Research Center report shows that many employees cite low pay and no opportunities for growth as reasoning for the 20-year high resignation rate reached in November 2021.

As many workers share their experiences with “quiet firing” online, career experts encourage employees to be more vocal about their needs with their leadership and co-workers to combat the practice.

Speak to your manager

If you think you’re being quietly fired, “speak with leadership, advocate for yourself…and come together with other people who have the same needs as you do or who are looking for different changes in the workplace and then give it some time and see if those changes are actually made,” suggests Janice Gassam Asare, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Racial Equity Consultant.

The idea of an employer effectively forcing an employee to resign isn’t entirely new. Constructive discharge—whereby an employer actively makes working conditions for an employee so unpleasant that they quit, has been widely practiced for many years. This could fall under the umbrella term of “quiet firing,” but so would neglecting an employee or divesting time, opportunities or resources away from a worker in a more passive approach that would also prompt a resignation.

“It’s happened for years,” says Annette Castro, a 22-year-old research technician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Castro worked at an ice cream shop in Philadelphia for two years to get through college, and was eventually promoted to become a night manager. But when Castro took off two weeks—which she had requested months in advance—she was left off of the upcoming schedule after she returned. Castro inquired about her hours but did not receive any response. “I feel like I was ghosted by my company,” Castro tells TIME.

Castro’s experience mirrors a workplace norm that the younger generation is bringing attention to—one that often opts for a lack of communication that is not conducive to a productive work environment.

Look for others to help advocate for you

At the root of “quiet firing” is poor communication, suggests Jessica Kriegel, Chief Scientist of Workplace Culture at Culture Partners. “If a manager is conflict avoidant, or afraid of having a difficult conversation, then they might not… have the guts to tell the truth about how you are perceived within the organization and the work that you’re doing,” Kriegel tells TIME.

Kriegel also suggests that managers themselves may also be “quiet quitting.” When a manager does that, then “by default, that means that their employees are not getting the kind of leadership care and attention that they used to get.”

Career coaches generally agree that the best way to go about addressing this dissatisfaction lies in being transparent with your manager. If a manager is not willing to bring the conversation of termination forward, employees have to ask whether there are still opportunities for growth at their current company. If the initial conversation is not productive, Kriegel suggests speaking to your manager’s boss about your fit in the organization.

Read More: Forget ‘Quiet Quitting.’ Here’s How to Actually Set Boundaries at Work

But aside from direct communication with your manager, experts say it’s important for employees to look into their resources—whether that be through an ombudsman, outside officials that employers can reach out to when they have issues, or other employees who can advocate for and with them—to ensure that they are being heard.

Remote or hybrid work may make it more difficult to establish relationships with coworkers, but it’s still possible to do so if you know how to leverage the rapport you have. “Ask your manager if they can introduce you to someone on another team because you’re interested in getting to know more people,” Kriegel says. “Career development today really is about who’s who you know, and the relationships that you’ve built within your organization.”

Gassam Asare has found in her consulting experience that employers often tiptoe around offering constructive feedback to employees from racially marginalized backgrounds. This means that people of color are more likely to face quiet firing, she says.

“I have clients that sometimes say, we don’t know how to deal with this employee, right? We’re afraid that this employee will react in a negative way if we give them feedback about their performance,” Gassam Asare says. “So rather than giving them constructive feedback, which would help them to grow and develop, they just avoid giving feedback altogether.”

This is reflected in the numbers. A 2021 Mckinsey report found that Black employees make up 14% of all employees, but only 7% of the Black workforce has a more senior or managerial level job.

Do your homework

Workers should also familiarize themselves with the protocols for promotions and raises at work by reading the employee handbook, says Gassam Asare. “Looking back into the documents that were given to you can reveal a lot of information about the process.” This can make daunting conversations about progression easier to navigate.

Similarly, keeping a record of accomplishments and the value they have added at work, as well as the pay scales for their roles can help employees make the case for promotions and pay raises.

Find strength in numbers

Gassam Asare cautions that quitting should only be a final resort, especially with concerns about a looming recession and a slew of layoffs and hiring freezes. Instead, she recommends looking at employee resource groups or even joining unions in order to ensure that workers know their rights and can speak up if they feel they are being undervalued.

Read more: Only the Paranoid Survive.’ Some CEOs Are Cutting Staff Even as the Labor Market Booms

“Eventually you might have to come to the point where, you know, it’s no longer the environment that you want to stay in, but I would caution people against that,” Gassam Asare says. “I think both workplaces and employees are in vulnerable positions. So I do think exhausting all the methods you can if you think you are being quietly fired is so important.”

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