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A dark side to quiet quitting is hurting workers: "Quiet firing"

During the pandemic, a workplace trend known as "quiet quitting" — clocking in and doing the bare minimum at work — took hold as many employees grappled with burnout and frustration with their jobs. But there's another side to the story, with some managers engaging in "quiet firing," according to Gallup.

Quiet firing describes "the manager side of quiet quitting," with bosses failing to provide support and career development to their employees, said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy of workplace management at Gallup, who has researched the issue. "They are slowly pushing those people out the door," he noted.

To be sure, this phenomenon isn't new, but the pandemic and the continuation of remote work has made it more difficult for many managers to provide effective leadership, Wigert said. And with the economy now weakening and more employers turning to layoffs, some corporations may begin to lean on quiet firing to convince workers to leave of their own volition, saving them the cost of paying severance and unemployment insurance, according to Michigan State University researchers.

Disengaged managers

In the most benign cases, though, quiet firing is unintentional, even if it may be just as damaging. The pandemic has made it more difficult for some managers to stay on top of the need to provide employees with feedback, development opportunities and recognition, Wigert said.

"Earlier this year, managers were even more burned out than their coworkers and leaders," he told CBS MoneyWatch. "What happens with their own engagement is their job becomes more difficult, and they lose focus on cultivating team and individual trust."

Only about 1 in 3 managers describe themselves as emotionally or psychologically connected to their work, with this group experiencing one of the biggest drops in engagement among all workers, a Gallup survey found earlier this year.

Meanwhile, managers may believe they are providing enough support, yet their direct reports may not agree. For instance, almost two-thirds of managers believe they are doing a good job acknowledging their subordinates' contributions, but only one-third of workers strongly agreed that their good work is recognized.

"The reason that happens is managers feel they give recognition because they constantly say, 'Good job,' saying thanks in notes, but it's not always translating for employees," Wigert said. "Employees feel like it has to be specific, timely and relevant — and what our research shows is that is what typically doesn't happen."

Toxic workplaces

In the worst cases, quiet firing involves managers who create toxic or miserable experiences for workers as a way to squeeze them out.

Employees may not realize what is happening, according to a survey of 1,000 employees who experienced quit firing, the Michigan State researchers said. There are several signs that could suggest a manager may deliberately be trying to demoralize you, including a shift in work responsibilities and changes related to work conditions, they noted.

These can range from managers setting up unreasonable performance targets to taking away "perks" like an office or parking spot. And of course, there are more obvious signs of quiet firing, like getting a pay cut or failing to get an expected bonus.

About a quarter of the people in their survey said they had started to look for a new job, which indicates that quiet firing, at least from a corporate perspective, can be an ethically questionable — yet effective — way to cut headcount, the researchers noted.

At the same time, the labor market remains tight, making it important for employers to keep their workers happy, Wigert noted. Bosses who want to make sure they aren't inadvertently pushing their workers out the door can tap strategies like "shared accountability" to improve morale, which means setting goals and commitments together.

"Now is the time to sit down and honor and appreciate everything that everyone has done — acknowledge that we have gone through stuff and we have the opportunity to rally together," Wigert said. "The real magic is learning to do this together."


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First published on November 18, 2022 / 7:13 AM

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