What is Quiet Firing, and why does it make you a bad leader?

December 29, 2022

What is Quiet Firing, and why does it make you a bad leader?

Sometimes, we hire someone and find out down the road that they are ill-fit for the role or for the company’s culture. It is black-and-white if there’s a breach of contract involved, and firing the employee becomes simple.

But if it is a subjective matter of disliking their personality, finding their performance mediocre, or just feeling off with how they work with the team, showing them the door becomes a more complicated process. And sometimes, leaders (or bosses—let’s not give bad leadership any credit) opt for the path of least resistance, either because they are unequipped to convert the employee into a valuable “asset” for the company, or because they are unwilling to put in the effort.

When employers and employees just don’t align, what should we do?

You’ve probably heard of "quiet quitting," wherein an employee—often suffering from burnout—chooses to do the bare minimum of the job expected of them. This means declining additional work, not attending meetings, or refraining from pitching ideas to the rest of the team. 

But it isn’t just employees who show this kind of passive-aggressive behavior at work: bosses, managers, and employers do it too! In fact, it has been around for decades and has been called many names, such as constructive dismissal—which is far from "constructive,"  contrary to its name—or, more recently (and more popularly), quiet firing.

But what is quiet firing?

Quiet firing is when bosses, managers, or employers silently nudge out employees they deem underperforming by pushing them to the sidelines. This means withdrawing support through coaching, failing to give them feedback during performance reviews, keeping them out of certain meetings, and overall creating a hostile work environment for them, in the hopes that it will get the employee to quit.

Sometimes, employers do this to avoid conflict, which could become a possible lawsuit. Other times, they are just unwilling to shoulder the severance pay. But in all cases, a quiet firing does more harm—all harm—than good for your business.

The dangers of quiet firing

Bosses might feel like quiet firing is the path of least resistance, and in a way, it is. But a quiet firing reflects on bad leadership, not the employee’s poor performance.

Quiet firing encourages unproductive passive-aggressive actions at work that 

As you are directly compensating an ineffective employee, it is also more expensive than bearing the cost of an employee's severance pay when you fire them.

In the end, it results in a toxic work environment, and nobody benefits from this kind of approach.

What should good leaders do instead?

The best way to deal with an underperforming, quiet-quitting employee is to start a conversation. Ask them about what they expected when they first started out with the organization, what it was that excited them, and what was different or what has changed since then. Identify what their values are and figure out whether they align with the company’s goals and whether they still believe in the shared values, vision, and purpose of the organization.

If their answer is "yes,"  coach them. Supporting their growth and helping them reach their potential sends a clear message to everyone under your employ: You care about them. And you don’t quit on them. I don’t know about you, but it feels awful to quit on someone who has faith in you, even when you are not at your best. It makes a person want to keep trying to do their best when someone supports them at their lowest.

Unfortunately, not all organizations are equipped for this. That is why a lot of managers resort to quiet firings.

And sometimes, your employee will respond with "no," indicating that they no longer align with the organization’s values and mission. That is fine too. If that is the case, it is better to part ways as amicably as possible. After all, burning bridges is never the best way to go in business. You never know when an opportunity to work together—and this time, better—will come for both you and your employee.

There are better ways to be effective and constructive other than “constructive dismissal” or quietly firing your people.

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”