Quiet firing involves the employer making the workplace unpleasant or unrewarding for a worker in the hope they will leave the business. It is a passive-aggressive approach designed to make the work environment unbearable for the employee. It is easy to doubt or overlook the signs of quiet firing because they are often subtle and it may be deliberate or unintentional. Managers may be fearful of giving direct feedback and instead give the employee the cold-shoulder rather than addressing the issue, in the hope this will nudge them out the door. Staff seen as underperforming or a poor cultural fit may be ignored, neglected and isolated, making their life uncomfortable, encouraging them to leave the organisation.
A recent survey of over 2,400 people carried out by law firm Irwin Mitchell found that some 90% of respondents were not aware of quiet firing and the signs to look out for. The company said that the lack of awareness poses serious concerns and reported that quiet firing is more likely to affect women.
The signs to look out for
BBC journalist Alex Christian says the reasons for quiet firing can be complex. It can happen when an employer is reluctant to expose themselves to conflict by sacking the employee, instead “following the path of least resistance”. They withdraw support rather than confronting the team member or devising an improvement plan. The article is available to read. Anyone who experiences this should contact Employment Law Friend or a similar firm where they will receive guidance and support around how to make a constructive dismissal claim.
Another common sign of quiet firing is being passed over for promotions and a lack of career advancement. Targeted employees are not given guidance about what they need to achieve in order to advance their career and move to the next level. They notice their peers progressing and succeeding but they are stalling and unable to move up the career ladder. The goalposts are constantly moved and the possibility of promotion may be mentioned, but never comes to fruition.
What other signs are there?
Thirty per cent of the people surveyed by Irwin Mitchell reported experiencing sudden and unexpected changes to roles and responsibilities. Some were set unachievable performance targets, whilst others had their important responsibilities removed and given to someone else. Some employees found themselves being given dull, mundane and meaningless tasks below their level of qualification and experience, whilst others reported being overburdened with extra responsibilities and tasks that were unmanageable. This is done to try and force the employee out.
Increased bureaucracy is another sign of a quiet firer, who may add extra steps or implement new policies to make their target’s job more difficult. They become micromanagers and complicate processes so that even simple tasks become impossible and the employee becomes frustrated. They need to spend such a large amount of their time on administrative tasks that they no longer have time for other responsibilities.
Another common approach is to stop feedback and cancel performance reviews which leads to a breakdown in communication. They consider coaching the employee to be a waste of time and see them as a lost cause. This lack of input means the employee is not adequately supported as they are not given constructive feedback or recognition and praise for their work.