In 2022, three distinct employment trends made headlines, gaining attention quickly and prompting various levels of panic for organizational leaders: quiet quitting, quiet firing, and quiet hiring. None of these so-called quiet trends are actually new behaviors in the workplace, nor have they necessarily become more pervasive. Rather, between clickbait headlines and social media wildfire, they’ve simply become more visible than ever. And now that leaders are paying attention, they can take action.
Three ‘Quiet’ Trends
The “quiet quitting” trend emerged in April 2022 and the New York Post defined it as “essentially a rejection of the idea that work has to take over your life and that you, as an employee, should be going above and beyond in your role.” It’s no wonder, with all the reassessment that went on amid the pandemic. Employees really had ample time to think about their job satisfaction and how they were doing their jobs.
In November 2022, the term “quiet firing” emerged and Gallup described how managers fail to adequately provide coaching, support, and career development to an employee, which results in pushing the employee out of the organization. Unfortunately, Harvard Business Review notes that some organizations are using it as a workforce reduction tactic to “weed -out” those not deemed high-performers. But quiet firing creates a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave voluntarily, thus avoiding the financial, psychological, and legal costs associated with forcing people out — but not necessarily avoiding the negative hit to your employer brand.
At the end of December, Gartner quietly identified “quiet hiring” as one of the nine workplace trends for 2023. And by the turn of the new year, nearly every major news outlet weighed in on the team members. In a nutshell, quiet hiring is an organization's way to obtain new talent without hiring new talent. Emily Rose McRae, who leads the Future of Work research team in the Gartner HR Practice, says quiet hiring is NOT giving more work to existing employees (whew!). Rather it’s the effort to acquire new skills and capabilities without acquiring new people. McRae’s summation: “ you have a finite amount of talent in your organization, and you need to make a call about where it's going to have the best impact." This can mean retraining people for roles in different departments or providing cross-functional training while reorganizing the distribution of work.
Trends often come in threes but there is a clear distinction between these ‘quiet’ activities. Quiet quitting and quiet firing are both symptoms of and contributors to a toxic workplace culture, with a lack of communication on all sides. “Quiet hiring” is different because, in order to be effective, it relies on actively communicating with employees about organizational priorities — a sign of a strong culture — and temporarily moves employees to areas that serve those priorities, (versus just loading employees with more work) instead of hiring more people.
Understanding how each of these ‘quiet’ trends can make a loud impact on your organization is an important first step. For leadership teams who want to proactively influence workplace culture, the employee experience, and business outcomes, there is more work to do. Here are our suggestions for addressing each of these quiet employment trends.
How to Prevent Quiet Quitting
Quiet quitting can be a symptom of low employee engagement and that’s something employers can proactively work to improve. Here are three steps to get started.
Assess your culture. A cultural assessment is the first step to repairing whatever gaps or challenges exist in your culture. Our Connects platform provides employee feedback tools right within the employee engagement platform, including Employee Voice (which collects employee feedback daily, 24/7, anonymously) and a Cultural Assessment Survey (which establishes the cultural landscape within your organization).
Address top concerns. You can’t boil the ocean so start with the top themes revealed in your cultural assessment or the challenges that you see recurring in Employee Voice comments.
Communicate clearly. Make sure that, when you communicate the steps you will take to address the top concerns, you are consistent and authentic. Be clear about how these steps align with your goals and vision, and create mechanisms for feedback. Great communication creates an emotional connection and builds trust, key to boosting engagement and reducing quiet quitting.
How to Avoid Quiet Firing
In many cases, quiet firing is an indication that managers need more support, like training or resources, to handle employees who are not a fit for their role.
Upskilling/reskilling your people. Training opportunities give underperformers a way to improve their skills. Most employees WANT to do better; they just need the right support and resources to succeed.
Start or expand your mentoring program. Encourage employees who are underperforming to engage with a mentor to guide their career choices. You’ve invested in their future by onboarding them, so give them a chance to improve their performance.
Reward positive behavior. What gets rewarded, gets repeated. Develop a spot employee recognition program that calls out when employees exhibit desired behaviors. It makes the recipient feel good, and is aspirational to others, to do good and get the same reward.
How to Approach Quiet Hiring
Quiet hiring makes a lot of sense right now, as unemployment rates drop to the lowest point since 1969 and talent scarcities continue to make it challenging to hire new people.
Reinforce purpose. Shifting around employees can create feelings of instability and uncertainty. Be sure to let employees know how their contributions are contributing to business success. (And if, during this shift, you discover that an employee likes their new role better than their previous one, do your best to accommodate!)
Lead with transparency. The key to making quiet hiring successful is communication. Organizational leaders must clearly tell employees what is happening and what is expected of them during this time.
Recognize accomplishments and contributions. Be sure to acknowledge all the new skills and capabilities these shifting employees are taking on. Two of the most powerful words anyone can say are “Thank you.”
What’s the Next Quiet Trend?
The next ‘quiet’ something may be right around the corner. But our hope is that we can move away from these pithy names for normal human behaviors and invest our time and energy in seeing (and treating) people as whole human beings, with thoughts, feelings, preferences, and priorities.
When it comes to employee engagement, nothing should be done quietly, as that implies that we’re hiding something, or it’s not for consumption by all. When employees are highly engaged — and everyone participates — work culture and productivity improve, and everyone benefits from that!