Quiet Firing is Toxic Leadership

With a taste of a poisoned workplace, your team is quitting to get away from you. Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

What is quiet firing?

The phenomenon of "quiet quitting," where employees do the bare minimum required to complete responsible tasks, has been a topic of recent discussion. Millennials and GenZ have spearheaded the shift in workers' attitudes, moving us towards a system that supports a work-life balance and clear boundaries over the grind culture.

But while employees are reclaiming their agency, some leaders have responded poorly to this new mindset by cultivating a toxic environment and practicing workplace bullying. And since employees no longer tolerate this behavior, they have little choice but to leave the organization - a term referred to as “quiet firing.”

Why does quiet firing happen?

Quiet firing is a byproduct of employee disengagement. It’s caused by various voids in the workplace, including a lack of purpose, praise, recognition, career advancement, open conversations, and effective leadership.

According to a Gallup study, employees need more than a “warm-fuzzy feeling and a good paycheck” to stay engaged in their position and achieve more for the company. Individuals want to connect purpose and meaning to everyday tasks and understand how they contribute to larger organizational goals. The person who drives this process is the manager. People want relationships at work, particularly with a manager who can acknowledge their value to the team and coach them to the next level. To succeed at that responsibility, managers need to facilitate regular check-ins and conversations with employees.

This skill may not come naturally to all, as many managers fail to have meaningful discussions with team members. This prompts the cycle for quiet firing - employees feel undervalued, leading them to do the bare minimum at work. A manager notices these actions, or lack thereof, and acts negatively toward the employee. The result is the individual leaving to pursue a different opportunity.

Why does quiet firing hurt organizations?

At first thought, quiet firing seems to benefit a company - when someone leaves voluntarily, the ex-employee typically isn’t entitled to unemployment compensation or a severance package. However, the consequences greatly outweigh the “benefit.” The toxic environment created by the employee-manager relationship will be evident to the rest of the team. Tensions will increase as respect is lost, resulting in a deteriorating workplace culture. No one wants to work for a bad employer or in a toxic company culture.

The telltale signs of quiet firing

When an employee demonstrates low engagement, it can be difficult to approach the situation with compassion and communication. And sometimes, you may unintentionally display symptoms of quiet firing. You’re human! These are the signs that employees watch out for when they’re considering leaving their positions:

  • Overworked or underworked
  • Unfair treatment or singling out
  • Avoidance
  • Disregarded ideas
  • Pushback on promises
  • No feedback from managers
  • Lack of support from management
  • Exclusion from the team
  • Stalled promotion or advancement
  • Denied raises
  • Mundane work
  • Increased bureaucracy
  • Halting new tasks and projects

What should leaders do instead of quiet firing?

The short answer: Talk to your team

It’s easy to be passive-aggressive when a worker is checked out, but that won’t help the situation get any better. Rather, start with a conversation to gauge the individual's problem - there might be something wrong that’s easily reversible. These questions could be a starting point for discussion:

  • How have you been feeling recently?
  • How do you feel about… changes, culture, the team, project X?
  • Is there anything you need some extra assistance on?
  • What would change your experience here for the better? How can I support that?
  • What were you most excited about when you first joined the team, and what has changed since then?

Something isn’t running properly for either the employee or the employer. To make this discussion productive for both parties, the employee should communicate what needs to change for them to feel more engaged and appreciated. Remember that this is different for every person, and rather than treating everyone the same, treat people the way they want to be treated!

For the manager, work together to set a goal that is engaging and motivating. Agree on metrics for success in which performance will be measured and then tie it to the projects the employee is working on. In doing so, both sides clearly communicate expectations, which is the first step to resolving any issue.

The future of work demands good leadership.

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How to prevent quiet firing in the first place

The best way to solve problems around quiet firing is to implement leadership tactics that foster a strong relationship built on trust and mutual respect. It means showing interest in your team to inspire an infectiously positive and inclusive culture. Here are some ways to start:

Open communication - Create a system of check-ins and feedback processes that allow everyone to voice their concerns in a safe space. Make sure your team feels comfortable coming to you when they need something, good or bad.

Reinforce a sense of purpose - Purpose is essential because it drives actions and impacts how we feel in the workplace. The more employees feel like their work has meaning, the more it positively impacts their attitudes and work performance. One way to accomplish this is by regularly discussing performance objectives and goals in 1:1 meetings or check-ins. It will help managers keep a pulse on how everyone is doing, which mitigates problems and identifies growth opportunities.

Review pay structure and promotion - When was the last time your employees received a pay raise or another form of financial compensation? In many cases, a periodical increased salary can help foster company loyalty and contentment. Look at open positions and promotion history to see where employees can grow within the organization. It shows that they are valuable assets to the company, and their contributions don’t go unnoticed.

In all, improving your company culture is the best way to prevent the cycle that brings about quiet firing. Communicate with your team to see what opportunities you can offer to help bring their values back into their work.

People don’t leave their job, they leave their boss

Managers typically quiet fire when they’re not trained to have tough conversations on performance, feedback, and expectations. If an employee isn’t performing as expected, instead of coaching them, finding solutions, and communicating the consequences of poor performance, bad managers respond with passive-aggressive attitudes. This makes employees more prone to quiet firing.

Engagement stems from employees feeling supported, heard, and respected by their leaders. It also includes open communication and compassionate feedback that holds people accountable for doing their jobs well. When these criteria are met, workplace culture shifts and organizations don’t have to fear quiet quitting or quiet firing, leading to sustainable success.

Content Writer
From California, Lillie is passionate about personal development and the Future of Work. She enjoys writing about New Work concepts, leadership solutions, and productivity hacks, all with a sprinkle of quirky humor.