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The quiet quitters are getting quiet fired: The silent war playing out in offices

quiet-quitting
quiet-quitting

You’ve probably heard of quiet quitting, in which workers refuse to do much more than meet the expectations laid out in their job descriptions. That sounds reasonable enough to most employees — and many have argued the term simply means doing your job — but bosses haven’t been too pleased about it.

Managers are agonizing over what an office full of quiet quitters means for productivity, and for some that’s translated into taking on a portion of their employees’ workloads to make up the loss. Four out of 10 managers in Toronto say they’re putting in extra time and effort because staff under the age of 30 are doing less, according to a recent poll conducted by recruiter Robert Walters Canada.

The young professionals pulling back at work say it’s mostly because they aren’t paid enough. As high inflation and the rising cost of living take a bite out of paycheques, many employees assume their employers can and should make up the difference with a hefty raise. But that’s just a pipe dream. Most companies would find it impossible to match the rate of inflation, which came in at 6.9 per cent in September, with wage hikes.

As a result, we’re witnessing a silent war play out between employees and their managers, some of whom are fighting back in their own passive-aggressive way by “quiet firing” the quiet quitters.

Quiet firing subtly freezes out an employee by either avoiding one-on-one conversations, refusing to provide feedback, neglecting to share critical information needed to do a job, passing them over for a promotion or subjecting them to stingy raises — or no raise at all — while co-workers are awarded more.

 Quiet firing subtly freezes out an employee.
Quiet firing subtly freezes out an employee.

That may sound pretty extreme, but the practice appears to be more common than you’d think. Most workers say they’ve either experienced it or seen it play out in their workplace, says a recent poll by LinkedIn News. Meanwhile, one in three managers in the United States say they’ve actually gone the “quiet firing” route, according to a poll by Resumebuilder.com.

The effect can be demoralizing for an employee, which is exactly the point. “Eventually, you’ll either feel so incompetent, isolated and unappreciated that you’ll go find a new job, and they never have to deal with a development plan or offer severance,” says Bonnie Dilper, a recruiter for work software company Zapier Inc., in a LinkedIn post.

Even if quiet quitters aren’t on the quiet firing line, they are more likely to end up on the chopping block anyway. Three-quarters of managers think it’s OK to fire staffers who aren’t putting their all into their jobs, Resumebuilder.com’s poll says. Workers putting in the bare minimum might want to take that to heart if they plan on keeping their jobs through a recession and possible layoffs. “(Quiet quitting) will simply make it easier to determine whose head is going to roll,” warn employment lawyers Howard Levitt and Peter Carey.

This “quiet” war could be a direct consequence of working from home. Remote work seems to have broken something fundamental in the employee-employer relationship: good communication. A large swathe of the workforce appears to have forgotten how to speak to one another, and even approaching a co-worker for a quick conversation during in-office days has become frowned upon. There’s another buzzword for that: “desk bombing.” For some, getting unexpectedly greeted by a colleague has become as anxiety-ridden as having to talk to someone by phone.

Meanwhile, managers say remote and hybrid work has made it very easy for employees to fly under the radar, and working from home is a “breeding ground” for quiet quitters, according to Robert Walters Canada. But the recruiter says the solution is simple enough: bring people back into the office more often.

“If quiet quitters are benefiting from being ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ then employers should not hesitate to make more office face-time mandatory,” Martin Fox, managing director at Robert Walters Canada, says in a news release.

Employees continue to push back on being in the office more often, but the extra face-to-face communication time could help smooth out the expectations of both employers and employees as far as work effort goes. And then the quiet quitters won’t have to worry about being quiet fired.

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This story was first published in the FP Work newsletter, a curated look at the changing world of work. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.