Quiet firing or quiet quitting – what comes first?

5 October 2022

Puzzle pieces with employer and employee symbols on them

“Quiet firing”

This is an actual thing now with another actual, click baity name.

First “Quiet Quitting” now “quiet firing” or if you prefer something a little more alliterative,
“silent sacking.”


For shame.

What’s going on?

Let’s get into it, then.


What actually is it?

Is it anything new?

Quiet firing is the behaviour of bosses deliberately side-lining someone, not involving them in the important stuff and generally making their daily working life quite uninspiring, dull and disempowering so that that person chooses to quit.

Sounds lovely.

“Quiet firing is a rebranding (rebranding? I’m not sure something like this really warrants a brand but go on) of a concept that’s been around for a while,” says Annie Rosencrans, director of people and culture at HiBob. “It’s when managers have lost faith in the ability of their team members to do their jobs. Rather than giving them direct feedback or opportunities to develop new skills, they hope the person will self-select out.”

Quiet firing can also describe managers who treat employees so badly to the point that they quit, adds Dr. Ella F. Washington, organisational psychologist and CEO of Ellavate Solutions. “It’s employers disenfranchising employees in implicit ways,” she says.

Well that’s pretty unpleasant behaviour – however you look at it. Irrespective of some of the short term financial savings from not having to actually fire someone or the avoidance of a potentially tricky conversation about poor performance, it’s morally unacceptable and unquestionably detrimental to the long term culture of a business.


And quiet quitting…

It may well explain away the simultaneous trend of “quiet quitting.”

“I don’t want you to be here, but I’m not going to tell you that.”

“Well I don’t want to be here, but I’m not going to tell you that. And I’m not going to leave either. I’m just going to sort of carry on and go through the motions.”

Like, let’s step back from the business context and I’ll step back from my desire to contribute something telling to an already saturated conversation – is that a nice or a not nice way to behave?

I think we’d unanimously say that it’s not nice.

Is it a productive, win-win, adult way to behave?

No. I’d say it’s pretty lose-lose.

It also seems like a lot of work over a long period of time all to avoid just talking to each other.

When does all the actual work get done?

Would you like to be on the end of any of this behaviour?
Challenging question: Do you exhibit any of this behaviour? Maybe it’s not intentional or malicious. Maybe it’s not as severe. Perhaps it’s just some gateway behaviours to this “quiet firing” extreme that are less than kind.

But it’s worth looking into.


See, it’s unkind but it’s also very human.

Far from taking the moral high-ground – I get it. I’m in the mud with you. And it might not even be you – certainly not making any assumptions about anyone reading.

I practise some form of these “avoiding” behaviours every day – even though it’s not linked to getting anyone to quit – I promise! – the drivers behind the behaviours I do practice are similar. And if not arrested early, and if they stay unconscious, they can become more and more harmful.

This table, produced by Amy Edmondson, explains really effectively the simple psychology behind not having the productive, adult to adult conversation.

By not saying anything, it’s just too immediately beneficial, on a very selfish level.

Look at the practice of “ghosting” in the dating world.

As the recipient, it’s horrible. No-one likes being on the end of this.

But If you’ve ever “ghosted,” or in any context, been less than direct and upfront with someone it doesn’t make you a monster.

Usually it stems from a desire not to hurt the other person’s feelings as well as a strong desire to avoid the discomfort altogether. But in the process you inflict something much worse.

“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind” Brene Brown.

Steve Jobs’ management style may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly not holding him up as the ultimate reference, but right here he makes an excellent point about giving feedback:

“The most important thing I think you can do for somebody who’s really good and who’s really being counted on is to point out to them when they’re not – when they’re work isn’t good enough. And to do it very clearly and to articulate why…and to get them back on track.”

When put so simply, wouldn’t we all want this? What’s important is that the feedback is direct, specific and given with the intention to help the person improve.

When this isn’t done right away and all of the time, that person goes on doing what they’re doing oblivious to how you feel about their work. We all have blind spots.

It’s a leaders’ role to give this guidance. All of the time.

It’s just not ok to leave it.

This trend of “quiet firing” and the gateway “avoiding” behaviours that lead to it need to be arrested.


Well they started it.

According to research carried out by ResumeBuilder.com 1 in 3 managers admit to “quiet firing.”

75% of managers say it’s justifiable to fire someone only doing the bare minimum.

But what comes first? The “quiet quitting” or the “quiet firing?”

I’m already fed up with using the terms!

It seems clear that the prescription for this cultural problem is everybody taking more ownership for what they can.

And as this is addressed to leaders, can you honestly say that you do all that you can to give clear and direct feedback to your teams? – those that are performing and those that aren’t.

If the answer to that is no, or “could do better” here’s some simple guidance on that front:


Our guidance on guidance for leaders.

When it comes to giving feedback to your team and colleagues, follow these habits and mindset tips and you won’t go far wrong.

1) It’s a good thing

Change the way you frame feedback. It’s an opportunity for growth – bear that in mind in both giving and receiving feedback.

2) Say it when you see it

If it’s important, don’t hold on to it for too long. Find the right opportunity as soon as possible to share the feedback in private.

3) Be clear

Be specific and clear in the way you deliver feedback. Remember, the objective is for the other person to grow and improve as a result.

4) Give specific praise

Be just as specific about the praise you give, and as above, say it when you see it. Praise and feedback is all about guidance and support.

5) Don’t make it personal

Make sure that any feedback is about behaviour or work, and not about the personality. This keeps it objective and productive.

6) Bring it on

Invite feedback yourself, as this ensures it’s a two-way street. It builds trust in your intentions, and provides a huge opportunity to grow.

7) Do all of the above, all of the time

Don’t wait for stuffy, formal feedback sessions, or worse, when you’re at your wits’ end with that person. It won’t work.



As leaders, we need to be even more demanding of ourselves first.

It’s tough and this clarity of communication requires constant attention. It’s a daily habit.

If we think we’re doing enough, we’re probably not.

But if we really know that we’ve done everything within our power, providing crystal clear expectations and guidance along the way without response from employees, we have to avoid the temptation of those evasive, “quiet firing” behaviours at all costs.

It could be that we have to endure the short term pain of an actual firing. It’s never a savoury subject as, fundamentally, most of us are quite nice and don’t like inflicting pain on people. But “Quiet firing” just isn’t ok and will inflict more pain on more people in the long run.

If we don’t take the lead in this clear, direct and constant communication, the trends of quiet quitting and quiet firing, with no-one really saying what they mean, will kill our cultures.

So yeah, just speak up – with honesty, kindness and clear intention. And do it all of the time.

By Chris Wickenden, 04.10..22

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