Quiet Firing – A bigger problem than Quiet Quitting 

By Dr. Sandra Miles 

Over the past few months, the topic of Quiet Quitting has become a topic of conversation at the dinner table, on social media, and even on mainstream media. However, the much more toxic, less ethical, and widely accepted practice of Quiet Firing continues to go largely unnoticed.  

What is Quiet Firing? 

Quiet Firing occurs when a supervisor, HR, or other person with authority engages in slowly and methodically making an employee so unhappy that they decide to leave of their own accord. It could come in the form of persistent gaslighting, denial of raises and/or opportunities, being strategically left out of decisions that are within your purview, being asked to make decisions that are outside of your purview, etc.  

According to articles published by the Harvard Business Review and CNBC, specific warning signs to look for if you believe you may be experiencing Quiet Firing are (unfortunately this is not an exhaustive list): 

  1. Your manager avoids engaging with you by “ghosting” or repeatedly cancelling meetings. 
  2. Your ideas are disregarded. 
  3. You are left out of meetings, events, and/or social gatherings. 
  4. Changing work hours/increasing workload to unmanageable levels. 
  5. Evaluating an employee unfairly or more harshly than their work product indicates is reasonable (Bonus points if your evaluation was put in your HR file without your knowledge). 

There are also times when you might be intentionally given things you do not want in an attempt to make you seem unreasonable. For example, you may ask for an executive coach, but rather than being allowed to identify your own coach, you are assigned someone who routinely meets with your supervisor before and after your coaching sessions.  

CNBC reported that a staggering 83% of workers have either seen or experienced Quiet Firing at some point in their career. Interestingly, in addition to reporting feelings of burnout, another very natural response to Quiet Firing is… “Quiet Quitting. 

Although Quiet Quitting may seem revolutionary or empowering for some, Bloomberg recently reported that women and people of color are rarely in a position to Quiet Quit without being demoted or legitimately fired fairly soon after. Further, in Deloitte’s 2022 Women at Work Survey, women of color were the most likely to report feeling burnt out, but the least likely to disclose their mental health concerns at work. 

What Can You Do If You Believe You Are Being Quiet Fired? 

First, be honest with yourself. Being demoted or denied opportunities because you have not been doing your job well is not the same thing as being targeted because your employer doesn’t like the way you do your job.  

Second, if you are confident, you have performed your job well, then remember that you’ve done nothing wrong. An employer engaging in this type of behavior is sharing much more about themselves and their integrity than you and yours. To the extent that you feel comfortable, Forbes recommends advocating for yourself by calling for a meeting with your manager and HR to express how you are feeling. This meeting might help to inform your next steps. If that doesn’t seem feasible to you, then do whatever you can to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health as you weigh all your available options – both within and external to your organization.  

Finally, if you are currently engaging in or experiencing Quiet Firing please note that, despite widespread participation all over the world, this practice is illegal in the United States. The U.S. Department of Labor refers to it as “constructive discharge” and it is an outgrowth of antidiscrimination laws. Levels of proof required vary by state, but if you can prove it, you could be eligible for unemployment (because you were essentially fired) in addition to any other legal action you may choose to pursue. 

If you are a manager reading this and are realizing that you may be engaging in Quiet Firing, I recommend attending the upcoming Academic Impressions Inclusive Leadership Conference titled, “DEI as a Leadership Construct: Inclusive Leadership Strategies for Higher Education.”  This event will challenge you to find ways to connect with your team meaningfully, rather than succumb to the pitfall of “not a good fit.”

Dr. Sandra Miles
Head of Practice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Sandra joined Academic Impressions in 2022 having served as a leader and administrator in higher education for two decades. She has served as a subject-matter expert for Academic Impressions, facilitating trainings and workshops in higher-ed. Her passion is making DEI concepts resonate for individuals from all walks of life. Read her press release here.