Quiet Quitting Versus Quiet Firing—Why You Should Address the Latter Instead

Quiet Quitting Versus Quiet Firing—Why You Should Address the Latter Instead


Maybe we’re going through a post-pandemic work culture shock, maybe the zennial and millennial dominated workforce has different expectations, or maybe, professionals are normalizing setting healthy boundaries at work. Either way, recently, “quiet quitting” went viral on a TikTok video by a popular zennial content creator:

“I recently learned about this term quiet quitting, where you’re not necessarily quitting your job, you’re just quitting going above and beyond. You’re performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-mentality culture that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.”

This rhetoric has caught fire in recent weeks, drawing criticism from some business leaders while resonating with younger professionals who want a life beyond work. Twitter and LinkedIn feeds have been exploding with the new term, but it’s important to see it from both sides to understand how to position your culture and employees for success.

In this blog we cover the reality behind quiet quitting and quiet firing—it’s so-called pairing—from the management side of work.

Quiet quitting isn’t actually new.

While the buzzword is still fresh off of TikTok and LinkedIn feeds, the act of quiet quitting isn’t new. There have always been employees who are known for doing the bare minimum—across employers and generations of workers. So, why is the not-so-new phenomenon of quiet quitting creating such an uproar from employers and employees alike?

Remember hustle culture?

First, we need a refresher on Hustle Culture. The work-hard-play-hard movement became status quo across the startup and corporate cultures in the early aughts as millennials first entered the workplace. Employers wanted to maximize new up-and-coming talent, their productivity, and working hours. It wasn’t uncommon for some companies to add coffee shops, gyms, ping pong tables, even napping areas and bars to office locations to keep employees comfortable working longer and later. “Hustlin’” went from being a term used to describe people from vulnerable communities, especially those of color, having to work multiple jobs just to break even to becoming a boast-worthy way of work life.

Large brands and startups alike learned that they could run lean operations by maximizing output from the existing workforce. And for more than a decade, most of us lived and breathed the hustle—all-nighters spent carrying last-minute projects across the finish line were considered a rite of passage for those climbing the corporate ladder. Corporate cues on employer brand pages and job descriptions alike glorified working hard and playing harder and “giving good hustle”.

And at the time, the focus on moving fast in business and putting an emphasis on ambition and drive sounded positive. Many employers embraced this approach into their brand, and workers were receptive—for a time. However, the reality of the rise-and-grind movement hit home as zennials and younger millennials entered the workforce with different values and even more so years later when professionals across all generations faced the fallout from COVID.

Post-Pandemic working cultures have changed forever.

2020 and the constantly changing “new normal”s put professionals across the globe in the most challenging time in modern history. While isolating and balancing childcare and education and other responsibilities at home, workers still had to power through at work even as millions lost family members and friends to the pandemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 16.9 million workers unemployed in the summer of 2020, 9.6 million (more than half) were out of work because their employers lost business or shut down altogether due to the pandemic.

Employees who had committed to the hustle and grind for years were losing jobs by no fault of their own. Meanwhile, others weren’t able to reconcile a lack of work-life balance with their growing list of parenting and caretaking responsibilities as the pandemic continued. The brutality of the pandemic, crushing lives and livelihoods brought a wave of trauma that many of us are still coping with today even as masking guidelines fade into recent memory.

Self-care, a regular topic for younger professionals reached the masses. Many of us were reflecting on what our lives meant and what we wanted out of them after seeing so many friends, colleagues, and family members lose theirs. Baby boomers began retiring in droves while other professionals broke out of impossibly expensive cities to work remotely in more spacious and affordable houses that accommodate work from home. This shift in mentality has resulted in a sansdemic, or prolonged shortage of talent to fill open positions that organizations are still facing today even amidst economic uncertainty and resulting layoffs. More workers are ready to set boundaries on what they will and won’t do for their jobs after watching the world respond in free fall to a pandemic. For many professionals returning to work in the office is non-negotiable.

Quiet firing is what employers should actually be concerned about instead.

While quiet firing is often described as the opposite of quiet quitting—there’s a lot less moral ambiguity there and a lot more at risk for your company’s reputation and culture. While quiet quitting is best summed up by professionals setting healthy boundaries and wanting a life outside of work, (both reasonable), quiet firing is the worst kind of toxic management. It’s also unfortunately nothing new.

Managers who are trying to push employees out or demoralize them into jumping ship use quiet firing as a tactic. Quiet firing ranges from not giving team members the feedback necessary to nurture their professional development to denying them raises to outright avoiding them and regular 1:1 meetings imperative to working relationships and outcomes. We’ve all had a bad manager at some point in our career, but quiet firing really highlights how these managers can criticize employees, stick them with the least desirable tasks, and avoid giving any type of recognition in hopes that they will find another job. This can range from subtle behaviors to noticeable ones including a manager openly speaking poorly about an employee in front of others to signal they are being targeted so peers will withdraw from that team member in an effort to stay on their toxic boss’s good side.

While there’s a debate going on around quiet quitting, we should all be in agreement that quiet firing is the worst kind of passive-aggressive approach to attempting to isolate and push out team members. And if there’s anything we’ve learned post-hustle era, it’s that your company culture matters. And it’s more than just empty talking points. Employers that knowingly support managers taking this “quiet firing” approach risk killing productivity, morale, and the culture leaders and associates throughout the organization have worked so hard to cultivate. Not to mention, even employees who aren’t the target of a passive-aggressive and toxic leader may be more likely to look elsewhere.

Just as you shouldn’t ghost on job candidates who are interested in a future with your organization, pulling a slow fade on team members through toxic and avoidant behaviors is grossly unprofessional and can contradict everything behind your brand values and culture. Now is the time to reinforce the importance of managers giving regular and helpful feedback and going through leadership training themselves so they understand what behaviors won’t be tolerated in your workplace.

Additionally, by incorporating work-life balance into your company values and giving employees extra well-being days or days off to volunteer for causes that matter most to them, you can communicate that your culture does not pressure professionals to define their worth solely on their output at work.

Have more questions? Staffing Strong has answers.

At Staffing Strong, we are constantly hearing directly from standout talent about what they’re looking for in a new employer and company culture. Our talent specialists help you discover what motivates job seekers and inspires existing employees. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Meet the Author

Evelyn Vega is the Founder and President at Staffing Strong and the Past President of the Phoenix American Marketing Association. Since 1999, she’s made her career about supporting her clients in building meaningful careers and partnering with businesses in finding quality hires. In her free time, Evelyn sits on various advisory boards and enjoys practicing on her drum set!

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