Could you be a victim of quiet firing?

I have been finding myself getting increasingly concerned recently at the number of individuals I am speaking to who are finding themselves put at risk with very little or no warning. This seems to be happening in different ways.

They may be finding parts of their roles suddenly being moved to another person or location with no real clarity or explanation as to why.

Out of the blue, they find themselves on the receiving end of very negative performance feedback that they don’t quite understand or seems to have no basis for.

Their line manager no longer engages in career advancement conversations and any discussions around role expansion, upward move or even lateral move are non existent and requests to have them ignored.

And these are not the only examples.

In their recent article ‘Are you being quiet fired?’ Harvard Business Review, authors Ayallo Ruvio and Forrest Morgeson talk about an undercurrent in firms who, in an effort to avoid the financial, psychological, and legal costs associated with laying off workers outright, are creating a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave early.

Whilst their article references companies like Meta and Tesla, as an Executive Coach whose clients come from predominantly financial services and consultancy firms, I can see this phenomenon happening in these industries too. Whilst I see slightly different signs than they have mentioned in their article, there are also many similarities to.

Some of the ‘quiet firing’ warning signs that they note are:

Changes related to work responsibilities:

  • Reassigning important job responsibilities to other employees
  • Demoting an employee, or changing their job description
  • Not assigning promising new opportunities
  • Setting up unreasonable performance targets
  • Giving an employee responsibilities that are undesirable or misaligned with their role
  • Preventing an employee from receiving a well-deserved promotion

Now whilst I don’t see examples of outright demotion, I am witnessing the reassignment of job responsibilities to other employees. This isn’t a wholesale programme of outsourcing or offshoring I would add, this is happening to specific individuals, and it is happening without warning or consultation.

What we are also seeing an increase in at Chryse Coaching is an increase in poor behaviour from line managers. Noticeable absences of career development conversations or any type of useful developmental performance feedback is on the rise. Employees are being told that they are not performing in line with expectations but this feedback lacks any kind of substantive evidence and comes within only a few months of positive feedback. The change unsurprisingly cannot seem to be accounted for.

With organisations leading wholesale change and cost reduction exercises more and more workforce reduction exercises are happening. These are shrouded in a lack of useful communication and key roles being put at risk with no clarity to employees who sit underneath those roles. More is being expected of individuals with less resources to go around.

So, what Can You Do If You’re Being Quietly Fired?

1.     Rationally diagnose the situation.

In their article Ruvio and Morgeson suggest that you seek to remove the emotion from the situation in the first instance and apply a logical thought process. They suggest asking yourself whether you really are being quietly fired. They suggest analysing whether there are objective circumstances that can explain the decisions your managers are making. They also recommend reviewing others situation as well as your own. Does this appear to be happening to just you or is it happening to a number of you? This type of situation can be highly charged so it’s important to make sure you have an accurate understanding of your situation before reacting.

2.     Document everything.

I always encourage my clients to document their wins, achievements and accomplishments as part of their savvy self promotion strategy but in the same way you must do this you also need to record any evidence that you have that you are not being treated fairly. Keep all emails, performance evaluations and any written feedback that hints at mistreatment. A lot of organisations and line managers are pretty astute in this situation so may not put anything in writing none the less, if you are on the receicing end of incidents or verbal feedback that you feel is unwarranted and unfair, log it as well. Make notes after the incident of when it was, what was said or done and time and date it.

3.     Knowledge is power.

Ruvio and Morgeson also suggest you ensure you’re up to date on what kinds of changes to your working conditions are or aren’t acceptable. Therefore, you must be acutely aware of your company’s rules and regulations. They confirm you should also be knowledgeable about the criteria for promotion and raises, as well as the conventions of your particular profession, especially when it comes to pay scales and compensation structures. They argue that this frame of reference can help you determine whether your experiences are typical for your company and industry, or you are in fact being quietly fired.

4.     Raise your concerns with your line manager

If you’re concerned about your situation, if you are able, approach your line manager and have an open and honest conversation about how you feel. Don’t make it personal. Don’t suggest that you are being victimised or you are being subjected to quiet firing, talk about what might have changed and get clarity on why. Be as specific as possible, and try to focus on tactical ways that you and your manager can make things better, rather than simply complaining.

5.     Seek alternative support if your line manager is unhelpful

Many firms will offer you a whistle-blower or confidential line that you can leverage. If you log a concern via this route, they are obligated to further investigate. Be very clear on what you are looking to get from this escalation. Additionally, sometimes consulting with a legal advisor or union representative (if you are covered by a union) can help you assess the severity of a situation and determine the best way to handle it.

6.     Protect your wellbeing

Being in situations like this can be incredibly stressful so prioritise your well-being and mental health. Get external support in the form or a therapist or counsellor if you need it but most certainly talk to friend, family and loved ones who can help get you through.

7.     Negotiate if you can

If it is clear to you that the company wants to push you out and you’ve decided it’s not worth staying, don’t just turn in your resignation. Ruvio and Morgeson suggest initiating a frank discussion with your supervisor indicating your belief that the company is looking to trim its workforce and sharing the terms under which you would agree to leave. For example, consider offering to leave voluntarily in exchange for six months of severance, a positive recommendation, job placement support, or whatever other benefits are important to you. You won’t necessarily get everything you ask for — but if your company wants you out and doesn’t want to fire you, that means you have leverage. So don’t leave money on the table when you walk out the door.