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Quiet quitting vs quiet firing

by Dr Tina Gama-Kotzé
While much attention has been given to the phenomenon of ‘quiet quitting’, where employees disengage and do the minimum required, quiet firing, the flipside to this phenomenon, is becoming an increasing concern that delves into the organisational side of the coin. Understanding and combatting both quiet quitting and quiet firing are crucial for building a resilient, ethical, productive and thriving workplace.

Quiet firing (also known as ‘silent dismissal’ or ‘constructive firing’) can be described as a practice where organisations, knowingly or unknowingly, try to make workplace conditions worse for employees by either isolating or excluding employees; withdrawing support, opportunities, and incentives for their employees; increasing the employee's workload unreasonably or setting unreasonable expectations. In some cases, employers even start looking for a replacement long before the employee may realise that their job is in danger. To my mind, quiet firing can either be a response to employees who ‘quietly quit’ or it can be viewed as the cause of quiet quitting.

This gradual disinvestment can lead to a significant decline in morale, motivation and overall job satisfaction among the workforce. Either way, both sides of the coin lead to decreased productivity and long-term negative effects for both employees, the teams and the organisation as a while. To my mind, quiet firing not only reflects signs of poor leadership and management but also raises ethical concerns.

The employer-employee is a trust relationship based on a mutual agreement (employment contract) that regulates the rights and obligations of the parties. Employees have rights such as being treated with respect and dignity and to work in a safe working environment based on fair labour practices and appropriate workplace procedures, to name a few. Conversely, the employer is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe working environment and ensuring and upholding fair conditions of employment as agreed. Given the nature of the employer-employee trust relationship, the ethical dilemma lies in the organisation’s failure to not only provide a safe working environment based on fair conditions but also its avoidance and failure to take responsibility for their employees or deal with the termination of their employees following the proper workplace procedures. To this effect, employees left in the care of their employers are placed in a vulnerable position which may be construed as an unsafe working environment and unfair working conditions, which may cause physical, emotional, mental, and financial harm.

Similar to quiet quitting, several factors contribute to the occurrence of quiet firing, such as lack of communication between employees and management, and the absence of opportunities for professional growth and development. For example, when employees are not included in discussions or feel that their voices are not heard or that their contributions are undervalued, they may experience a sense of neglect. Insufficient recognition and acknowledgement by management can equally lead to feelings of unappreciation which in turn, fosters an environment conducive to quiet firing. Another example is where employees perceive a stagnant career path with limited changes for advancement within the organisation, which may cause them to disengage from their roles gradually. Additionally, a lack of challenging assignments, training programmes, or clear pathways for career progression can cause stagnation, prompting talented individuals to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Organisations can adopt several proactive strategies to combat quiet firing and foster employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention of talent. Organisations can consider the following approaches to ensure a safe working environment and fair treatment of their employees conducive to combatting both to quiet firing and quiet quitting:

Communication is key: Management, leading by example, should encourage open and transparent communication. This requires regular, scheduled check-ins, constructive feedback sessions and team meetings to provide a platform for employees to express their concerns, share their ideas and feel connected to the organisation’s goals.

Performance feedback and goal alignment: Coupled with effective communication, providing employees with regulated constructive feedback and ensuring that employees understand how their individual contributions align with the overall goals of the organisation greatly assists employees in understating their value and the value of their work. This ultimately fosters a sense or purpose and belonging in the organisation.

Recognition and appreciation: While it is often easy to highlight mistakes and provide (constructive) criticism, recognition of successes are often overlooked. The organisation should implement robust recognition programmes that acknowledge and appreciate employees for their contributions. For example, depending on the leadership and management style, simple gestures such as shout-outs in team meetings, or personalised notes of appreciation can go a long way in boosting morale.

Professional development opportunities: The organisation should ensure that there are avenues for continuous learning and development. Offering training programmes, mentorship opportunities and clear career paths can motivate employees to stay and invest their time and energy in their professional growth within the organisation. Moreover, and importantly, it is not enough to have policies and programmes in place for professional development – it is also the responsibility of management to be transparent by making employees aware of these opportunities through effective communication and advertisement.

Flexibility and work-life balance: Providing employees with a measure of autonomy by recognising the importance of work-life balance and providing flexible working arrangement where possible, not only enhances job satisfaction but also helps prevent burnout which ultimately contributes to sustained employee engagement.

Well-being initiatives: Employee well-being should be prioritised by providing and implementing wellness programmes and initiatives, including mental health resources, fitness programmes, or other initiatives that promote a healthy work-life balance.

Fostering a positive and engaging workplace culture not only improves employee satisfaction but also contributes to increased productivity, innovation, and overall organisational success. Organisations that prioritise employee satisfaction, safety, fair treatment, well-being, communication, and growth opportunities are better positioned to retain their talent and create a positive work environment that benefits both individuals, teams, and the organisation as a whole.

Dr Tina Gama-Kotzé is the Research and Didactic Lead in Law & Ethics at Boston City Campus. She is a Y2-rated researcher and has experience in face-to-face and online higher education. She holds a BA (Law), LLB, LLM (cum laude) and LLD from Stellenbosch University. Her own scholarship focusses on the interplay between property rights, environmental law and energy law in the constitutional dispensation.

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Boston City Campus
With 47 support centres nationwide, Boston City Campus offers postgraduate qualifications, degrees, diplomas, higher certificates, occupational courses and short learning programmes.
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