October 13, 2022

Quiet quitting and quiet firing: How improving hybrid workplace culture can help resolve both

As more organisations transition to hybrid work, many are facing new workplace challenges – like quiet quitting and quiet firing. Author and futurist Alexandra Levit offers three strategies for overcoming these challenges by focusing on culture.

“Quiet quitting” and “quiet firing” are the latest buzzwords to take the world of work by storm. But while the terms themselves may be new, the concepts aren’t. And they illustrate a troubling trend taking place in the post-pandemic workplace.

Quiet quitting refers to employees who show up to work and seemingly do the bare minimum to meet expectations. Quiet firing happens when employers actively seek to make work conditions less favorable by taking away attention, resources, or opportunities from employees with the hope that they’ll resign.

Both quiet quitting and quiet firing are passive aggressive moves born out of uncertainty. Quiet quitters don’t want to pull the trigger because they may be afraid of what awaits them on the other side of unemployment in a volatile economic and social climate. And at a time when employee well-being and retention are front and center, quiet firers may be concerned about outright firing an employee.

The sudden shift to remote work that took place during the pandemic resulted in a loss of culture for many organisations, and unfortunately, that culture is not likely to spring right back into place for companies transitioning their employees to hybrid work.

Using in-office time as an opportunity to create an environment of camaraderie and psychological safety can go a long way toward mitigating both quiet quitting and quiet firing. Here are three specific strategies:

Facilitate face-to-face interactions

Quiet quitting and quiet firing are more difficult to pull off when you have formed genuine, authentic connections with your managers, reports, and colleagues. Managers should lead by example and show up. Some examples might include hanging out in the cafeteria or breakroom and hosting events. Where possible, hold performance discussions and regular one-on-one check-ins in person, and make use of casual lounges to support engagement and spontaneous meetings.

And this might go without saying, but if you’re asking people to be in the office a few days a week, don’t have them sit in an empty room by themselves. If an employee’s team isn’t there and they’re at their workstation all day devoid of human interaction, they might as well have stayed home. This is a surefire recipe for quiet quitting.

Avoid proximity bias

According to a recent Prezi study, 66% of hybrid workers feel that workplaces favor employees who are together in a physical office. To combat this so-called proximity bias, which could lead to inequities that drive both quiet quitting and quiet firing, level the playing field in how you structure your video meetings. For instance, everyone should join from their own computer to avoid spotlighting remote employees who aren’t in the office.

Co-create new norms

Quiet quitting and quiet firing may happen because managers and employees are afraid to speak up about their needs. For example, maybe you’re a caregiver and the long commute associated with returning to the office has been especially punishing for you, so you quiet quit. On the other hand, if you’re that caregiver’s manager, you may not want to overload your employee, but feel you have unmovable performance expectations, so you quiet fire.

By surveying employees to find out what policies work for them and working collaboratively to establish new norms for performance and productivity, you can build a culture that’s naturally more supportive of different concerns and points of view.

The bottom line? If you use your return-to-the-office efforts as a chance to learn about your employees directly and holistically, you will experience less “under-one’s-breath” phenomena such as quiet quitting and quiet firing.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit is an author, consultant, speaker, and workplace expert. She has written several career advice books, and was formerly a nationally syndicated career columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Alexandra is currently a partner at organizational development firm PeopleResults.

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