One day you’re going about your job per usual, and the next, you learn that your boss left you out of an important meeting or e-mail chain. Maybe it was just an oversight, but maybe not. You could be the target of “quiet firing,” the new name for an old problem that has been part of the corporate culture for decades. Otherwise known as “constructive dismissal,” it refers to the practice of creating a workplace environment that becomes so intolerable to an employee that they choose to leave. It happened to one San Antonio woman who prefers to remain anonymous. Although she says she had never received any negative feedback on her job performance, she suddenly found herself “on the outside.”
“My boss began treating me differently, leaving me out of situations where I would normally be included,” she says, adding that the treatment began to take a toll on her mental health. “I felt gaslighted because I began to doubt my performance even though I had no reason to.”
Even after she quit, no explanation was offered for the perceived decrease in responsibilities.
“It was common knowledge that our company was struggling to stay afloat, so I can only assume this was a way to save money,” she says.
She may be right. In today’s tight economy, companies are looking for ways to save a buck anywhere they can. That includes things like having to pay unemployment, severance, or potential legal fees when an employee is terminated, especially if that employee is a “problem.”
A manager of a small Texas boutique, who also prefers to remain anonymous, said the company’s owner recently instructed her to reduce a problematic employee’s hours and give her menial tasks in the hopes that she “would decide to leave.”
“Yes, the employee wasn’t performing as well as she could, but this approach just didn’t feel right to me,” she said confidentially. “It felt like ‘mean girl’ behavior or bullying.”
As mentioned above, the bottom line is often the bottom line, but it may not be the only reason. Taking the quiet firing approach can also stem from fear of confrontation or poor communication skills, especially if there is concern about how an employee might respond to constructive criticism or negative feedback. Rather than have a difficult conversation about job performance or spend time and energy creating a strategy to help an employee improve, many managers will take what they see as the “easy way out” to avoid the situation altogether. To some, it may seem kinder than outright termination, but that line of thinking can backfire as this passive-aggressive approach can destroy trust and respect and may eventually erode a company’s entire culture.
Chances are most of us have been subjected to toxic work environments, demanding bosses, and shady coworkers at some point in our careers, and we wrote it off as just part of the nine-to-five grind. But what if it wasn’t? A LinkedIn News Poll reported that a whopping 48% of people have witnessed quiet firing in the workplace, while 35% said they’ve faced it firsthand. But how can you know for certain? A comprehensive look at this trend on Teambuilding.com provides several telltale signs you may be getting the silent boot. Some of the most obvious include:
Other less blatant tactics might include:
They don’t call it “quiet firing” for nothing. It can be a difficult thing to prove. To complicate matters, it isn’t illegal to justly fire an employee. However, it is illegal to bully, harass, and discriminate against an employee, behaviors that may consciously or unconsciously be part of a quiet firing process. If that’s the case, there are a few things you can do to address it.
The first step would be to directly communicate with your boss or manager about your concerns and whether you have room for continued growth within the organization. If your superior is unresponsive to your requests, you may need to bring your concerns to HR. Make sure you have documented your observations, requests, and responses, along with any past promotions, raises, reviews, and other relevant information. Having a file of your successes, as well as your attempts at problem-solving, will help give your complaint some weight.
In smaller organizations, it can be harder to find the help that you need. An article in Time says that experts recommend exploring outside resources, including an ombudsman or employees willing to advocate on your behalf.
Even if you do all of the above, there is still no guarantee that the situation will improve. In fact, many employees don’t speak up for fear of making a bad situation worse. Eventually, you may have to ask yourself the hard questions, starting with whether you are giving 100 percent on the job. If you can honestly say yes, then the bigger question becomes whether you want to work for a company that sees quiet firing as a reasonable problem-solving tactic.
Quitting your job is not a decision to take lightly, and there are multiple factors to consider, especially if you have been with your employer for a long time. But at the end of the day, nothing is worth staying in a toxic environment and sacrificing your mental health, well-being, or self-esteem. If you decide to dust off your resume and start honing your interview skills, here are a few tips that can help.