Quiet Firing: are employers poorly managing employees to force them to quit?
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‘Quiet firing’ is described as a ‘form of neglect that slowly pushes employees out of their job’. (Gallup) As reported by HR Review in November 2022, a recent survey by law firm, Irwin Mitchell, has found that 90 percent of people do not know what quiet firing is. In essence, it has been compared to gas-lighting behaviour by making employees feel that they are no longer wanted, in an attempt to push them out of the business. This being a way to avoid dismissing staff – which would have legal risks.
‘Quiet firing’ is often associated with the following management actions which can include:
- withholding training and development;
- lack of support, recognition and constructive feedback;
- being passed over for promotion;
- given undesirable or lower level tasks;
- being picked on or excluded in team meetings;
- managers repeatedly cancelling meetings or one-to-ones;
- ideas and opinions are dismissed; and
- generally creating a hostile or unpleasant work environment.
The consequences of these management actions are likely to make an employee feel so despondent and side-lined in their role that they feel they have no other option but to leave their job. In some cases, employees would leave without the security of a new job, simply to get away from such situations.
Women more likely to be the victims of ‘quiet firing’
According to Irwin Mitchell’s survey, ‘23% of women in work have been actively ignored by their manager, whilst 25 percent of women have been in roles where they have not received feedback’. The survey also reported that ‘23 percent of women in the workplace have purposely had information withheld from them making them want to leave their roles’. Significantly, this means information in connection to their ‘roles being changed without proper explanation or consultation, creating an unnerving and uncertain working environment’ for them. This, alongside being excluded, looked over or ignored’ has, the survey reports, forced more women to leave their jobs.
Notably, the 2022 Women in the Workplace Report highlighted that female leaders are leaving their jobs at higher rates. One of the reasons being that women leaders are ‘over worked and under-recognised’. The report also underlined that black women leaders are more likely than women leaders of other races or ethnicities to leave their jobs as a result of ‘quiet signals’ that it will be ‘harder for them to advance’.
How ‘quiet firing’ can impact the business
It goes without saying that management behaviours that amount to ‘quiet firing’ are not effective leadership qualities and are not conducive to achieving a satisfied workforce and ultimately a successful business.
- ‘Quiet firing’ can tarnish the organisation’s reputation ‘as a good place to work’ – and ‘poisons team trust’. (Gallup). Furthermore, when the rest of the team observe colleagues give up on their work due to poor management and/or managers giving up on team members, they too start to feel discouraged and dispirited with their business leadership. As a consequence, there will be an obvious impact on morale and productivity. Sickness levels are likely to increase too.
- Employers should be mindful of the potential legal claims that can arise when ‘quiet firing’ tactics are used to try and force employees to leave their jobs. ‘Quiet firing’ behaviour can form grounds for claims of constructive unfair dismissal if the behaviour breaches the implied term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship and the employee has more than two years of service.
- An employee could also have a claim for harassment or other discrimination claims if their manager’s behaviour relates to a protected characteristic. As a reminder, under the Equality Act 2010, protected characteristics include: Age; Race; Disability; Sex; Sexual Orientation; Religion or belief; Gender Reassignment; Pregnancy and Maternity; and Marriage and Civil Partnership. Such claims could be brought while an employee is still in employment, or in conjunction with an unfair dismissal claim, for which the compensation would be unlimited. There is also no requirement for two years’ service for these discrimination claims to be made.
- Creating a hostile environment as a result of ‘quiet firing’ behaviours could also exacerbate, or cause an employee to develop a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety conditions can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for employees who have a disability and failing to consider making reasonable adjustments means that an employer not only is not supporting an employee but is exposing their business to potential legal claims.
Practical steps for employers to avoid ‘quiet firing’ behaviours in the workplace
- It’s imperative that businesses look out for signs of poor management behaviours by regularly appraising managers to guard the business against slipping management standards, such as, negligent or wilful behaviour designed to force employees to quit their jobs.
- Foster open communication by providing regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on people’s positive achievements. For example, by having regular and meaningful one-to-ones and ensuring that these catch ups are not cancelled without good reason.
- Train managers in effective people management techniques. All too often managers are recruited for their technical ability rather than their people management experience which can lead to poor management behaviours. Managers must receive proper training in how to have difficult conversations and provide constructive feedback. One of the main reasons ‘quiet firing’ occurs is because managers lack the ability to have tough conversations with employees. Many conversations will not be ‘tough’ ones. A supportive approach avoids the ‘tough’ type of conversation having to be held.
- Ensure the business has fair and transparent procedures for reviewing pay and promotion opportunities. This is to ensure the elimination of bias and any potential discrimination in decision making.
- Consider individual development plans and goal setting as part of regular a structured performance review strategy. One-to-ones are a good place to start to understand an employee’s aspirations and strengths. People need to know what’s expected of them at work and how they are progressing. Without this feedback employees can quickly lose confidence in their ability to focus and/or feel like they are being side-lined or overlooked.
- Monitor signs of burnout and overworking. This is a sign of lack of proper management of workflow and work load and such issues should be addressed by managers. Encourage employees to work regular and sensible hours and to take proper breaks to protect their work-life balance. In addition, employers should monitor signs of disengagement, for example, are they being given interesting and suitable work appropriate to their skill level.
- Look out for ‘patterns’ in the business, by conducting exit interviews and/or regular employee satisfaction surveys. Exit interviews will assist in understanding why an employee is leaving and whether there are any trends and/or concerns, such as, poor line management as the reason someone is leaving. Employee satisfaction surveys also help to gauge the general morale of the business and establish any trends in regards to management failings.
- Train managers on mental health awareness to assist them in recognising the warning signs that someone might be struggling with their mental health. Having awareness will ensure that managers can identify what adjustments may need to be put in place to meet that individual’s particular needs. They are often the ‘front line’ for their staff – and making those staff feel comfortable to speak about how they are doing, perhaps for the first time that they have raised their well-being, is a huge support for employees.
Do you need help managing ‘quiet firing’ in your business? Do you need support or advice on employment law? The GatekeeperHR team is here to help. GatekeeperHR is a fixed cost, employment law and HR retainer service which provides businesses with access to a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and HR professionals who you can speak to, or meet face-to-face, at any time. The service includes a full HR compliance audit, access to an online portal full of valuable employment law and HR resources and an annual training session on topics of your choosing. To find out more about GatekeeperHR, please get in touch with Employment Solicitor Elaine Abbs or call 01732 441125. Alternatively, you can browse www.gatekeeperhr.co.uk, sign up for a free trial, or contact us.
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