What Is ‘Quiet Quitting’ and ‘Quiet Firing’? How to Avoid These Workplace Exits

We spoke with USC’s Senior Director of Career Engagement Lori Shreve Blake to break down the signs of quiet quitting and quiet firing — and how to deal with both work situations.

From the Great Resignation and hustle culture to micro-breaks and burnout, there are dozens of pandemic-era trends that continue to reshape the American labor market.

While some of these workplace movements are easier to grasp than others, the latest buzzword — “quiet quitting” — might be the most familiar of all.

Quiet quitting essentially means an employee is doing the bare minimum at work, and they’re no longer going above and beyond what their role requires. Like most phenomena, however, the trend also has an inverse: “quiet firing.”

So, what exactly is quiet firing, and what are the more distinctive aspects of quiet quitting?

We spoke with Lori Shreve Blake, senior director of career engagement at the USC Career Center, to determine the signs you’re being quiet fired, what to do if you find yourself quiet quitting and how you can turn around either work predicament.

What Is Quiet Quitting, and Is It Advisable?

First off, you can’t discuss quiet firing without mentioning quiet quitting. Quiet quitting refers to when an employee stops putting in extra effort at work: They meet their job requirements, but don’t attempt to go beyond them. They don’t head into work early or stay late, they stop taking on extra tasks and they back away from office socializing. Basically, these employees have psychologically checked out.

In light of recent global events, quiet quitting isn’t a surprising trend, Shreve Blake pointed out.

“I think the pandemic has made people kind of rethink their whole lives, and they understand that life is short. So, people are looking for balance,” she said.

According to Shreve Blake, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many people could work from home and achieve more control of their work and personal lives.

“I think this whole idea of ‘quiet quitting’ is really people thinking that they’ve done a lot of work, and it’s not being acknowledged, rewarded or appreciated. They’re thinking, ‘Is that really what’s important?’ So, they feel like they need to have boundaries now,” Shreve Blake said. “It’s about wanting quality of life, wanting to avoid burnout. It connects to being valued by the employer and how they want to live and work and live their lives at work. If employees believe there is no upward mobility for promotion or their hard work is overlooked, they may resort to quiet quitting.”

While it makes sense why people would opt to avoid extra work responsibilities rather than leave their jobs, Shreve Blake said quiet quitting is a sign you may need to do exactly that. If a job is causing you mental or physical strain, it may be time to find a better suited position.

“If you don’t want to stay in this role, then it’s time to pivot, whether laterally or upward, and see what else is out there,” she said. “You always want to be growing, and you won’t be growing with the quiet quitting. I wouldn’t stay in a job that you’re not happy with, that’s stressing you out or that you’re not valued. Go where you’re celebrated, not just tolerated, and with an organization and leaders that acknowledges your contributions.”

What Is Quiet Firing?

 As employees debate whether their work style could be defined as quiet quitting and if they’re really happy with their jobs, employers are sometimes thinking along similar lines and engaging in quiet firing.

Quiet firing refers to when managers slowly and subtly indicate to a worker they should leave the company, attempting to push them out of their position. So, how can you tell when it’s happening to you?

According to Shreve Blake, there are several signs that a quiet firing may be taking place — and identifying whether it’s happening is the first step to solving the issue. An initial indicator of quiet firing could be the fact that you’re no longer receiving “plum assignments,” or coveted tasks.

“A sign of quiet firing could be that you’re not getting new assignments that are high profile or that are taking the organization to the next level. You’re not being included in that piece of it. The good projects are being reassigned to other people. Maybe they’re even taking things away from you. Maybe you’re even getting the tasks that are repetitive and don’t require a lot of thought,” she explained.

Conversely, another possible sign could be that your workload is actually increasing — but it swells to the point of becoming unmanageable. You’re overwhelmed by all you’re asked to do, and it’s more difficult to successfully complete all your tasks.

Quiet firing isn’t just about the actual work, either, Shreve Blake said. It’s also the way in which your manager interacts with you.

“A crucial sign is the boss is ignoring you and not making an effort to interact with you. Maybe they don’t speak to you in the morning or catch up in the afternoon. You’re getting the cold shoulder, basically, and you start to feel unwelcome. You generally have a feeling of not being wanted anymore at that organization or in that office,” she explained.

If your job is steadily becoming more unpleasant and less engaging, it may mean you’ve unwittingly become involved in the process of quiet firing.

How to Avoid Quiet Firing, and Fix if You Notice

So, whether your workload has drastically changed or your boss is freezing you out, you now suspect you’re being quiet fired. How can you turn everything around while there’s still time?

Well, according to Shreve Blake, communication is key and a vital first step.

“Consider having a heart-to-heart conversation with your supervisor where you really talk about your current role and where you want to be,” she suggested. They would then likely support your career growth in another area of the organization or learning a new skill.”

Don’t wait for your boss to bring it up, either — take the initiative and be proactive in opening a conversation with your supervisor, Shreve Blake advised.  Start the discussion on a positive note, signaling you value your position at the organization and want to be an integral part of its success.

“It’s important to have that discussion to show ambition, to say you want to do more. Hopefully then, the supervisor will be a good leader and say, ‘OK, well, what does that look like for you? And is that here or is that someplace else in the organization or within your industry?’” she explained. Of course, your manager might just not be that kind of boss. In those moments, it’s important to keep in mind “you are the CEO of your own career,” according to Shreve Blake. It’s up to you to determine where you want your career path to go.

If the conversation doesn’t go the way you’d like, then start networking and job hunting to find another opportunity where you’re challenged, growing and valued.

“Change is hard for people, but a lot of times when people make that change, that’s when growth happens. If we’re not learning, we’re not growing. If you’re not learning, then it’s time to move on and exercise your right to improve your career and your work situation and understand that you are a victor, not a victim of quiet firing,” she concluded.

Explore more career advice from USC Online today.