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Quiet firing to replace quiet quitting

By Jess Feyder | |5 minute read

A law firm partner says the phenomenon of quiet quitting, where employees do the bare minimum, will be replaced by “quiet firing”, where employers provide limited opportunities to encourage them to leave.

“The economic pendulum has well and truly swung back from workers to their bosses,” stated Bartier Perry workplace law and culture partner Darren Gardner. 

“In the United States, start-ups and the tech companies are shedding jobs, and sectors such as hospitality and aged care are seeing growing numbers of applicants and fewer openings.

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“We’re seeing that trend emerge in Australia, and we believe it will only accelerate in the coming months.”

Mid-last year, the phenomenon of quiet quitting was identified to be pervasive in the legal profession, which took the appearance of employees becoming increasingly disengaged, mainly due to the flexibility afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Mr Gardner noted that with the economic pendulum having swung, employers will become increasingly intolerant of disengagement in the workplace. 

“The quiet quitters have now found themselves in a dramatically different economic climate, where employee discontent and disengagement is no longer a matter of being necessarily tolerated in a skills-short labour market,” he stated. 

“Rapidly rising input costs, fiscal policy aimed at choking demand and general economic uncertainty has shifted business imperatives towards reducing labour costs without need to find fault with employee performance or conduct.”

Others have noted a potential harm to employees, arising from the economic swing that has placed employers in the power seat. 

Jesse Shah, director at recruitment firm nrol, has noted fears around the potential increases in “quiet hiring”, which sees employers, tight on finances, expanding employee workloads and responsibilities into other areas of the business — which they did not sign up to and are not remunerated for. 

Bartier Perry workplace law and culture associate Hannah Lawson elaborated on how employees may experience quiet firing, noting that while younger workers may find that change confronting after a period of plentiful employment — it’s not new.

“Quiet quitting was just another version in a long line of Aussie euphemisms from ‘slacking off’, ‘faffing about’, or ‘chucking a sickie’,” said Ms Lawson. “Quiet firing is simply the new ‘pushing you out the door’.” 

“Neither concept is particularly helpful [nor] constructive in workplace relations, but they’ve endured for decades throughout economic booms and busts.”

Others, however, have regarded quiet quitting in a different light, stating that what it really is, is doing exactly what your job requires within the hours you were contracted to work — it is a rejection of the hustle-harder culture that’s gripped modern work.

Ms Lawson noted that just as employers needed to be cautious when confronting quiet quitting, there were significant risks associated with quiet firing. 

“At one level, they’re interlinked — if an employee’s actions are not breaching an organisation’s health and safety policies and they’re still taking care to still meet the requirements of their position, it will be difficult to initiate any processes relating to performance. 

“Equally, if an employee is doing the job asked of them, treating them unfairly by limiting opportunities or allowing behaviours that demean them brings significant legal risks,” she outlined. 

“Either way, employers need to be cautious and run fair, transparent, and well-documented processes, or they may find themselves facing legal action for unfair dismissal.”

This article was originally published on HR Leader's sister brand, Lawyers Weekly.