[Ask TBM] What are Signs of Quiet Quitting and Quiet Firing in the Workplace?

Quiet quitting and quiet firing are terms that have been making the rounds on social media, but what do these mean for the workforce? Patt Soyao of executive search firm Icon Executive Asia weighs in on this.

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly changed the dynamics in the workforce. On the bright side, there have been more opportunities to start new businesses or change professions, but on the dark side of things, there are also cases of mass resignations and the constant search for new jobs.

Although the reasoning behind the latter varies from a case-to-case basis, they mostly point toward employee burnout. In fact, a 2022 study found that 53% of Filipinos employees (aged 26 to 55) feel stressed and worried because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with remote work, along with financial and work performance pressures, among other personal concerns adding to their baggage.

Similarly, new workplace terms have been coined by the millennial and Gen-Z workforce: Quiet quitting as practiced by the employees, and quiet firing on the side of management. To know more about how these two can change the workforce in the long run, we consult with headhunter and Founder of consultancy firm Icon Executive Asia’s very own Patt Soyao.

What is quiet quitting and how can you prevent your employees from doing so?

Simply put, it is an employee being disengaged and slowly letting go. Being an employer and a headhunter, I’ve seen this countless times.

So many factors can lead to quiet quitting: being demotivated due to management practices, or even being singled out by their colleagues, aka corporate bullying, or others being pensive about their careers after spending a couple of years in a company—realizing that there could be more out there.

With several factors that lead to quiet quitting, preventing it must be done on several fronts. They say people don’t quit because of the company—they quit because of their leaders. [And] so, having good leadership and management training is a must for all leaders.

The question is, [how] should they be trained? Expertise training is more on the technical side, but soft skills should also be prioritized—like being empathic, actively listening, mentoring communication, and the like. But what if it’s an organizational concern, this is where HR should step in, [as] understanding the employee climate is very important.

Sometimes it’s the small inconvenient things that dominoes [into] an exit. Imagine you’re already stressed because of work—only to be stressed due to inefficiencies, let’s say manually timing in and out of the office or [having] too much paperwork and approval while applying for a leave. Sometimes those inconveniences are the final straws for employees to quietly quit.

[All] this can be prevented by automating outdated practices. Companies should also take a proactive approach in charting out the career paths of employees, always making them look forward to something new. A new challenge or bigger responsibilities. Being stagnant is a slow burn that leads to quiet quitting. An idle mind [means] idle hands. Hands that can lead to a job portal seeking better opportunities.

So if you’re a company that no longer aims for something bigger, expect the same thing from your employees. In this day and age, we either move forward or fall behind. In quiet quitting’s cases, employers are left behind. 

On the other spectrum, what is quiet firing? Is this a good or bad practice to have among companies? 

In my opinion, it’s bad. Some companies are not so good when it comes to letting go of people. They avoid these uncomfortable scenarios so they just passively aggressively fire them through quiet firing, like lessening the workload or not making the employees involved.

Why is this bad? It creates resentment. Each employee is a brand ambassador and they will never forget how an employer made them feel. So when they’re quietly fired, expect the opposite of quiet when they talk negatively about your company.

Prolonging the agony is just inhumane. Follow the due process and do the proper thing by not leaving the employee in the dark. And if you think it’s only the employee who was quietly fired that gets affected, others are quietly observing the employer’s behavior, and in the back of their minds, they’re already thinking that it can also be done to them. So it’s a double whammy. 

What are signs of quiet quitting and quiet firing that companies and employees need to watch out for?

In quiet quitting, the most obvious [sign] is a change in behavior—like not participating in company activities or not going beyond the usual to excel. You can do a more direct approach [by] asking them how they are and asking them directly how they see themselves in the next 3 years. From their answers, you’ll know if they’re already disengaged.

[But] if you don’t want a direct approach, have a conversation [with them] about the company’s vision and future plans. See how they respond or react, and you’ll surely get your answer.

For employees being quietly fired, if the management lessens their workload or offloads them from big and important projects, that’s a big sign. Not involving you or getting your input about certain decisions or directions [is also very telling].

What do you think are the main causes or huge factors that lead to quiet quitting and quiet firing?

For quiet quitting, if I’m going to force-rank it, it’s demotivation. Either through bad management practices or decisions, sub-par compensation, and benefits or just being treated like a disposable manpower headcount. 

For quiet firing, it’s usually because of the sub-par performance of the employee. Even if you’re a performer [but] you’re not in the good graces of your boss, it can lead to [being] quietly fired. If you’re not fit for the role, you deserve to be told directly [without] prolonging the engagement, so both can move on. [But] if it’s because you don’t [work] well with your immediate supervisor, then HR should intervene and let the proper due process be done. 

Are corporate structures, startup structures, or hybrid setups more prone to this? And is it a result of environmental structure or purely management-driven?

In my opinion, startups are fuelled by idealism, so they tend to attract highly-engaged employees. Maintaining that idealism, though, is tricky. Being too idealistic and not hitting reality might make the employee jaded, which can lead to quiet quitting. 

For corporate, in my experience, stagnation leads to quietly quitting, as these employees have lost their drive to grow. Maybe due to stringent corporate policies that deter them [from growing], like not being promoted due to lack of credentials and such. 

Overall, employment is a cycle of people coming in and out. How a company makes employees interested can make them stay longer and even [motivate them to] do more beyond their usual job descriptions. But failure to do so—like overselling during the job interview and falling flat on the promises that were made—eventually leads to an exit.

It is very important that management makes it loud and clear when communicating their plans and painting a picture of growth to employees for them to see more of themselves in the company in the long run.

When people quit, not all employees who quit are bad—[in fact], most of them are good. Antagonizing employees because they left the company while turning a blind eye to an employer’s lapses is counterproductive. We are done with the age of “take it or leave it” jobs, even if there’s a recession, which is also a cycle. Those who stayed may not have quietly quitted but are quietly resenting the company. That is gangrene for the company culture. That leads to a toxic work environment.

Patt Soyao is a headhunter and the Founder of Icon Executive Asia—an executive management solutions firm that specializes in executive search and executive events, which can help businesses grow. He is also the Co-founder of Shoppertainment, a full-production livestream shopping enabler, and one of the fastest-growing startup companies in the Philippines.

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