Home    |

Learn    |

Listen    |
Read    |

Experience    |

|     Contact

Post-covid employee leadership

Fiona Passantino, Mid-January 2023

“Quiet quitting” describes an employee who “switches off” psychologically; logging in, doing the bare minimum to avoid being fired or becoming burned out, and at the end of the day, logs off. No more weekend or evening work. “Quiet firing” is the other side of that coin, when a manager gives up on a team member, withdraws support, communication and guidance. Both are a result of our current environment and both can lead to toxicity in the long run. How to spot it and seven ways to turn the tide.

Where are we now?

As the pandemic fades in our collective memories, we find ourselves still grappling with unprecedented burnout and frustration with our jobs. We are still quitting in large numbers with 39% of us saying it was largely due to work overload or excessive working hours[i].

Tight labor markets and global personnel shortages as well as high disengagement that came with Covid is still plaguing our workplaces. The Great Resignation continues in the post-Covid context as the US “quit rate” hit a 20-year high in November 2022.

We quit in body, but increasingly, we quit in spirit. We appear at work, log in, respond to mails, carry out our work, but we disengage and withdraw psychologically.

What’s going on?

Quiet Quitting

For the past two decades, and certainly during the pandemic, the expectation was to give 110%; go above and beyond, overdeliver. Over delivery became the norm. Productivity rose around 5% during Covid as we worked without distraction and our commutes[i]. Organizations cut staff and became dependent on employees giving more than their 9-5 and adjusted by turning up the heat [ii].

As we return to work – to our daily commutes and other distractions that come with our physical presence – the expectations for increased productivity and blurred work-life boundaries remain. This partially explains the increase in employee stress and burnout we have seen post-pandemic.

Particularly younger employees are feeling the burn of disengagement and dissatisfaction, not feeling heard, respected, cared for and encouraged at work[iii]. 46%-45% of workers are exhausted by the intensity and demands and 43%-44% left their jobs due to workload pressure[iv].

“Quiet quitting” describes an employee who “switches off”, taking stock of her work-life balance, values and choices and makes a decision to re-draw boundaries and reclaim her mental health. She does not leave the organization. She logs in, does what is needed to avoid being fired and to avoid burnout, and at the end of the day, logs off[v]. No more logging in after hours, working on weekends or during vacations.

How widespread is this trend? Gallup’s 2022 review revealed that as many as 50% of the US workforce might be quietly quitting[vi]. Thanks to a tight job market, they have the power to make demands.

Quiet Firing

The other side of this coin is the phenomenon of “quiet firing”. This is when managers disengage and “switch off” from members of their team, and fail to communicate, coach, support and develop an employee, passive-aggressively pushing them out of an organization[i].

With tighter budgets and increasing pressure to trim the workforce, nudging underperformers out is less expensive and risky than laying them off or firing them, thus avoiding unwanted psychological, legal and financial minefields[ii].

Whether this is conscious behavior or unconscious, the result is the same: employees are set up to fail due to sheer manager neglect until they feel that leaving is the only option.

Unconscious “quiet firing” might be due to the “quiet quitting” of a manager; in 2022, managers reported higher levels of burn out than their reports and leaders[iii]. Managers who are disengaged, excessively distracted by organizational politics and their own advancement or retention of power are not able to give their reports what they need because they’re not paying attention.

What does it look like? Signs include measurable changes to the status or responsibilities of an employee without clear explanation. Demotions or re-assignments, new job descriptions that hold less responsibility or describe lower-profile work without clear reasons why. Increased admin or other (undesirable) “busy” work you didn’t sign up for. Pay cuts, lack of bonuses or a reduction in working hours or structural changes like smaller team sizes, allocation to a different unit or manager. These are all black-and-white signs that can be logged and referred to later, during an exit interview.

More insidious are the unmeasurable, “soft and fuzzy” signals you’re picking up. Managers can withdraw psychologically; “ghosting” or frequently cancelling one-on-one meetings. Meetings, when they do occur, can be “business only”; there to tick boxes for assignment status reports, lacking bigger picture career guidance or performance feedback. It can mean excessive negative or unfair feedback, constant criticism, even in front of other team members. You may not be getting credit for your work, or that credit is going to others.

Seven ways to fight the quiet

1. Clearly communicate goals and responsibilities. The continuation of remote work has made it more difficult for managers to be in touch with the people in their teams. Gallup tells us that as many as 60% of remote or hybrid employees don’t understand what is expected of them[i]. Communication is key, and it starts at the top; we set clear, measurable goals from the start that are both attainable and visible, a communicate a clear picture of what success looks like.

2. Create a culture of belonging. Engagement comes from being a valued member of a team with mutual respect and the feeling that you are making a difference. Most of us are looking for more than just a pay check, but jobs that align with their core values and purpose. Remind your team every day why they are here and how their contribution is unmissable.

3. Thank them for the extra mile. Recognize and reward employees who go above and beyond their normal jobs. Be specific, relevant and timely; signing emails politely or giving a general “thanks” once in a while isn’t enough.

4. Stick to the one-on-ones. Employees who have at least one meaningful conversation with their manager on a weekly basis are nearly 4 times more likely to be engaged at work[ii]. This is crucial for celebrating successes, adjusting priorities and offering support when an employee is hitting a brick wall. Even 15-20 minutes a week, if used well, is enough.

5. Define shared definitions of success. Goals are more meaningful when employees actively participate in setting them. This is based on an individualized development plan and personalized a career path.

6. Give negative feedback as an opportunity to improve. No mistakes are 100% one person’s fault, and all can be used to define what better choices look like. Often, people don’t even know that they’re making a mistake. They might have been just doing something that was perfectly fine with a previous manager that isn’t OK in the new context. Negative feedback should never be given I front of others and always paired with positive feedback; no one does everything wrong all the time.

7. Respect private time. After work hours, on holiday or when sick, employees are expected not to log in. This needs to be stated literally, and these boundaries need to be respected.

Quiet quitting or firing may seem like an easy way to avoid hard conversations in the face of tight markets and personnel shortages. But in the long run, no one wants to be a zombie at work and no one wants to work in a hostile environment. Both affect team morale; when the team sees that active disengaged managers or employees are tolerated, it makes everyone question why they are giving their 110%.

Watch the video about “Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing” (and… don’t forget to subscribe, share, review and rate!)

Don’t have the eyeballs available to watch the video? Screen time getting you down? I understand. Go hands-free with the podcast, available now on Apple, Spotify and Anchor FM.



Want fresh articles and comics sent straight to your inbox? Sign up to receive monthly material.

* indicates required

[i] Wigert (2022) “Quiet Firing: What It Is and How to Stop Doing It” Gallup Workplace https://www.gallup.com/workplace/404996/quiet-firing-stop-doing.aspx

[ii] Wigert (2022) “Quiet Firing: What It Is and How to Stop Doing It” Gallup Workplace https://www.gallup.com/workplace/404996/quiet-firing-stop-doing.aspx

[i] Wigert (2022) “Quiet Firing: What It Is and How to Stop Doing It” Gallup Workplace https://www.gallup.com/workplace/404996/quiet-firing-stop-doing.aspx

[ii] Ruvio, Morgeson (2022) “Are You Being Quiet Fired?” Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2022/11/are-you-being-quiet-fired

[iii] Picchi (2022) “A dark side to quiet quitting is hurting workers: “Quiet firing”. CBS News Moneywatch https://www.cbsnews.com/news/quiet-quitting-quiet-firing-managers-are-pushing-workers-out/

[i] Curran (2021) “Work From Home to Lift Productivity by 5% in Post-Pandemic U.S.” Bloomberg News https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-04-22/yes-working-from-home-makes-you-more-productive-study-finds

[ii] Green (2022) “Quiet Quitting – a Trend or a Long-time Coming?” Innoflow. https://www.innoflow.io/what-is-quiet-quitting/

[iii] Hartner (2022) “Is Quiet Quitting Real?” Gallup Workplace. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/398306/quiet-quitting-real.aspx#:~:text=%22Quiet%20quitters%22%20make%20up%20at%20least%2050%25%20of,meeting%20their%20job%20description%20–%20could%20get%20worse.

[iv] Deloitte (2022) “Striving for balance, advocating for change: The Deloitte Global 2022 GEN Z and Millenial Survey” Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/articles/glob175227_global-millennial-and-gen-z-survey/Gen%20Z%20and%20Millennial%20Survey%202022_Final.pdf

[v] Wigert (2022) “Quiet Firing: What It Is and How to Stop Doing It” Gallup Workplace https://www.gallup.com/workplace/404996/quiet-firing-stop-doing.aspx

[vi] Viveros (2022) “Get Loud, Not Quiet: The Importance Of Employee Engagement For Mitigating Quiet Quitting And Firing” Forbes Communications Council. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2022/12/23/get-loud-not-quiet-the-importance-of-employee-engagement-for-mitigating-quiet-quitting-and-firing/?sh=332f1fbb403c

[i] Parker, Menasce Horowitz (2022) “Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected” Pew Research Center https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/