Quiet hiring in the workplace

I knew it wouldn’t take long after the term “quiet quitting” was popularized a few years ago in national business magazines and newspaper articles. Now we have its not so silent twin sibling, “quiet hiring,” showing up in those same publications and news websites such as nbcnews.com.

In both cases they describe work activities that have been commonplace for many decades but were retitled during and shortly after the recent pandemic.

Quiet quitting merely describes employees, due to personal or workplace issues, performing their duties at a level just above that which would cause either discipline or dismissal. I saw lots of that kind of bad behavior during a 30-year career in human resource management.

Quiet hiring refers to employers, many seeking to maintain a lean workforce in anticipation of a recession, encouraging existing and high performing employees to accept extra work with an offer of more money. Given the current shortage of workers, it is practical to do so, and employers have been using this tactic in tight labor markets for many years.

Here are a few of the advantages and disadvantages that quiet hiring offers to both the employee and employer.

Employer abuse. A few unscrupulous employers will use quiet hiring as an instrument to intimidate workers into accepting more duties without receiving more pay and making it clear that acceptance is not negotiable, and refusal might jeopardize employment. In any case, management needs to comply with federal and state labor laws regarding overtime pay for nonexempt workers and resist the urge to improperly place employees in independent contractor status. A leakage of valuable employees might occur when heavy-handed tactics are used to force compliance.

Extra income. In the current volatile economy, where workers’ pay isn’t keeping up with inflationary pressures, employees are often compelled to look for a second job and might find the additional income conveniently available from their current employer. This practice provides the employer with an opportunity to meet the temporary spike in demand for their services and products while controlling payroll expenses. Overtime compensation for existing workers costs much less than the pay and benefit package needed to bring new employees on board.

Employee training. Offering additional work to highly motivated and high-performing employees gives them the opportunity to gain new skills that better prepares them to seek more challenging and better paying jobs with the current employers. Companies offering additional work that includes training and incentive pay increases the chances of productive employees remaining with the organization. From the workers’ perspective, they gain valuable skills and experience that make them more attractive to future employers.

Psychological effects. To the extent that assigning additional work involves imposing responsibilities on unwilling employees, the effects on morale must be considered. Burdening employees with more work than they might wish to take on might result in poor quality and a desire to find more suitable employment elsewhere. Unwittingly, the company could be encouraging the use of quiet hiring’s evil twin, “quiet firing.” For more motivated employees, the availability of additional work might improve morale and increase their value to the company.

The current buzz over quiet hiring highlights an employment strategy that offers substantial benefits for both employers and employees in the current economic environment. For that reason, re-imagining and using this effective business practice is a no-brainer.