Quitting and firing in the new workplace

If you live long enough, people, places and ideas will seem to reinvent themselves — that is, return in different forms and shapes and with new names or titles.

And so it is with the appearance of two of the latest human resource hot topics — quiet quitting and quiet firing — terms recently entering into the lexicon of dysfunctional workplace behaviors that must be addressed by employers.

Formerly known variously as employee burnout in the case of quiet quitting and constructive discharge when discussing quiet firing, both seemed to have come out of the working from home and hybrid work environments created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In such situations, employees working at home usually set their pace and level of productivity without supervisors providing the same level of supervision and support found in the traditional workplace, leading to unpredictable performance.

Quiet quitting often is a response to job burnout and workplace stress, a situation where workers might be assigned undesirable duties and unreasonably long working hours for an unlimited period of time and with frequent deadlines.

Psychologists tell us that prolonged workplace stress negatively impacts brain health and overall physical well-being. In response to such situations, employees often slow their work efforts, leave the work space, increase sick leave usage and disengage from projects with co-workers.

Here are couple of action steps employers can take to address the problem created by employees attempting to do the least amount of work necessary to keep their jobs.

• Proactively assess the work environment, especially for work-from-home people and those returning to their original worksites. Emphasis should be placed on establishing appropriate workloads that offer time for healthy off the job activities. With a tight labor market, far better to fix such problems before workers start walking out the door.

• Monitor absenteeism closely. Usually, the first sign of a failing employee is excessive time off work. Consider implementing an employee engagement survey that includes questions designed to identify sources of worker satisfaction/dissatisfaction.

Quiet quitting has a long history and in the past often was called constructive discharge.

An outright firing of an employee can bring about charges of discrimination and lead to unwanted publicity and legal problems. Instead, employers sometimes quietly create a work environment so unpleasant that the employee feels forced to resign.

Demotions, changes in work schedules, reduction in hours, assignment of undesirable work and excluding an employee from important functions are some of the unscrupulous strategies companies use to quietly, but not so gently, push poor performing employees to the exits.

Here are a few tips to salvage underperforming employees or dismissing them ethically and humanely.

• Develop a job description and a companion performance evaluation system that assesses key elements of the job and allows for the creation of a recovery action plan to bring the employee’s work up to a satisfactory level or to support a decision to dismiss.

• Determine if the employee’s work problems are a matter of can’t or won’t do the work. Those unable to do the work might only need additional training or transfer to a more suitable position. Refusal to do the work, assuming safety or ethical issues aren’t involved, might require use of the disciplinary system to discharge while offering a limited job search package to ease the pain of job loss.

Neither quiet quitting nor quiet firing is in the best interest of management or the productivity of the workforce. Employers would do well to develop strategies that encourage employees to become the best possible version of themselves on the job.