The Hub Quiet quitting, quiet managing, and quiet firing: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Quiet quitting, quiet managing, and quiet firing: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Athabasca University business professor explains the causes and implications of quiet quitting, managing, and firing.

Thanks to a recent TikTok post, “quiet quitting” has gained some recognition in the workforce, with very real implications for workers and organizations alike.

The term, explains Athabasca University (AU) business professor Dr. Alyson House, refers to an employee’s decision to “do only the minimum requirements of their job.”

“It is not actually quitting,” says House, an assistant professor of strategic human resource management. “The employee is still working, but based on their own decision, they’ve decided to not go above and beyond what they were hired to do.”

Quiet quitting can mean many different things, such as shortening hours of work or not taking on extra duties, she adds. It can also lead to an employee setting boundaries for themselves and pushing back against requests for quick turnarounds, or just unrealistic expectations that have may have been normalized within a company.

House sat down with the Hub to explain the impact of quiet quitting on employees and managers, but also shared insight on 2 other recent discussion topics: quiet firing and quiet managing.

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Is quiet quitting a new concept?

The term is new and it’s going viral thanks to TikTok. It is similar to a work-to-rule situation.  Unions sometimes adopt a work-to-rule strategy where the employee collective says, “We’re not going to go on strike, but we will just do the bare minimum of the job.” For example, when teachers work-to-rule it means there’s no extracurricular activities for students.

What’s different today with quiet quitting is that it’s not specific to unionized work environments. It is about an employee’s individual decision to essentially work-to-rule. So, the term is new and the fact that it’s being driven by the employees themselves is a little bit new.  Some would say it is like old wine in new bottles.

Dr. Alyson House

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What are the benefits to quiet quitting?

From an employee’s perspective, quiet quitting can be a good thing. It can mean a sense of agency or control over the amount and type of work that they can do.

It should lead to less burnout and provide people with more non-work time, which would be a good thing. It also is an indication of a person being able to set limits and boundaries when it comes to work and non-work—which is an important skill because it’s a reflection of being self-aware of one’s values and capabilities.

Dr. Alyson House

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What are the risks of quiet quitting?

It comes with considerable risks about the perception of your performance from your manager or your peers, and your commitment to the organization.

While I’m glad that folks are contemplating their own limits, work boundaries, and not getting taken advantage of, I do think it can be quite difficult to know exactly what a job requirement is and what isn’t.

Sometimes the requirements are clear, but sometimes they’re not. And if you are not performing certain activities because you don’t think it’s a job requirement, and your employment contract suggests otherwise, then quietly quitting might be grounds for dismissal with cause. People should go into it with care and caution. In a perfect world, this would be a constructive two-way discussion between an employee and their employer.

In my view of how quiet quitting is currently being presented, it is being adopted when people feel that they have no voice, or they tried to have a discussion and haven’t been heard.

Dr. Alyson House

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What is quiet managing?

This hasn’t gone quite viral yet, but it’s certainly being talked about. Quiet managing is when leaders are making the decision to take a step back and not micro-manage their team. What form this takes will vary across different organizations and people.

It’s about a leader deciding to trust their people, believing that employees are going to do the best that they can, and getting out of the way to let them do their own work. It could mean fewer meetings. It could be fewer check-ins. It too has pros and cons.

Quiet managing can be a good thing provided there’s explanations to the employees about what’s happening and why things are changing. It conveys trust, recognizes the expertise or capabilities of employees, and provides motivation to do good independent work.

On the other hand, if the manager already has a hands-off approach and they decide to quietly manage, it could be a very bad thing. It shows lack of leadership and could be perceived as uncaring or distant. Whether the outcome is good or bad really depends on where a manager is starting from and what the employees needs are.

Dr. Alyson House

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What is quiet firing?

Quiet firing is not new, although the term is. It is essentially a new way of describing what is known as “constructive dismissal,” which is prohibited under the Canadian employment law.

Constructive dismissal occurs when a leader deliberately removes job responsibilities from the employee, through no fault of the employee. This makes it impossible for the employee to do their job, and potentially makes the work environment so toxic that the employee chooses to quit.

Constructive dismissal is essentially the employer not living up to their end of the employment contract. It is not acceptable and is grounds for wrongful termination. If an employee quits and is awarded a constructive dismissal claim in court, they’re entitled to all the benefits that they would have received had they been laid off, like notice and severance.

Dr. Alyson House

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Has it ever backfired on the manager where the employee just stuck around?

Managers must know this is not a legal practice in Canada. Also, there have been court cases where constructive dismissal has been awarded even without the employee quitting. So, they haven’t left their job, but the conditions have made it such. I guess in that sense, from the employer’s perspective, the quiet firing has backfired because the employee is still there.

It is important for employees to know that work requirements often shift over time. These shifts are not usually dramatic and are rarely rewritten into a formal contract. If you agree to perform this new work, it’s implied that you’ve accepted that change—and that it’s now part of the job.

However, if your work is changing and you’re not okay with it, you need to let your employer know. And this has to be done within a certain time limit. By not agreeing to the new terms of the employment contract, whether you quit or not, you may still have grounds for constructive dismissal.

Dr. Alyson House

Learn more about employment relations and AU’s Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations and Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources Management programs.

Alyson House is an assistant professor of strategic human resource management at Athabasca University. She is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) and holds a PhD in management from the University of Calgary. 

Prior to her academic career, she spent more than 15 years working for one of the world’s largest energy companies in a variety of professional roles. Her research interests lie at the intersection of business strategy and human resource management. 

Published:
  • September 15, 2022