Intending to reduce their workforces, some companies have started "quietly firing" employees by "intentionally creating a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave 'voluntarily.'" Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ayalla Ruvio and Forrest Morgeson of Michigan State University highlight four warning signs of "quiet firing"—and detail 10 steps an employee can take if they suspect they are being "quietly fired."
1. Your work responsibilities are changing
According to Ruvio and Morgeson, an employee could be in the process of being "quietly fired" if their employer is taking steps to alter their job responsibilities, which can include:
2. Your employer is altering your compensation
In addition, Ruvio and Morgeson note that changes in an employee's compensation can also signal "quiet firing," including:
3. Your working conditions are worsening
Employers may also try to "quiet fire" employees by taking steps to make work conditions less desirable, which can include:
4. Your communication with your manager is different
Another sign an employee is being "quiet fired" is that their correspondence with their manager has changed, which can include:
1. Make a rational assessment
According to Ruvio and Morgeson, it is important to rationally evaluate your situation if you suspect you are being "quietly fired." This helps employees determine whether they are "overanalyzing the situation," if there are "objective circumstances that can explain" a manager's actions, or if "unfavorable changes" are only targeting a single employee or the entire staff.
"If your workplace has become truly unbearable and is harming your mental health, it may be time to quit — but it's important to make sure you have an accurate understanding of your situation before reacting," they write.
2. Research industry and company standards
To determine whether you are being "quietly fired," the authors suggest gaining an understanding of typical experiences within your workplace or industry.
"To ensure you're up to date on what kinds of changes to your working conditions are or aren't acceptable, it's critical to familiarize yourself with your company's rules and regulations," Ruvio and Morgeson write. "You should also be knowledgeable about the criteria for promotion and raises, as well as the conventions of your particular profession, especially when it comes to pay scales and compensation structures."
3. Record your achievements
Ruvio and Morgeson suggest maintaining written records of any achievements or accomplishments. "Make sure you can demonstrate the value you have added to the company in terms of tangible, quantifiable outcomes," they write.
4. Document any mistreatment
Similarly, Ruvio and Morgeson suggest maintaining written records of any evidence of mistreatment. "That includes emails, evaluation reports, written feedback, etc.," they write. "Also be sure to document different incidents that have made you feel unappreciated, excluded, or undervalued."
5. Maintain open and honest communication
Ruvio and Morgeson suggest having "an open and honest conversation" with your supervisor. "Be as specific as possible, and try to focus on tactical ways that your manager can make things better, rather than simply complaining," they suggest.
6. Consider legal representation
In some situations, it may be necessary to find legal representation that can help you "assess the severity of a situation and determine the best way to handle it," the authors write.
7. Maintain your mental health
To help an employee deal with the challenges of "quiet firing," the authors suggest "working with a therapist, counselor, or other professional."
8. Quiet quit
While quiet quitting can have some downsides, the authors note that it "can be an effective option to alleviate some of the stress associated with being quietly fired."
9. Pursue legal action
"Quiet firing" is intended to make it more difficult for employees to pursue any legal action—but that doesn't mean it is impossible. "To build a legal case, you will likely need to prove that the company has fundamentally and unfairly altered your working conditions, and that those changes have led to real, demonstrable damages in terms of your income or wellbeing," the authors write.
10. Try negotiating
Before an employee resigns, the authors suggest initiating "a frank discussion with your supervisor indicating your belief that the company is looking to trim its workforce and sharing the terms under which you would agree to leave."
"To be sure, implementing these recommendations can sometimes be easier said than done. In our study, we found that more than 40% of respondents who had experienced quiet firing simply tried to ignore the problem, expressing a reluctance to cause trouble or spark conflict," they write. "But when you know the warning signs to look out for and the steps you can take to address them, you'll have the tools you need to get ahead of the problem." (Ruvio/Morgeson, Harvard Business Review, 11/7)
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