What is quiet firing, and how do you know if it’s happening to you?

The pandemic upended almost everything – including the workforce.  About a third of American workers said they had changed jobs in the last two years, according to a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, while the number of people quitting hit an all-time high last November. 

There have been good reasons to start a new role – when you compare rising wages for workers who quit their jobs and got different jobs versus those who stayed, the gap favoring the job-hoppers has accelerated this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Wage Growth Tracker.

These large-scale workforce changes have also ushered in a new dialogue about workplace culture. As part of that shift, terms like “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing” have emerged.

WATCH: Why only certain people can ‘quiet quit’

Quiet quitting is when a worker slowly pulls back from the duties of their role while staying employed. Quiet firing is when a manager slowly pulls back the duties of a worker’s role instead of outright firing them.

Janice Gassam Asare, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and workplace consultant, said the idea behind quiet firing or quiet quitting isn’t new, but it is now coming into greater focus.

Watch PBS NewsHour digital anchor Nicole Ellis’ interview with Janice Gassam Asare in the player above.

The Great Resignation really sparked a lot of these conversations around what is causing employees to be burnt out and disengaged,” Gassam Asare said. With employees feeling very empowered right now, “I think there’s pushback from leadership where there’s almost like this loss of control and loss of power that is felt.”=

Gassam Asare said the signs of quiet firing can be subtle. For example, a worker being left off an important email, or being overlooked for a deserved promotion.

“At later stages, it can actually manifest as maybe an performance improvement plan, where you are put on some sort of, like, development plan, which indicates that you’re not performing in your role,” she said. “And this is good from an organizational standpoint because it kind of saves employers from litigation.”

But the immediate effects on workers is demoralization, Gassam Asare said.

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>“It can take a huge toll on someone’s mental well-being because, again, the quiet firing that takes place is often so subtle that you question your own experiences,” she said. “It’s sometimes very difficult to tell these micro-exclusionary behaviors.

Gassam Asare said the best way for workers to react if they believe they are being quiet fired is to document all the actions they feel are leading to the quiet firing and present the information to leadership in hopes that their treatment will change.

And if all that doesn’t work, Gassam Asare said there are two options left. One would be to change your mindset around what you’re experiencing and try to make your job something you can tolerate. The other would be to simply leave and join the job-switchers who are making those higher wages.