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The fine line between quiet quitting and quiet firing

The least effective managers have three and a half times more quiet quitters than the best managers.

Contrary to what current HR musings might have you believe, there’s nothing new about ‘quiet quitting’ or ‘quiet firing’. These are not trends borne out of the pandemic but rather age-old workforce norms that are simply being talked about under a new guise. For those not familiar, quiet quitting is when an employee turns up and does their job just well enough to remain employed. Nothing more, nothing less. Quiet firing happens when someone is intentionally managed out of an organisation, perhaps through demotion, or more subtly, because they have no opportunity to learn or progress.

Much of the HR debate has rightly questioned whether quiet quitting is even a problem in the first place. Surely we’re not still expecting employees to work regular overtime without extra pay? Isn’t that exactly the kind of culture we’ve been working to move past?

But that’s a whole other argument.

The key focus for this article is something that has been less documented: the common denominator that ties these two “trends” together: ineffective managers.

Are your people quietly quitting or are they being quietly fired?
On the quiet quitting side of the spectrum, research reveals that 62% of employees who gave their managers the highest possible rating were ‘willing to go the extra mile’ at work versus just 3% who were quietly quitting. That 3% grew to 14% under the least effective managers, however, with just 20% of employees being willing to do more.

The statistics speak for themselves: the most ineffective managers have three and a half times more quiet quitters than the best managers – and it begs the question, is this even an employee issue? Organisations should, in fact, be looking at their managers first.

What’s really interesting is that in the middle of the spectrum, the line between quiet quitting and quiet firing is actually very fine, if not blurred. We’ve all experienced a bad manager, either first-hand or indirectly, and we’ve probably all witnessed someone being actively managed out of their job through demotion, lack of reward, or even bullying. But what about the apathetic managers who are also bad but for a different reason: their lack of interest and investment in their employee’s development and performance. In those instances, is the employee quietly quitting or are they being quietly fired? The lines are certainly blurred but one thing’s for certain: the manager is the common denominator in both scenarios.

The good news is that most managers, even the ineffective ones, want to do better – and that means there’s an opportunity to train them in how to enable  their people in the new world of work.

Coaches who care
This often starts with re-defining the role of manager as someone who helps their direct reports to thrive. Sometimes simply creating that shift in mindset can be enough for managers to see where they’re falling short – and crucially, begin closing the gaps for the benefit of their employees.

The real crux of the matter here, though, is that while every employee has their own unique needs and wants, as humans we all share one defining predisposition: the need to feel cared for and included. Employees want to see their managers taking an active role in nurturing their development through regular coaching and feedback conversations. It’s no surprise, too, that the effective managers who take the time to do this will have far fewer quiet quitters than their ineffective counterparts. But not only that, there’s also less risk that these employees will experience a ‘quiet firing’ of the type where they’re effectively forced to quit because of an unsupportive manager.

Effective managers: why conversation is key
Clearly the solution lies in enabling managers to become more effective in their roles. But how do organisations actually do that?

Conversation is by far and away the single and best means of helping managers to become better managers. By having frequent conversations with their employees, managers can come to truly understand their specific needs, wants, challenges, and circumstances – an awareness that is key to ensuring those employees can thrive, and not just survive, at work.

But for that to take effect, the nature of the conversation has to change.

Effective manager-employee conversations are those that extend beyond objective-setting and performance ratings to cover a wide breadth of content such as wellbeing, motivation, and development. It is through these broader – and ideally, employee-led – discussions that managers can really understand and cater to people in a way that works for them.

Tools and training
Of course, not everyone is a natural manager. Some find themselves managing people for no other reason than the fact they’ve reached a certain level of experience or subject matter expertise. Simply telling these managers (or even those who are more confident in their coaching abilities) to have frequent and broad conversations with their employees isn’t necessarily going to reap the desired outcomes. They need to be coached too.

And so, just like any other skills development, HR must ensure its managers are equipped with the training and tools they need to have effective conversations with their employees. Get that right, and we’ll see the dawning of a new era: one in which everyone is given the opportunity to thrive at work.

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