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BBetween 2008 and 2010, American companies laid off more than 8 million workers. Now, with the threat of another recession looming, many employers are again considering downsizing. But rather than firing or laying off workers outright, research suggests companies may increasingly be turning to another, more subtle approach: silent firing.
To avoid the financial, psychological and legal costs associated with deporting people, some companies may intentionally create a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave voluntarily. Of course, on an individual level, this is not a new idea – managers have long used similar tactics to weed out underperformers without paying them compensation or risking retaliation. But more recently, companies such as Tesla and Meta appear to be increasingly using silent firing as a larger-scale downsizing strategy.
In effect, a study found that the majority of workers who left their jobs in 2021 did so because of low pay, lack of growth opportunities, or lack of respect. Employees may find themselves under new policies or called upon to take on new responsibilities, with their work slowly turning into something further and further away from what they signed up for, until resignation seems to be the only option. Worse, many employees don’t even understand what a silent dismissal is, let alone how to see it coming or what to do when it happens to them.
That’s why earlier this year, we asked more than 1,000 American workers from a wide range of industries and roles to share their experiences with silent shooting. Based on their responses, we identified several common indicators that may suggest an employer is trying to “motivate” workers at the gate.
Silent Shot Warning Signs
Changes related to job responsibilities:
- Reassign important work responsibilities to other employees
- Demote an employee or change their job description
- Not awarding promising new opportunities
- Setting unreasonable performance goals
- Giving an employee responsibilities that are undesirable or misaligned with their role
- Preventing an employee from receiving a well-deserved promotion
- Salary cuts
- Prevent an employee from earning more by accepting extra work or overtime
- Not providing expected annual bonuses or raises
Changes related to working conditions:
- Changing regular working hours or shifts
- Increased workloads to unreasonable or unmanageable levels
- Force an employee to move
- Removing “benefits”, such as an office or a parking space
Changes related to supervisor communication:
- Not discussing career trajectory or providing performance feedback
- Unfairly evaluating an employee, providing excessively harsh feedback, or constantly criticizing their work
- “Ghosting” or repeated cancellation of meetings
- Failing to provide essential information related to an employee’s job and responsibilities
- Not giving an employee credit for their work, or even worse, giving credit to others
Going through these changes can be really demoralizing. If your workplace or supervisor makes you feel incompetent, unappreciated, disenfranchised, depressed, or isolated, it’s natural to want to leave. In fact, more than a quarter of respondents in our survey said that in response to these silent signs of layoff, they actually started looking for a new job (illustrating that this can actually be an effective reduction – although immoral – workplace strategy).
But many other people shared ways they were able to fix the problem and move on. Below, we’ve condensed their experiences into 10 tactical steps you can take if you’re worried about being quietly fired, before throwing in the towel:
What can you do if you are quietly fired?
1. Diagnose the situation rationally.
Are you really quietly fired? Or are you overanalyzing the situation? Are there objective circumstances that can explain the decisions made by your managers? Are adverse changes really only targeting you, or is everyone affected equally? In a sensitive and uncomfortable situation, it is easy to misinterpret the actions of others. If your workplace has become really unbearable and damaging 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 you react.
2. Knowledge is power.
To make sure you are aware of the types of changes to your working conditions that are or are not acceptable, it is essential to familiarize yourself with your company’s rules and regulations. You should also know the criteria for promotions and raises, as well as the conventions of your particular profession, particularly as they relate to pay scales and compensation structures. This frame of reference can help you determine if your experiences are typical for your company and industry, or if you are in fact being quietly dismissed.
3. Document the property.
Keep written records of your accomplishments and accomplishments. Make sure you can demonstrate the value you’ve added to the business in terms of tangible, quantifiable results.
4. Document the bad.
Just as important, keep written records of any evidence that you are being abused. This includes emails, evaluation reports, written comments, etc. Also, be sure to document the various incidents that made you feel underappreciated, excluded, or undervalued.
5. Communicate openly and proactively.
If you are concerned about your situation, reach out to your supervisor and have an open and honest conversation about how you are feeling. Be as specific as possible and try to focus on tactical ways your manager can make things better, rather than just complaining.
6. Ask for legal help.
Sometimes consulting a lawyer or union representative can help you assess the seriousness of a situation and determine the best way to handle it. Also, sometimes just knowing you’ve consulted with a lawyer or union representative is enough to dissuade a supervisor from continuing down the silent dismissal path.
7. Protect your sanity.
The stress associated with being quietly fired can take a huge toll on your mental health. To help you deal with these challenges, consider working with a therapist, counselor, or other professional. You can also reach out to friends, family and colleagues who can both provide support and offer tactical advice.
8. Leave quietly.
This approach has its own downsides, but especially when you’re figuring out the best course of action, quietly quitting (i.e. disengaging from your work and doing only the bare minimum) can be an effective option for mitigating a part. stress associated with being quiet. licensed.
9. Take legal action.
Part of the appeal of silent dismissal is that it’s harder for employees to take legal action – but that doesn’t mean there’s no recourse at all. To build a legal case, you’ll likely need to prove that the company fundamentally and unfairly changed your working conditions and that those changes resulted in real and demonstrable harm to income or well-being.
10. Before quitting, negotiate.
Finally, if it’s clear to you that the company wants to kick you out and you’ve decided it’s not worth staying, don’t just quit. Instead, engage in a frank discussion with your supervisor stating your belief that the company is looking to downsize and sharing the terms on which you would be willing to leave. For example, consider offering to leave voluntarily in exchange for six months of severance pay, a positive recommendation, job placement support, or some other benefit that is important to you. You won’t necessarily get everything you ask for, but if your company wants you and doesn’t want to fire you, that means you have influence. So don’t leave money on the table when you walk through the door.
Admittedly, implementing these recommendations can sometimes be easier said than done. In our study, we found that over 40% of respondents who had experienced silent shooting simply tried to ignore the problem, expressing an unwillingness to cause trouble or start a conflict. But when you know the warning signs to look out for and the steps you can take to fix them, you’ll have the tools you need to anticipate the problem. And whether you decide to quit or stick with it, remember that you deserve to be appreciated and valued – at your current job or the next.
Ayalla Ruvio is Associate Professor of Marketing at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business and Director of the Master of Science in Marketing Research (MSMR) program. His research focuses on the well-being and behavior of consumers and employees. Forrest Morgeson is an assistant professor of marketing at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. His research focuses on customer-company relationships and the financial value of customer and employee assets to companies.
This article is adapted from harvard business review with permission. ©2022. All rights reserved.