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  • Ninay Desai

All Quiet on the War Front: Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing & Quiet Hiring

This is a story about a great plague and how it brought the battle between workers and employers to a head. Every few months, a fresh salvo is fired. And because we live in the times of the mighty hashtag, each of these barrages has a catchy caption.

It all began with a little virus in early 2020. Well, not all of it because workers have been exploited for centuries now, albeit in different ways, in the pursuit of profit. Someone else’s profit, not theirs, silly! I’m not going to explain how the coronavirus pandemic unfolded and the whole business with the numerous lockdowns because even if you were living under a rock this whole time, it was probably with a mask and a bottle of sanitizer. So, you know how it went. The lockdown forced most people to either risk their health and well-being because they were part of essential services or work from home with almost no boundaries between work time and rest. And then, there were those who lost their jobs. It was a challenging time to say the least but it was also a time when people got down to thinking about what they wanted from their lives.


Lots of people realised that they were working jobs that weren’t doing anything for them, and they would much rather use the pandemic to study and change tracks. Or at least, resign from jobs that they’d been working for years just because they were stuck in a toxic comfort zone. I suppose you could say the pandemic jolted them out of their inertia. That’s what led to the Great Resignation which became something of a movement in 2021. It had other aliases like the Big Quit and the Great Reshuffle but they were all about the same things – a pushback against poor working conditions, low pay, skewed work-life balance and a lack of benefits.


Not everyone could resign during the Great Resignation even if they wanted to. For most people, resigning and taking a break or studying full-time wasn’t feasible. After all, bills demand to be paid and not everyone is sitting on a nest-egg. That’s when Quiet Quitting, the Great Resignation’s passive-aggressive cousin, arrived on the scene.

Quiet Quitting is an approach to work where employees meet the stated requirements of their job description. No staying back at work without overtime or taking on extra projects.

Quiet Quitting

So really speaking, they were performing the duties explicitly stated as their responsibility at an acceptable level of competence (else, they would probably be sacked). At its core, quiet quitting was a sign of the growing disconnect between employees and employers – a lack of understanding for the burnout that many employees were experiencing, a communication gap regarding key areas of responsibility, scarcity of growth opportunities for workers and a dearth of connection and alignment to the organisation’s mission or purpose.

When you think about it, if these quiet quitters are still doing their job, it shouldn’t be such a hassle, should it? I mean, it’ll just affect their career prospects because they’ll probably lose out on a promotion to the guy who doesn’t mind working a few hours extra every day. But that’s where reality strikes. The truth is that most jobs today call for employees to push harder to achieve goals that their management sets. Imagine I give you a task that requires about 10-12 hours to complete and then complain that you left it unfinished when you leave at the end of your mandated 8-9 hour shift. What if this is the standard operating procedure? You worked sincerely for the hours that I pay you for and yet, have to explain your choice to have a life beyond work because you’ve finally seen the cracks in the hustle culture. That’s another hashtag, by the way.


Now, I’m not trying to portray quiet quitters as innocents. They aren’t. In fact, no one is. Not in a marketplace as unstable as one we are in now. Several countries are already in a recession while others are headed that way. The rest, have other issues like jobless growth. Quiet quitters know this, and they choose not to be in a position where they are out of work and with no prospects of finding suitable employment. I suppose you could say they agree with the legendary stand-up comedian George Carlin when he said,

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

That’s how it’s always been. The only difference now is that there’s a hashtag to go with it. And when the air is thick with talk of job cuts, people feel like they need to take precautions. That’s where career cushioning comes in. Career Cushioning is to create a buffer or some kind of protection from a recession or job cuts, if and when they hit us. Actively searching out opportunities and interviewing for them, side gigs or freelancing and moonlighting are some of the means to cushion one’s career. Aside from being an ‘80s era American show starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, moonlighting is a term that refers to holding multiple jobs without the knowledge or permission of your primary employer.

Freelancing and Moonlighting

However, to do any or all of these requires time. That’s what quiet quitting provides. The time to improve your own lot instead of solely contributing to your employer’s market share only to be told, at appraisal time, that you haven’t earned 100% of your performance-linked incentive. It's the kind of hustle most corporates don't appreciate. It's not hard to guess why.

The American polling company, Gallup polled around 1,20,000 global employees and arrived at the conclusion that more than half of the world’s employees are engaging in quiet quitting (59%) while only 23% of survey respondents consider themselves to be thriving at work. Given the reasonable sample size, these numbers are pretty concerning. Or at least, should be concerning for the management of every large organisation. Perhaps, they were concerned and had a plan.


The first part of the plan was unveiled on social media. Sample this.

“Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life,”

wrote Ariana Huffington, one of the founders of HuffPost. For those who are unfamiliar with HuffPost, formerly known as The Huffington Post, let me do the needful. They’re an online news portal and made news when it was reported that they swept under the carpet, allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace against its managing editor, Jimmy Soni. They did, however, post him to New Delhi to launch Huffington Post India soon after. As you can imagine, Jimmy Soni was part of Ariana Huffington’s inner circle. Did I mention that Ms Huffington is also the founder of health and wellness startup, Thrive Global? And yet she speaks out against people looking to lead healthier lifestyles. Oh, the hypocrisy! All we need now is Jeff Bezos weighing in on worker rights and how his struggling business needs to steal tip money from Amazon delivery workers to keep the lights on.

Anyway, the point I am making is that many corporate types unleashed uninspired stereotypes by calling Quiet Quitters ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled’. This strategy works well on contemplative and sober debating grounds like Twitter and Reddit but something more insidious was required for the real world.


Headlines of quiet firing

Corporate top bosses came up with Quiet Firing. Clearly, imagination is not their strong suit. Quiet Firing is a management approach in which managers forego the best practices – such as providing frequent and constructive feedback, mentoring and accountability. Instead, they do the opposite, leaving out of favour employees with little choice but to look for new jobs. This tactic has the additional benefit of saving on notice period salaries and most crucially, avoiding unflattering media headlines of job cuts.


Now we come to the bit about keeping the growth and revenue numbers moving in the upward direction even when your workforce is diminished due to quiet quitting and quiet firing. After all, somebody’s got to do the work that isn’t being attended to. One way would be to hire new staff. Sadly, that costs money and because we are in a recession, there are hiring freezes in place in many organizations. What’s the solution?

Remember the 41% of global employees that aren’t part of the gang of quiet quitters? Some of those folks can be recruited in an exercise imaginatively named Quiet Hiring. What did I tell you about creativity and corporates? They don’t mix. But you’ve got to give them credit for staying on theme! Anyway, what does quiet hiring mean?

Requirements of Quiet Hiring

Quiet Hiring is when companies move workers from one function or department to another in lieu of hiring new employees. Sometimes they even dangle the promise of a promotion or a pay raise to sweeten the deal. Many people take that option because they see it as a means to scale the hierarchy or because they’re smart enough to know that rejecting quiet hiring can also turn into quiet firing. For the corporate in question, the cost of training and the pay hike, if and when delivered, is still more cost-effective than hiring a new person.

So, that's that. Now you’re up to speed on the quiet clash that has unfolded over the last three years in the hashtag battleground of the timeless war between employers and the employed. I doubt it's done though. Keep watching this space.

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Sep 03, 2023

What a lovely way to put out the "quiet" clashes between the corporates and the slaves! Nothing can explain it better. Beautifully written, Ninay!

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Portia. I appreciate your support. Have a splendid day!

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