Avoid quiet firing – turn up the volume on performance issues instead

The chatter around quiet quitting is hard to ignore – this is when an employee doesn’t actually quit but remains in their job without performing above and beyond – but have you heard the buzz about quiet firing?

Again, this latest trend doesn’t involve firing someone; instead, a manager creates a hostile work environment in the hope that they will leave the company of their own accord. Rather than being upfront with an employee who is underperforming or disruptive, someone who fires quietly uses passive-aggressive means to get their message across. This might include repeatedly passing someone over for a promotion or pay rise, excluding them from important meetings, not involving them in high-profile projects, or not giving them any meaningful feedback. And as hybrid working becomes the norm, managers are resorting to such tactics increasingly. It’s infinitely easier to freeze someone out when you don’t see them every day.

The problem is that quiet firing doesn’t only impact the individual. It also affects the rest of the company, creating a toxic culture. So, what should you do when one of your team is falling short, and you fear it might be time for them to go?

Give people a chance

Giving someone the silent treatment won’t resolve performance issues. Unless an employee is guilty of gross misconduct, you should let them know they aren’t meeting your expectations so they can at least try and rectify the issue. That means having an open and honest conversation with them, being clear about what isn’t working, and setting realistic improvement targets that you will review within an agreed timeframe.

Be decisive

That said, as much as everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed in their role, you also need to know when to let someone go. Many business leaders I speak to regret holding on to someone for longer than they should, but few are sorry about dismissing someone too quickly. If an individual has been with your business for a long time, the temptation can be to give them one last chance. However, if their performance or attitude is starting to have a detrimental effect on the team, begin the dismissal process without delay. In a small company, you can’t afford to have someone challenging the status quo.

Minimise legal risks

If you decide that dismissing an employee is your only recourse, following the proper legal procedure is paramount. The Acas website is a helpful resource and outlines your obligations which vary according to how long a person has been with your business. However, regardless of the legalities, acting in a balanced, fair, and consistent way demonstrates to other staff that you are a caring employer.

Show compassion and understanding

Similarly, if you need to part company with an employee, do so with compassion. After all, the employee you’re firing is also an individual with a career and a life that are about to be turned upside down. So, be kind and honest and deliver your message succinctly. Get straight to the point and keep the discussion short and informative, including clear steps on what happens next.

Also, consider the rest of the team and how one of their colleagues leaving – perhaps with little notice – will impact morale. There is no need to go into specifics; you should always be respectful of the employee who has been fired. However, you should tell staff that the individual is no longer with the business and explain what will change. For example, will they be expected to pick up additional tasks, and what are your plans for replacing the individual or redistributing their work?

Create the right conditions for people to succeed

Of course, in an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to fire someone in the first place. This starts with the hiring process and selecting the right candidate for the role who not only has the right skills but is also the right fit for the team and the business. Following that, the priority is to create the right conditions for that employee to succeed. By setting clear objectives and having systems in place to monitor and measure performance, all parties know what is required and whether those requirements are being met. And if there are issues, you’ll have data you can use to support your discussion.

Like quiet firing, performance management isn’t new, but as more people work from home, there is a risk that managers and leaders neglect to communicate with their remote and hybrid teams and hide behind digital tools instead. Quiet quitting, quiet firing – the last thing you want is a culture of silence where issues go unspoken. So, turn up the volume. Create an open, supportive environment where open, honest conversations happen regularly and drown out the threat of quiet firing.