Between 2008 and 2010, American firms laid off more than 8 million workers. Today, as the threat of another recession looms, many employers are again considering trimming their workforce. But rather than firing or laying off workers outright, research suggests that companies may increasingly be turning to another, subtler approach: quiet firing.
To avoid the financial, psychological and legal costs associated with forcing people out, some companies may intentionally create a hostile work environment that encourages people to leave voluntarily. Of course, on an individual level, this is hardly a new idea—managers have long used similar tactics to push out underperformers without paying them severance or risking retaliation. But more recently, companies such as Tesla and Meta increasingly seem to be using quiet firing as a workforce reduction strategy on a wider scale.
Indeed, one study found that the majority of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 did so because of low pay, a lack of growth opportunities or feeling disrespected. Employees may find themselves operating under new policies or expected to take on new responsibilities, their jobs slowly transforming into something that’s further and further from what they signed up for, until resigning feels like the only option. Worse still, many employees don’t even understand what quiet firing is—let alone how to see it coming or what to do when it happens to them.