Silent abandonment, silent dismissal and how to know if it’s happening to you

The supposed new trends of “quietly resign” and “quietly fire” have been around for decades under other names. But just because they’re nothing new doesn’t mean they can’t present real problems.

If you’re an employer, how do you tell the difference between committed workers who set reasonable limits and lazy people who deliberately underperform?

Job Tip: After ‘quietly resign’, here comes ‘quietly fire’

If you’re a harassed employee who suspects your manager is quietly firing you, is there a way to break the silence and save your job?

In both cases, the solution begins with examining your own assumptions about what it means to be productive and do good work. It also means finding objective and quantifiable ways to measure performance and quality of work that are clear to both employers and employees.

Employers looking at empty offices on Fridays or noticing a distinct lack of after-hours conversations on the intranet may be thinking, “It’s quiet. Very quiet.” You may be concerned that your employees will take advantage of remote work and flexible scheduling to do less than an honest day’s work for a full day’s pay.

But a lack of 24/7 performative noise doesn’t mean work isn’t getting done. Reaffirming the boundaries between work and personal time can seem like goofing off, or it can mean that workers make sure they focus fully and undiluted on work tasks and then do the same in their free time. Working differently does not mean working less.

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Employers concerned about quietly quitting should ask themselves: Is the work we pay for being done? Do we have relevant and quantifiable measures to judge the quality of that work? Finally, if the result is good by those measures, does it matter where, when and how it is done?

Obviously, Missed deadlines, dissatisfied customers, and unmet demand are objective production issues that need to be addressed. And if it turns out that office presence and off-hours engagement are essential to maintaining high-quality production, employers should be able to explain why.

Problems with job performance can stem from causes beyond employees’ control, which is why, when pointing out performance problems, it’s important to ask employees for their perspective. Your responses should make it clear whether these are really selfless workers calling or something larger and more systemic.

Working tip: I’m done with pings and notifications. If you want me, send an email.

What if you’re an employee and you suspect you’re being “quietly fired” by a manager who can’t fire you but is making your job increasingly unpleasant and unrewarding? Again, start with a careful look inside. Consider whether you may be underperforming and delivering lower or lower quality results than what you are being paid.

Monitor your mental and emotional state and get a second opinion from an outside observer who knows you well. Burnout, anxiety, and depression have insidious ways of setting in in ways that are visible to everyone but their host.

If you think you’re performing as well as ever, but your manager still seems dissatisfied, make it clear that you want to succeed. Ask for quantifiable measures of what constitutes good work, so you and your manager can see when you’re hitting those target marks.

This may not be enough to win over a manager who really wants you out, but if months or years of managerial “gaslighting” have left you struggling with self-doubt, it can be empowering to see that your performance isn’t the problem, and the result of this silent showdown is out of your hands.

Remote revolution could lead to Armageddon offshoring

Take, for example, the reader whose employer was ordering everyone back to the office, but had moved the local office to a location that was difficult to access. The reader said it seemed strange that the employer seemed willing to risk losing workers, including newly hired ones during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing them on a difficult journey.

But then the reader remembered that the employer had recently opened a new facility in another state with lower labor costs and had been transferring more work, resources, and opportunities there. After connecting those dots, the reader said, it all became clear: “Moving our local office to a cheaper, less accessible location was just another step in showing us the door. Mystery solved.”

While getting kicked out for whatever reason is daunting, the reader found knowing the reason oddly motivating. “Your information suggests that I am part of a trend. Knowing that is power,” the reader wrote. “I am interviewing and I am hopeful that with the job market the way it is, even at my age, I will be able to get something soon.”

Knowing the business motive behind the quiet layoff might also give this reader some financial advantage: A company eager to lay off staff might be willing to speed up the process with a severance package. But, in my opinion, it is just as rewarding to free yourself from a pointless struggle to remain where one is not valued.

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