You may have heard about employees “quiet quitting,” but did you know that your boss can take the same approach and “quiet fire” you? This usually happens when your boss can’t or won’t fire you — but wants you to quit.
“Often this behaviour happens from managers who are either too afraid to give constructive feedback or who cynically believe it won’t improve a situation,” says Nora Jenkins Townson, founder and principal of HR consultancy Bright + Early.
So how do you know if this is happening to you? We outline 10 signs that you’re being quiet fired — and ways you can get ahead of it and potentially course correct before it’s too late.
Sign #1: You’re not getting new projects
You’ve done all your work and are ready to move on to something new… but there’s no work to be done. Even though we could all use a break, having no work for a full week, a month or even a few months is demoralizing. Why even show up if there’s nothing to do?
If you find yourself in this situation, Jenkins Townson recommends making the first move. Talk to your boss and ask them directly: why aren’t you giving me new work? This discussion can let you know if you’re being quiet fired or if your boss is perhaps a poor delegator.
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Sign #2: You’re getting the most boring projects
Even if you’re getting new projects, what if you keep getting assigned all the low-level or really boring ones? This may be your boss’s way of making you feel so bored coming to work every day that you’ll quit just to feel something.
Showing off your skills could be an effective counterstrategy to this kind of situation. Take a bit of extra initiative and show them what you can do! Tell your boss about what you did and the results it garnered. It may just make them question why they were trying to get rid of you in the first place.
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Sign #3: You’re not getting promoted
Are you all your work friends moving up the ladder, but you’re staying in the same place? This could be a sign that your management doesn’t believe in your abilities and doesn’t see you as valuable to the company.
Jenkins Townson advises that you offer to work on a plan with your boss for promotion. This way, they can see that you’re serious about your work and bringing value to the company.
Sign #4: Your boss never schedules one-on-ones anymore
When your boss stops checking in with you to talk about your progress and your own goals, this may mean they don’t care about your future anymore.
If you notice that you’re in this situation, try scheduling a one-on-one with your boss and see how they respond. This will give you a better gauge for if they’re quiet firing you — or if they’re maybe just busy or distracted.
Sign #5: You’re no longer invited to professional development opportunities
Your company has stopped including you in professional development opportunities, like attending conferences or lunch-and-learns. Like the one-on-ones with your boss, Jenkins Townson says this could be a sign of a “lack of investment” in your growth.
Express to HR that you would like to be included in professional development opportunities, even if they’re not directly involved in your job description. This will show that you’re willing to invest in yourself for the company, and they should too!
Sign #6: Your inbox is empty
Emails are the worst, but they are a critical way to communicate with your colleagues – especially if you’re doing remote work. So, though you may have more time to do deep work without all these emails, when they stop showing up, it’s not always a nice respite from the grind. It may be a sign of phasing you out of certain projects.
Check in with your boss and coworkers to ensure that you’re not missing any emails. Perhaps they’re leaving you out of emails, but perhaps your server is down, and you need to talk to IT. Either way, it’s better to not just ignore it for too long.
Sign #7: Your boss shows no follow-through
You’ve noticed the above signs of quiet firing. You’ve done the proactive work of talking to your boss about it (congrats!) and… crickets. Nothing has changed. No new projects, no new professional development, nothing.
Before you make any more assumptions, Jenkins Townson warns that signs of quiet firing may also just be signs of a “not-so-great boss.”
In the most non-gossipy way possible, consider talking to your coworkers about this. Have they had issues around this with your boss? How did they tackle it? Also, if they know what’s going on with you, they may be able to vouch for you to your boss. You can then figure out if you should start looking for a new job or may have to find new ways to move up at work.
Sign #8: You hate your job
Many quiet firing signs have more to do with toxic workplaces or bad bosses than you. But as much as we hate to see it, sometimes you’re the problem.
If you haven’t been enjoying work lately and are letting it show, your boss and colleagues may have taken notice and that’s why you’re left off projects!
“If you’re feeling like you want to move on from a job and suspect the feeling is mutual, you could consider speaking to your manager frankly,” Jenkins Townson says.
She adds the important point that quitting means you’re disqualified from receiving severance or unemployment benefits. So, working closely with your manager to help you smoothly transition out of the company – both emotionally and financially – could be a lifesaver.
Sign #9: You can’t be fired
Certain workplace dynamics make it harder to get fired. Perhaps you’re in a union or you’re the CEO’s nephew.
If your boss wants to fire you but can’t due to these kinds of workplace politics and/or union restraints, they might opt to quiet fire you. That way, they can ignore your presence without getting in trouble with their boss.
If you’re in a union or somehow related to a CEO, you may have some power to move yourself to a different department or different boss. If you don’t have this kind of sway, talking to HR is an option here to see if there is a solution to this.
Sign #10: You’re straight-up excluded
If your workplace starts to feel like the cafeteria in Mean Girls, this is what Jenkins Townson refers to as an “extreme” way to be quiet fired.
In this case, do you really want to stay at a place like this? If you can’t quit due to financial or other restraints, get on a job search ASAP and get out of there so that you can take care of your mental health.
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Sometimes you can solve quiet firing internally, but sometimes you can’t. Whatever is going on at your work, it’s important that you get confirmation before you leap to any assumptions about being quiet fired. From there, you can ask yourself the eternal question: should I stay, or should I go?