When “Quiet Quitting” went viral on social media in 2022, it brought a new meaning to absenteeism in the workplace. A year later, employers are flipping the script with their own trend – “Quiet Cutting.”
It’s a slow-motion attrition, giving employers a dexterous alternative to outright layoffs or termination while avoiding the visibility and legal blowbacks associated with the process. Should an employee instead decide to leave on their own, the company is absolved from severance pay and gains a buffer of strategic flexibility in keeping experienced employees around at an affordable cost.
Within organizations, this practice may manifest itself through pay reductions, downgrades in employee titles or trimming and shifting employee roles and responsibilities in the workplace.
The stealthy nature of quiet cutting makes it challenging to quantify initially, but the long-term effects are detrimental to the individual and the organization, says J. Gerald Suarez, Professor of the Practice in Systems Thinking and Design at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
If it becomes serial, the organization may experience a culture of self-protective behaviors and unhealthy internal competition for tasks, recognition and even remaining in the boss’s good graces. In the long-term, absenteeism, lack of accountability, increased customer complaints, accidents and eventual loss of competitiveness are notable.
“The detrimental consequences of this downward occupational mobility are devastating to the morale and self-esteem of the employees,” Suarez says. “Their work might become a primarily transactional process where they show up out of the necessity of making a living. It fractures the bond of loyalty and trust, and fuels a generalized disillusionment that accelerates the corrosion of joy in work.”
Quiet cutting gains strength during volatile job markets, when employees feel vulnerable, and the preservation of a job takes precedence over titles, prestige and status. Besides economic conditions, this personnel practice can be triggered by poor employee performance, eliminating role redundancy after a merger and other unintended consequences of a reorganization.
Suarez offers the following insights for how individuals can navigate quiet cutting in their careers:
Identify the “Why”. It’s critical to understand the reasons behind a reassignment or downgrade decision. Bear in mind that not all quiet cutting is created equally. There are many systemic reasons that go beyond the control or performance of an individual employee. Budget constraints or changes in strategic direction are just two examples. “Appreciating the context eases the pressure and the sentiment of “Why me?” and “What did I do wrong?”
Read the tea leaves. Determine whether this is happening to others in the workplace or if it is a singular experience. Lack of feedback or recognition, frequent postponing of one-on-one meetings and constant shifting of tasks and priorities are some potential symptoms of which to be mindful. “Employers furthering quiet cutting create a climate of uncertainty and ambiguity for the employee,” says Suarez. “Identifying the cues early on allows you to be proactive in your choices.”
Find the off-ramp. Quiet cutting always trumps a loud firing. Take advantage of the security and stability of employment to buy time toward planning the next career move. Be patient, as reacting emotionally or abruptly to immediate workplace shifting and reassignment may result in rushed decisions or settling for the wrong job. Suarez says, “Invest your focus in identifying and approximating your ideal or desired job and not merely on leaving the current situation precipitously.”
Start a new chapter. Quiet cutting shouldn’t be perceived as a career ender, but rather as an opportunity to reexamine the meaning of work in your life. Leveraging the moment is empowering and critical to identify what types of jobs will bring fulfillment and a sense of purpose. “Perhaps your job had become habitual, and complacency had set in.” Suarez feels, “the current circumstances can serve as a catalyst for a true sense of urgency that could lead to career reorientation and a better job.”
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