Failure to communicate perpetuates war at work

Pamela Drake

A silent war pitting quiet quitting against quiet firing rages on in the workplace. What are the catalysts for this behavior? The relationship isn’t always direct and could serve as an endless, tiring and unproductive feedback loop between employers and employees.

We’re all aware of the increased buzz around quiet quitting. Workers do only enough to get by because of burnout or dissatisfaction with pay and working conditions. But there’s also a growing trend of managers striking back with their own passive aggression. Some managers could be in the throes of quiet quitting themselves, avoiding difficult discussions with employees and failing to provide feedback. Whatever the reason, poor or no communication is the root cause of war.

Ineffective leadership presents a disservice to employees. They can’t correct performance and behavioral issues if they’re unaware of their managers’ dissatisfaction or their jobs could be in jeopardy. Failure to meet the needs of employees becomes an invitation to quit. Excluding employees from meetings or projects and passing them up for promotions and pay raises create hostile work environments. Most employees want to keep their jobs. But when they’re not well supported, they feel pushed out.
Separation under these circumstances constitutes a quiet firing.

According to a Linkedin poll, more than 80 percent of employees have witnessed or experienced quiet firing. Remote work contributes to this situation since it’s easier to blank someone out virtually than in person. This is yet another contributor to employees’ feelings of isolation and lack of support. With the increase of remote and hybrid working arrangements, effective performance management is more important than ever.

Quiet firing might be a new expression, but it’s not a new concept. It’s the same as “constructive discharge” — a term used for decades to describe situations in which an employer makes working conditions so intolerable an employee feels forced to quit.

In the case of quiet quitting, employees’ omission to communicate to management their dissatisfaction or need for training or resources constitutes a blatant failure to attempt to rectify adverse circumstances, especially if their performance was in obvious decline.

It all goes back to good performance management and communication. It starts with proper hiring and ongoing communication and training as well as support and respect. Employers must make every effort to hire the right person for the job with the right skills and fit with company culture. Performance management doesn’t stop there, though. Employers must make job expectations clear with ongoing monitoring and mentoring. Documentation is essential, too.

Managers must be available and approachable. Otherwise, the likelihood of an employee asking for support or bringing issues to the attention of management decreases. Employees should inform employers of issues affecting their ability to perform successfully, but must have the assurance of safety and respect to do so.

In terms of denying unemployment benefits in the case of termination, the burden of proof falls on employers to prove claimants were guilty of misconduct. In cases in which an employee fails to meet expectations, but hasn’t been warned, counseled or provided an opportunity to correct performance — and there’s no corresponding documentation — proof doesn’t exist. 

Was there any communication at all? Did the employee ask to address issues? Is there evidence the employee wasn’t doing the best they could, but were unaware there was a problem. Is this quiet quitting or quiet firing? It’s often difficult to ascertain the actual moving party, especially when there are diverging perspectives of the circumstances surrounding separation. It’s highly likely a claimant would be awarded benefits under these circumstances.

When an employee quits, the burden shifts to them to raise issues or they fail to exhaust all avenues of redress to remain gainfully employed. If there was no good reason for failing to bring issues to the attention of the employer prior to quitting, the claimant could be disqualified. Questions arise in this type of scenario as well. Did the employee try to discuss concerns with the employer without success? Was the claimant afraid to raise issues because the employer didn’t care to listen? Was this a quiet quitting or quiet firing? Where there’s no documentation, the benefit generally goes to the claimant in unemployment adjudication.

A failure to communicate by employers and employees perpetuates this silent war of passive aggression, resulting in severe repercussions. A lack of productivity and toxic environment endanger healthy workplaces. The challenge is to do the right thing, to foster mutual trust and respect and create a place where employees are heard and feel safe.

There should be open communication and good documentation in place to address issues. The better the communication, the more engaged and productive the employees. That turns a war into a win-win situation.