- Some white-collar workers are being “quietly fired” as companies seek to avoid public layoffs.
- One person described why she thought her company appeared to be quietly firing her and others.
- A red flag: She was warned of a performance-improvement plan when she said she was surpassing goals.
An account manager who joined a tech company last year said she was exceeding her performance goals when she received the unexpected warning that her job was at risk.
“I was the highest performer on the team, and literally a month later, I’m being told that I’m underperforming and that I’m in danger of being put on a performance review,” the account manager said. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. Her identity and employer are known to Insider.
“There’s a certain amount of gaslighting that goes on, too, from management,” she told Insider. “Like, ‘You got this. This is totally achievable. Your peers are hitting their pipeline metrics, so why can’t you?'”
Changes to compensation plans and higher goals amid “a lack of resources” at the company, she said, indicated to her that something was wrong — in addition to the looming performance-improvement plan.
What the account manager described could be signs of “quiet firing,” which Vicki Salemi, a career expert for the job site Monster, told Insider was when employers pushed “you to the point where it could be a toxic work environment” so you end up quitting without being formally terminated.
She added that quiet firing typically involved singling out people, rather than employers trying to push out many. A “stagnant” salary and colleagues “advancing in their careers” while you’re being overlooked could be examples of this, Salemi said.
Ben Wigert, the director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup, told Insider that if organizations “have fears about difficult financial times ahead, they may be being tougher on performance, or tougher on employees who may not fit or may not be progressing because they would rather encourage the people who aren’t working out to leave, rather than laying off the people they want to keep.”
“At the end of the day, quiet firing is more about the culture of fear it produces,” the account manager said. “The stress over overinflated metrics, pay cuts, changes to comp plans, and performance reviews make for an environment that feels unsafe. And where there is no psychological safety, there is no growth.”
Below are two quiet-firing signs the account manager said she was seeing.
Sudden performance warnings
The account manager said that when one executive joined the company, “that’s when we really started seeing all the big changes.”
She said one of the quiet-firing signs she had seen was that “if you don’t hit this arbitrary metric, we’re going to put you on a performance review.” She added: “That has suddenly happened.”
She told Insider, “I think the culture shift feels like it — feels like quiet firing — just because there’s so much pressure.” She said that while metrics had always been looked at in her company, “it had never been so significant and with such severe consequences.”
Salemi, the career expert for Monster, told Insider that sometimes quiet firing could happen because of performance issues. Wigert agreed that a performance-improvement plan could be a sign of quiet firing.
While she doesn’t know anyone who has quit over quiet firing at the company, the account manager said that someone who was on a performance-improvement plan was “no longer with the company” as of recently.
‘Push, push, push’ on harder-to-achieve goals
Another sign the account manager has seen is an increase in goals.
“I think the sentiment is that everyone knows they don’t want to take it to the street that they’re firing anybody and doing layoffs,” the account manager said. “So instead, they’re just squeezing. They’re making goals unattainable so that they pay out less.” At her company, meeting or exceeding goals can lead to bonuses.
She said that it wasn’t the case where she “had easily overachieved by any stretch of the imagination” previously, but she was able to exceed her goals “and make the kind of money that they had sort of said was available.”
“And now, the goals have doubled, and there’s very little confidence from this entire team that these goals are realistic,” she said.
That’s because while goals increased, other business changes meant that the team had fewer opportunities to meet those goals. “Now we have higher goals and less opportunity to achieve them,” she said.
While there’s continued emphasis on performance, she said the company was not “taking into proper consideration what’s necessary to achieve the goals or what systemic problems might exist to prevent somebody from achieving a goal or even just to ask how can we help? It’s just push, push, push.”
These problems can all lead to quitting — or, at the very least, harm morale
The account manager said there was a cumulative effect of a lot of small changes at her company.
“They’re chipping away at you little by little,” she said, “whether it be through a change in your comp plan, increased goals, pressure around various metrics that weren’t there before, things like that. It’s the combination of factors is what creates the quiet firing.”
She added that the company “produced this really dismal internal culture.”
“People don’t have a lot of confidence in the leadership at this point,” she added. “They feel like actually what needs to happen is a big change from the top down.”
Do you think you are being quietly fired? Share your story with this reporter at [email protected].