Quiet quitting is the term du jour, the alleged latest phenomenon to emerge from the post-pandemic malaise that settled into a good portion of the workforce. People tired of putting up with what they think is beyond their job description or a potential waste of their time and effort simply drop to the bare minimum effort to keep their job. No longer wedded to the idea that work comes first, they quietly say “no” to requests to perform duties that they believe are beyond the scope of their job or for which they won’t be duly compensated.

But it’s nothing new.

In the military, we often referred to this syndrome as retired on active duty. In other circles, you might hear it called phoning or mailing it in. Or you may just see someone labeled as a classic underachiever. And let’s be honest… there are other terms we use that are far less nuanced and much more profane. You get the general idea.

But what we’re missing is a long-existing and rarely discussed phenomenon: quiet firing.

What is Quiet Firing?

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the workforce – actually, just about any workforce – then you’ve either seen or experienced quiet firing. I’ve often referred to it as ghosting. For reasons you never quite grasp, you find yourself on the outside looking in. No one responds to your emails, no one answers your phone calls, and you’re just kind of left alone in the dark to (hopefully) find your way.

In a recent social media post, Zapier recruiter Bonnie Dilber described some of the more common symptoms of quiet firing, including:

  • You no longer receive feedback or praise.
  • You receive raises of 3% or less while others are getting more.
  • Your one-on-ones are frequently cancelled or rescheduled.
  • You aren’t invited to participate in projects or stretch opportunities.
  • You are left out of the loop and become increasingly irrelevant.
  • Your leadership never talks to you about your career trajectory.

Ultimately, according to Dilber, you “either feel so incompetent, isolated, and unappreciated” that you leave for another job, or you become so demotivated that your performance drops to a point where you can be terminated. In short, you save your leadership the trouble of actually doing their part to help you a contributing member of a team.

How Can you Respond to Quiet Firing

If you’ve never been subjected to a quiet firing, be grateful. It’s a sickening feeling. Going from the inner circle to the outer limits can be emotionally and physically exhausting. And it’s not always as simple as forcing the conversation with your leadership. They’re deliberately choosing not to engage with you, so your options are limited. But you DO have options.

1. Document Everything.

This is a good habit to have already, but when you think you’re being ghosted, it’s a good idea to document what you’re doing on a daily basis, especially attempts to gain feedback or guidance. Start a journal. Maintain a record of relevant communication attempts. You may eventually find yourself in a position where ready access to this information is essential.

2. Elevate your Case.

Not getting the response you need from your supervisor? Go up one level, or even two if necessary. Don’t accuse anyone of anything, just make it known that you’re seeking and not receiving feedback, or that you would welcome mentoring. Much of the time, quiet firing is a lazy manager or supervisor trying to force you to quit. Alerting leadership to that might get you scratched off someone’s Christmas card list, but it might also save you from a bad manager.

3. Tap your Network.

Dust off your resume, scrape the mold off your CV, and quietly let your network know that a career change might be coming. Don’t give anyone the satisfaction of quitting, at least not without a solid Plan B in the works. You might just discover that your dream job has been waiting for you while you were tolerating being ghosted by Bill Lumbergh.

4. Seize the Day.

Once your Plan B is solidly in place, then you have all the options you need. Take the initiative. Force the uncomfortable conversations that others avoid. Stand up for yourself with confidence. Whatever you do, don’t play the quiet firing game. This is your time.

Leave on Your Own Terms

Whatever you do, don’t quiet quit and don’t let yourself be pushed out the door without a fight. If you leave, do so on your terms with your head held high. Don’t stay in a crappy job just because you don’t think you have options. You have them. You just need to do the hard work to find them.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.