First came “quiet quitting,” as disgruntled employees decided to do as little work as possible while at the office. Companies hard pressed to fill job openings found themselves putting up with employee disengagement and everything that comes with it.
When the labor market began to cool, some equally disgruntled employers decided to put their own spin on the phenomenon. If they had to tolerate unproductive employees as their businesses became less profitable, why not turn the tables? “Quiet cutting” entered the corporate vocabulary, adding insult to already stressed workers.
If you’re not yet familiar with the term, quiet quitting involves reassigning or relocating current employees rather than firing them, or simply cutting wages and salaries. While these tactics may have an immediate and positive impact on your bottom line, beware. The long-term and ancillary effects of this practice may come back to haunt you. Here’s why—and what you might consider doing instead.
It Will Harm Your Brand
I spend a lot of time writing about and helping companies build their brand. And you’ve probably invested a tremendous amount of time and resources in building yours. Adopting a quiet-cutting approach to reducing overhead will likely gut it.
Brands are built on more than one element. Voice, purpose, mission and values, positioning, identity, uniqueness, culture and experience are some of them. So is the story your brand tells its stakeholders. If your story is that you’re saving a buck on the backs of your employees, no one will stick around for the ending.
Your company’s brand isn’t the only one at risk here. Your personal brand is as well. The brand of your business is inexorably linked to the brand of its leadership. Quiet quitting is an employee decision, but quiet cutting is yours and yours alone.
Getting leaner doesn’t require getting meaner. Workforce reductions, when necessary, should be carefully planned and strategic. Remember that you’re eliminating positions, not people, even though some individuals will inevitably be affected. Develop plans to upskill your best talent, not demote them. Once you weather the current economic storm, you should be in a position to hire new employees while your existing ones move up.
Layoffs happen. But how you carry them out can protect your brand. Keep communications open. Help those whose positions are eliminated find new jobs. Above all, pay the obligations you owe, such as severance packages. If you get leaner with transparency and humanity, there’s no reason to be quiet about the process at all.
You Will Destroy Employee Morale
Employees are a lot like mothers: They know more than you think they do. Once workers get a whiff of trouble, like the fact the company is having difficulties, word will spread like wildfire. Everybody will live in fear and uncertainty about their jobs.
Burnout and stress have been ubiquitous workplace issues since the pandemic. Even at this point, employees are still trying to find the right work-life balance. But employers are getting tired of the length of the adjustment period. That makes the employees who are struggling most prime targets for demotion, reassignment and other quiet-cutting tactics.
You may think that these measures aren’t harming the people you want to stay at your company, but they are. Particularly post-pandemic, employees have more of a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude than an every-man-for-himself philosophy. What that means is that underhanded treatment of even a few employees will lower the morale of your best ones as well. If you don’t show that you have everyone’s back, your team members will believe you have no one’s.
Companies try to build cultures that encourage the rank and file to invest themselves in their success. So if your company is experiencing a downturn, it’s high time to build resilient employees, not break them down. After all, now is the time when you need the greatest productivity from your people, not the least.
Encourage innovative thinking, keep the lines of communication open, respond to questions honestly and check in frequently with struggling employees. You have to show your team members that you care about them, not take advantage of their fear. You may find it necessary to let some employees go, but don’t usher out the ones you need in the process.
Go High When You’re Low
Leadership is all about making tough decisions during difficult times. There are times when a company reassigns employees during restructuring to keep them on the payroll. But when it does so in a way designed to force employees to quit, that shows a complete lack of leadership.
Everyone knows that corporate transparency—and decency—translate into happy and productive workers and satisfied customers. Choose to go high when your business is low, and your company’s bottom line is far more likely to follow.