Are ‘quiet firing’ and ‘quiet quitting’ real in the arts?

Are the arts the perfect breeding ground for the global trend of ‘quiet firing’ and ‘quiet quitting’, systemically plagued by burnout and job shortages.
person walking in direction of arrows

‘81,396 hours. That’s how much of life most of us spend working. The only thing we spend more time doing is sleeping. If we spend so much of life at work, how is life at work going? According to the world’s workers, not well. Gallup finds 60% of people are emotionally detached at work, and 19% are miserable.’ – Jon Clifton CEO, Gallop.

There are two terms circulating social channels and workplaces at the moment: ‘quiet firing’ and ‘quiet quitting’.

Both essentially describe when someone is intentionally managed out of their job. Quiet firing is management driven, while quiet quitting is when an employee takes the reins themself, adjusting their work ethic in the hope of being dismissed.

Both are passive aggressive tactics that lack the maturity of having confronting workplace conversations, but perhaps have been triggered by the prolonged pressures of the pandemic workplace of the past two years – leading to people growing tired of dealing with ‘the hard stuff’.

But as workplaces return to ‘business as usual’, some have become used (or just learned how) to put their mental health first, and would rather join the ‘great resignation’ – a term coined in May 2021 by Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at University College London, after observing a global job burnout exodus. Klutz argues that such people would now rather self-manage themselves out of their job via stealth tactics, than endure.

Understandably, however, there is a bit of a grey area when it comes to proving that quiet firing and quitting actually exist. So ArtsHub has taken a look at recent global trends to find out they are real, how you can spot them and what you can do about them.

Is it real – the ‘quiet’ zeitgeist?

The trend of ‘quiet quitting’ is being led by Gen Z, who have turned to social media to encourage like-minded workers to step back from their jobs and put themselves first.

While the trend has been growing across all generations during the pandemic, it went viral last month when US TikTokker @zaidlepplin posted a video, saying ‘work is not your life’. Thousands have since joined him, discouraging anyone from going the extra mile in their job.

Such comments are in line with a recent Workplace Engagement Gallup poll (released September 2022), which found that: ‘’Quiet quitters’ make up at least 50% of the US workforce – probably more.’

The global report further determined that ‘only 21% of employees were engaged at work, and most didn’t find their work meaningful following the pandemic’.

Findings for Australia match that global average of only 21% experiencing meaningful workplace engagement.

In other words, Gallup says that low engagement alone has cost the global economy US$7.8 trillion.

Another Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour, this time from the University of Nottingham, Maria Kordowicz told The Guardian (UK), ‘The search for meaning has become far more apparent. There was a sense of our own mortality during the pandemic, something quite existential around people thinking ‘what should work mean for me?”

The drop-off in workplace engagement has been on the rise since the second half of 2021, concurrent with a rise in job resignations.

Read: Why the Great Resignation is an opportunity, not a loss

‘I think this has a link to the elements of quiet quitting that are perhaps more negative: mentally checking out from a job, being exhausted from the volume of work and a lack of work/life balance that hit many of us during the pandemic,’ said Kordowicz.

The same recent Gallup poll says that we can expect the problem to get worse, thanks to burnout and a culture that has pushed employees into an expectation to ‘go beyond’ meeting their job description.

At the same time as this self-driven drop-off, ‘quiet firing’ is also on the rise. A LinkedIn News poll last month showed that 48% of its 20,000 participants reported witnessing quiet firing at work, with an additional 38 percent saying, ‘It’s real, and I’ve faced it.’

Only 13% claimed that quiet firing ‘is not a thing’.

As with quiet quitting, it was TikTok that brought the term ‘quiet firing’ into the vernacular thanks to influencer DeAndre Brown, who is credited with having coined it.

‘Quiet firing is basically when you are doing the work within your job description and you are living up to your job responsibilities; however, your job is not showing you a [cheque],’ Brown said.

Quiet firing, and how to spot it

Laying off an employee lies with managers and, during the pandemic and an uncertain period in the workplace, this has happened more often than usual, fuelling stress. Often it’s the manager who will have to determine who stays and who goes.

One tactic that has emerged stems from managers suffering confrontation burnout and choosing to not fire outright, but rather ‘quiet fire’.

Anne Rosencrans is Director of People and Culture at HR platform, HiBob, and recently told CNBC’s Make It: ‘I think this idea of quiet firing is done unintentionally, or subconsciously, by managers who are fearful or hesitant to give direct feedback when things aren’t going well with an employee.’

Quiet firing can take the form of demotion or a reworking of one’s PD (position description), brushed off as a repercussion of the post-pandemic work environment.

For others, it has been more a case of hitting a brick wall – with fellow employees progressing their career journey in an organisation while they are seemingly denied opportunities for advancement.

Things to look for:

  1. You haven’t seen a salary increase after one to two years.
  2. You don’t receive any meaningful feedback from your manager.
  3. Your manager avoids engaging with you.
  4. You’ve been singled out to answer tough questions at team or company meetings.
  5. Your ideas are disregarded.
  6. You aren’t being challenged or given additional opportunities and projects.
  7. You’re left out of meetings, events and/or social gatherings.

‘If you’re being quiet fired, you’re more likely to quiet quit. It’s really tough, but you’ve got departments like HR that you can go to,’ says Paul Lewis, Chief Customer Officer at Adzuna.

While not all arts organisations have HR departments, communication is still key if you feel you are in this situation. Lewis suggests logging your complaints and then taking them up the management chain.

But he also suggests starting with your immediate manager. They may not recognise they are doing this, or be aware of your desire for career growth. Try to get your head around whether this is a case of ‘workplace bullying’ or just a numbness of the times. The latter, while not excusable, can be more easily solved.

Ambition is a great retention tool in the workplace, and managers need to recognise and nurture it, and/or manage expectations through conversation, not quiet firing.

Quiet quitting: is it the right solution?

The idea that ‘work sucks’ is everywhere, says Gallup CEO, Jon Clifton.

‘It’s been the subject of ancient philosophers, world leaders, your colleagues and even pop culture. Comedian George Carlin once quipped, “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar”,’ Clifton says in his introduction to the current Gallup poll on global workplace engagement.

Gallup’s findings indicate that those aged below 35 in the workplace – Gen Z and younger Millennials – are registering a marked decline in engagement and employer satisfaction, and feel a lack of care towards them – a significant change from pre-pandemic years.

Quiet quitting is when an employee takes the reins on this dissatisfaction and burnout, essentially clicking into ‘go slow mode’ and performing only the minimum of required tasks, while emotionally detaching from their work.

Read: Post-COVID or post-burnout: less is necessary

Josh Bittinger, who works at a management consulting company Gartner, told the Wall Street Journal that the idea of ‘quiet quitting’ is less about being lazy on the job and more about avoiding burnout at work.

It is about make a conscious career decision.

‘The whole idea of taking it easier at work is about learning to stop saying ‘yes’ to everything, and to say ‘no’ when you need time for yourself,’ said Bittinger.

Looking at Australian results in the Gallup poll, only 21% of employees (across the workforce) are termed as ‘engaged’. In terms of ‘daily negative emotions’, daily worry was placed at 36% by respondents, with daily stress at 39%, daily anger at 22% and daily sadness at 23%.

These are significantly high percentages for unhealthy workplaces.

However, 46% said that it is currently a good climate in which to look for a job in Australia, so getting laid off through ‘quiet quitting’ is not a professional closed door.

Overall, the global report makes that point that ‘employee wellbeing is the new workplace imperative’, and that the root of both quiet firing and quiet quitting lies in addressing this.

Read the full Gallup Poll Report.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina