Quiet quitting was trending in 2022, as employees responded to feeling underappreciated, underutilized and under-compensated. So, they stopped trying, doing the bare minimum necessary to stay employed and fly under the radar. Business leaders now have a response, one called “quiet hiring.” This new workplace phenomenon is the result of bosses trying to figure out creative ways to fill gaps in their companies without spending extra money to hire new employees. With the 2022 talent shortage going strong and 11 million jobs still unfilled, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, leaders are restructuring to find their best talent within.
What is quiet hiring?
Quiet hiring is the No. 1 most anticipated 2023 trend in the future of work, according to IT research and consulting company Gartner. They explain this frugal and strategic trend in three main components:
- Keep headcount the same while focusing current talent to address highest priority items
- “Stretching and upskilling” current employees’ abilities
- Using alternative approaches, “such as leveraging alumni networks and gig workers,” for specific talent on an as-needed basis
“Quiet hiring is just the latest ‘quiet’ trend hitting the workforce and really just the most recent symptom of the turmoil and uncertainty we’ve experienced over the past three years,” says workplace happiness expert Jenn Lim, CEO and co-founder of Delivering Happiness and bestselling author of Beyond Happiness. “Over 47 million joined the Great Resignation, and nearly 50% of the workforce participated in quiet quitting, according to Gallup. And now companies are facing the new challenge of ‘rage applying,’ forcing more to consider what quiet hiring can do for them.”
Lim points to companies like Google already using this process, as Inc. reports. It starts by identifying current team members who already go above and beyond. Since they are already demonstrating their ability to do tasks in the jobs or responsibilities they want, the leaders are taking advantage of hiring those people for new roles rather than looking externally. This can lead to raises and promotions for those overachievers, and less of a cost burden on the company to onboard a new team member.
How do employees feel about quiet hiring?
To some employees, this might feel like they are simply being asked to serve double duty in a tough market. But it depends on how the company goes about it, and if they are compensated for additional tasks or just expected to do more for the same salary. For example, Lim says we saw this in August 2022 when the Australian airline Qantas asked for 100 volunteers from its pool of senior executives to work as baggage handlers to combat the labor shortage. Their COO told BBC that employees weren’t “expected” to opt into the role, which involved three- or five-day shifts of four to six hours in addition to their executive positions.
Lim points out other industries where it’s happening. “Given the massive layoffs the tech industry is experiencing, quiet hiring continues to grow within major reorgs and team restructuring to fill in gaps,” she adds.
When leaders are intentional about explaining and fully communicating changes in responsibilities, she says it can work. It can’t be sudden or poorly communicated.
“But growth can’t happen without change, so the best way to approach it is with acceptance,” Lim says. “Obviously, no one wants their role to be changed overnight, but when leaders are able to help their employees understand the why and how it can positively impact their careers and the organization’s future, people will be more accepting. I also think there’s a difference between a request for a role/responsibility change versus a demand for it. We all crave autonomy and want a sense of control in the work that we do, so there should still be space for employee voice in this discussion.” She adds that it’s often anxiety-inducing for employees though, and they can feel out of control.
Should leaders jump on this trend?
Economists are predicting a 64% chance that 2023 will manifest a dreaded recession, Bankrate reports. This presents quite the conundrum. It might not be the best time for employers to hire externally, but they still have gaps to fill.
“With our tenuous economy, quiet hiring can be a short-term fix for saving on costs associated with recruiting and benefits. On average, every time a company needs to rehire externally, it costs the organization 1.5 to 3 times the original person’s salary, so companies see it as a way to minimize expenses,” Lim says. “Reductions come in the form of saving on third-party recruiters as well. But the key to this all is to recognize how the short-term mends might impact the mid- and long-term goals of the company, and whether these changes are sustainable.”
Taking an inventory of potentially underutilized talent before moving to outside hiring can be a solid first research step.
Inc. also reports that companies like Google have used the trend to not only rearrange internally, but to look internally even while considering external candidates. “For every new hire, Google employs a hiring committee that consists of a panel of five or six Google employees,” they report. “The panel reviews and scores applications and creates what could be called a candidate packet that boils down to five key aspects, each of which is given a score between one and four. Two of the five key aspects are internal references and employee referral notes, according to Candor and its panel of former Google employees.”
What makes leaders most successful in ethical quiet hiring?
It’s long been said that the perfect deal happens when both sides feel just a little screwed. In this case, the reverse is true. Both the employer and the employee need to feel that there’s something to gain for quiet hiring to be ethical and beneficial for both parties.
“So when leaders can explain quiet hiring in a way that answers both ‘what’s in it for me’ (the employee) and ‘what’s in it for all’ (the team/organization), the message will be received with a mutual understanding,” Lim says.
Here’s how to ensure it’s a fair bargain for all, and not just ask employees to do more for less. Employees in this situation can ask for more compensation if tasks are being added, or if they feel their role is being “stretched.”
1. Make quiet hiring a choice
If the Qantas airline executives had been forced to work on baggage lines rather than given the option, we can all guess how quickly they’d be turning in their resignation letters. Leaders considering quiet hiring should keep this in mind. Motivation researcher and bestselling author Daniel Pink says, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” Giving employees choice in the decision increases buy-in. It also results in a higher likelihood they will want to stay, and feel valued, as roles adjust.
“We’re entering the next tunnel of uncertainty, so if quiet hiring is in your future, shed some light by giving your employees a sense of control (or autonomy), e.g., flexibility on when, where and how they work,” Lim says.
2. Increase transparency
If employees know they are part of a greater mission to preserve and improve the company’s odds of success, they’re more likely to help. Leaders should be intentional with transparency, Lim explains, especially in times of uncertainty.
“We all want to be viewed as team players that GSD (Get Sh*t Done), but a boss transitioning you to a new role without giving you a choice can be overwhelming and frustrating,” she says. “To ease the transition as a leader, explain to your employee what’s in the new role for them and what’s in it for the team/organization. Be real about the circumstances, whether it’s needed for growth or survival. Sharing openly and vulnerably will help your employees understand the move and see how it will be applied to their careers and well-being.”
For some companies, this might necessitate inventing pathways for the employee to share how they feel about this change “while actively listening with an empathetic ear,” she adds. Other companies might already have this open line of communication in place.
3. Determine if contractors are right for your company
Hiring contract workers became more popular in 2022, and the demand for contract or “freelance” work is up by around 25%, Fortune reports. This is a key component of quiet hiring to consider, especially when you have the need for very specific, highly qualified workers who you might not need forever. Working with contractors reduces onboarding and training costs. Plus, it alleviates already overstretched current team members from trying to do too much to fill gaps. Cost, expectations and location factor into the decision to turn to a team member or contractor for a specific task.
4. Measure data that matters
Lim defines ROI in two ways: “return on investment” and “ripple of impact”—both are applicable to quiet hiring procedures.
“First, it’s time to revisit and check if you’re measuring what matters. Is it retention, turnover, engagement or productivity? Benchmark on those data points first, so you know if you’re making progress after your hiring shifts,” she says. Then, determine your “ripple of impact” based on how valued your employees are feeling, and if they are spending their limited time in meaningful ways.
“When employees can answer how their purpose and values align with their new role and the higher purpose of the company (beyond making money), they’ll be more confident that their contribution is generating a ripple of impact to their teams, customers, community—everyone they touch in your ecosystem,” she says.
Communicating progress and building connections are also must-dos if you are quiet hiring. Lim says celebrating milestones together to provide a sense of accomplishment and community helps mark progress. In addition, don’t undervalue those team-bonding activities. So “make time to intentionally connect [with] people beyond their favorite happy hour drink….”
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