The Truth About “Silent Cutting”

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a trend of “quiet quitting.” This is when employees are not engaged and do the minimum required in their job. They will not go above and beyond and will not put in overtime. In an article by Investopedia, “A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters.” That’s right, AT LEAST half! That number is staggering.


Is Silent Cutting the New Quiet Quitting?

However, The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) published an article in September 2023 that turned the tide. In this article, SHRM coins the phrase “Silent Cutting” and states, “Many organizations are realizing they must make cuts to maintain stability amid uncertain financial times—but they don’t want to be caught short-staffed. They may also want to avoid being on the hook for higher unemployment insurance rates if they fire someone. So instead of firing or laying off employees, they assign them roles other than what they were hired for.”  

This forces the employee to look for other employment and leaves the employer with a more positive message to the rest of the team. They can announce that employee x has resigned and left the organization instead of announcing a restructuring or layoff. It seems easier on so many fronts.  


Why Quiet Cutting is Not the Answer

However, SHRM states that quiet cutting is not the right strategy. While it seems like an easier message to the rest of the organization, it still affects employees similarly. They see that you’ve moved their friend and coworker to a job that they’re not happy in or not suited for. They see that person struggle and probably hear their complaints of disappointment. It leaves the employees feeling unsupported, unappreciated, and worried if they will be next. Sounds like the same feelings they would have with a layoff.

That same article states, “Many employees find themselves reassigned to roles with less prestigious titles that often come with a pay cut. When a reassignment feels like a demotion, it naturally causes people to question their skills and contributions and how the company views their work. It makes other employees nervous, too.”

“‘This creates an environment where even employees who haven’t been reassigned or who are not at risk of reassignment will be impacted and may decide to weigh other employment options’ just in case’ they will be impacted in the future,’ Nevitt said. ‘Organizations should not be surprised if they lose workers or experience negative cultural consequences as a result of quiet cutting.'”


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What to Do Instead


1. Create a Communication Strategy

So, what can HR do instead? Work with leaders to create a strategy for terminations and a communication plan. When tough decisions need to be made, work with the leadership team to ensure you have a strong strategy and a communication plan that aligns with your culture and values. While there will still be an impact on culture and morale, if you’re aligned with your values and culture, you can bounce back quickly and maintain trust.


2. Create a Performance Review Program

Be proactive about performance to make the decisions easier. Stay on top of performance, both for over-performers and under-performers. In my last role as a company’s head of Human Resources, we implemented a monthly talent review. In these meetings, managers would present their teams and talk about top performers, bottom performers, who’s at risk, and what’s being done to improve, advance, or manage them. This gave us, the Executive Leadership Team, a clear understanding of where the talent was and what was being done to retain, drive performance, and reward. A process like this seems involved, but it only took about 30 minutes per team, and we knew exactly where everyone stood and had a clear path forward to address the good and the bad.


3. Align Employees with Appropriate Roles

Utilize tools to ensure that the right people are in the right seats. I’m a big believer in the Predictive Index (PI), which tells you what motivates an employee and their work behaviors. This helps align employees and roles. The PI takes only a few minutes for the employee to complete, and the leader can complete an assessment for the job profile to see if there’s a match. Having people in seats they’re excited about will keep them motivated and help them go above and beyond.

Quiet cutting is not the answer and will do more harm than good, even though it seems like the easy route. As HR Professionals, we need to work with leaders to understand where the company is strategically, help develop the people plan, manage performance proactively, and communicate along the way. While layoffs are never easy and a tough decision, working through these areas will help the team, the company, and the culture bounce back.