Understanding Quiet Hiring: The New HR Buzzword

We are now three years into a global pandemic that has upended work for many people, and we are on the verge of a recession that threatens to further disrupt the way we work. Terms like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting have propelled the 9 to 5 into the rest of our lives. They are both meaningless buzzwords that elicit eye rolls and concise ways of capturing real workplace phenomena.

Quiet hiring is the most recent buzzword. It describes how employers are attempting to complete necessary tasks without adding more employees by asking existing employees to change roles. It’s a play on the phrase “quiet quitting,” which refers to employees who refuse to go above and beyond in their jobs. Quiet quitting originated as an explanation for the Great Resignation, or employees’ prolonged willingness to quit their jobs in pursuit of better ones during the pandemic. Work did not have to take precedence in their lives, and if it did, they had the option of quitting.

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Understanding Quiet Hiring

Quiet hiring, popularized by Google, is a recruitment strategy that focuses on identifying so-called “high-fliers” within a company and rewarding them by definition over other employees. Employees who go the extra mile get more (good) attention, more money, more applause, and more opportunities in a quiet hiring world, whether it’s bonuses, promotions, pay raises, or more challenging roles.

According to research, high performers can be 400% more productive than average employees. That kind of disparity is challenging to overlook in business. It also explains why employers are eager to acknowledge and reward this group of workers.

However, the narrative behind quiet hiring is not so straightforward.

These high-achievers are laser-focused and self-motivated. And they should be recognized for their efforts.

However, “average” employees should not be overlooked. They may lack the self-assurance and bravery to put their heads above the parapet. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Most people will achieve, deliver, and care more if they are supported and encouraged. Ignoring this underutilized and potentially rich resource is not only unfair and lazy. It’s not good for business.

How Quiet Hiring Impacts Business?

While quiet quitting and low productivity are a half-trillion-dollar problem in the United States alone, quiet hiring has the potential to save significant amounts on onboarding because the goal is to acquire new skills without hiring new full-time employees.

On the one hand, the approach empowers finance leaders to address the company’s immediate needs in a cost-effective manner. At the same time, if not done carefully, it has the potential to backfire because existing employees may feel undervalued if compelled to do more with less or compete with contract employees.

External vs. internal

There are two approaches to quiet hiring. Internal quiet hiring occurs when an organization asks its current employees to temporarily work on a new project or in a new role. Senior executives should assess their workforce and determine if they need to shift people from one role to another. Because the skill sets may be similar, the transition may not necessitate significant upskilling.

For example, a company may shift their marketing research team to collaborate on data science with software developers.

External quiet hiring occurs when a company hires short-term contractors to address immediate organizational needs.

This form of quiet hiring takes place when a company recognizes that it has gaps to fill and cannot find the talent to fill them internally, but it also cannot add additional headcount.

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A possible future tension point

The labor market is not going away anytime soon. CFOs should expect lingering hiring challenges in 2023, such as immigration restrictions, an overaged and dwindling labor force, and a spurt of early retirements due to the pandemic.

Employers must be innovative. This simply means that organizations are hiring less while still having exceptionally high-quality employees. However, if quiet hiring strategies are not straightforward to employees and are not framed with care, you may risk the concept backfiring.

One disadvantage of quiet hiring is that it can be poorly managed.  For instance, employees who are transferred to new positions may believe their present position is in jeopardy, which can be threatening. However, if properly managed, this concept has the potential to be motivating for employees and become a part of their job rotation and opportunities for advancement.

Workers continue to wield power

Quiet hiring does not change the fact that there is a talent shortage. Internal quiet hiring may make it easier for employees to obtain promotions and raises. This is not an attempt to wrest power from employees; rather, it is an acceptance of the reality in which we work. Employees have a lot of power and impact if they want it, which is part of the reality.

When it comes to external quiet hiring, you must pay for the talent you bring on board. Employees who work on a temporary basis, in general, do not identify with the company and are less committed to it. So they’ll do the job, but not go above and beyond the call of duty, which could be fine but could also be a problem.

Final Thoughts

The behaviors associated with quiet hirings, like the other “quiet” trends we mentioned earlier, are not new. Employees who are conscientious and capable but determinedly unambitious have always existed in the workplace, as have self-motivated, self-promoters, and unconfident underachievers.

What’s new is that quiet hiring has taken these alter egos and packaged them as a strategy in the form of a buzzword. Quiet hiring implies that personality determines success. And it is precisely this attitude that is so dangerous.

To be successful, organizations must be diverse. This is due to a diverse talent pool that includes people of various personality types as well as people with various skills and qualifications. And it is the responsibility of human resources to value and develop each employee in the best way possible. 

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