An office space
Study reveals disturbing patterns of employee dismissal and mistreatment. Josh Edelson/AFP

In a troubling workplace trend known as "quiet firing", employers engage in behaviours that make employees feel unwelcome and ultimately force them to resign.

This insidious form of gas-lighting can have severe consequences on an employee's confidence, performance, and overall livelihood. Distinguished from "silent quitting" – where pandemic-induced burnout leads employees to disengage from extra efforts – quiet firing represents a covert practice that has garnered national attention.

In a comprehensive investigation, Irwin Mitchell, a legal firm, has performed a nationally representative study into the "pattern" of silent quitting. The company discovered after polling 2,475 people that 90 per cent of people have no idea what quiet firing is.

Reports show that 23 per cent of women in the workplace have been actively ignored by their management; 25 per cent of women have worked in roles where they have not gotten feedback; 23 per cent of women in the workplace have had information withheld on purpose, leading them to wish to leave their positions; and 34 per cent of UK workers have experienced workplace bullying "disguised" as joking.

These findings raise fundamental issues about whether employees can detect illegal behaviour in the workplace and pursue employment claims such as discrimination and constructive dismissal. Irwin Mitchell wants to raise awareness about the detrimental impact such terrible behaviour may have on employees, as well as the critical procedures managers should put in place to avoid "quiet firing".

The legal firm's study discovered that being made to feel uncomfortable at work was the top reason women left their employment by asking respondents to specify whether they'd experienced several unacceptable workplace behaviours. A quarter of women also reported that their job had been modified without enough explanation or consultation, resulting in an unsettling and unpredictable working environment. This, along with being ostracised, overlooked, or disregarded, can force women out of their careers.

For men, the most common complaint they had about their present or past workplace was a "lack of feedback". Managers' troubling lack of communication is affecting broad segments of the workforce.

Other managerial shortcomings include neglecting employees; putting an end to internal communication; not inviting some employees to social gatherings; excluding meetings from an employee's schedule; employees being turned over for advancement; keeping knowledge away from some of the employees; and sabotaging employees during meetings.

Overall, the legal firm noted that there are many fantastic examples of outstanding businesses that care for their employees, but there are other examples where this isn't the case.

Deborah Casale of Irwin Mitchell, while commenting on the findings, expressed dismay over the mistreatment of employees, stating that there is no excuse for such behaviour. If there is an issue with a member of staff, she noted that employers should address it, rather than making the individual feel uncomfortable or undervalued to the point of leaving.

According to Casale, the significant lack of understanding about quiet firing or termination among employees is troubling. If this type of behaviour violates the implied term of trust and confidence in the job relationship and the employee has more than two years of service, she emphasised it may be grounds for constructive dismissal.

Casale urged employees in these instances to be aware of their legal rights and seek assistance as soon as possible to defend their employment. Similarly, she stated that employers must be conscious of the risks of silent quitting.

Furthermore, Casale stressed that there is no requirement for two years of service if the employee is being discriminated against or is being treated unfairly because they have blown the whistle.

She encouraged employees to understand their rights from the start because the Employment Tribunal has stringent time constraints of three months less than one day. Casale also suggested that employees may also wish to file grievances or reach an agreement to quit.

Other discoveries by the legal firm include students being particularly sensitive to silent quitting, the creative and media industries being the most cognisant of quiet firing and the beauty and wellness industries being least conscious of quiet firing.

Meanwhile, a new trend has also emerged in the workplace phenomenon called "Quiet Hiring". It is described as the practice of companies filling vacancies – without doing any actual hiring. Commonly this involves silently and surreptitiously moving employees into positions they may not be trained for and/or using contractors or part-time workers to address a specific need.