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'Quiet Hiring' is taking over the workplace in the UK Elen Davies

Just as 'Quiet Quitting' simply described the long-established tradition of not-working-very-hard, 'Quiet Hiring' is also nothing new.

The new trending workplace phenomenon describes 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.

"Quiet hiring isn't really anything new", said Eli Jamison, associate professor of practice in Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business

"In many ways, this is a new label for old phenomena in a tight labour market".

The underlying aim behind the phenomenon is companies seeking to meet their essential needs, and, in times of economic difficulty, this means meeting them in the most cost-effective way possible.

Why is this happening?

Essentially, businesses are nervous. An overriding sense of economic uncertainty and the fear of a possibly impending recession has led to businesses tightening the strings of their purses - the UK narrowly avoided a recession at the end of 2022 as the economy flatlined in the final quarter after a dip of 0.2% in Q3.

Cary Cooper, an organisational psychology professor at the University of Manchester and member of the Academy of Management, told Fortune that between "destabilising economic and geopolitical upheavals, businesses will be very reluctant to hire more people, instead aiming to keep labour costs at a bare minimum".

The buzz surrounding 'quiet hiring' - it was one of Gartner's top nine workplace predictions for 2023 - comes amid recent very high-profile layoffs. Last week Ford announced plans to cut 1,300 UK jobs over the next three years as part of a sweeping restructuring program that includes cutting 3,800 jobs across Europe.

According to Jamison, this overall trend of companies reducing staff is "a correction from the over-hiring during the overheated economy we experienced coming out of the pandemic", as another reason why 'quiet hiring' might be on the rise.

The widespread talent shortage and tight labour market have also been attributed to the phenomenon's recent upswing. Currently, almost nine million Brits are deemed economically inactive. Furthermore, since the start of the pandemic 565,000 more people are regarded as economically inactive.

The Lords Economic Affairs Committee recently released a report entitled 'Where have all the workers gone?'. The report attributed the shortage of workers to four factors: increased early retirement among those aged 50-64; increasing sickness; changes in the structure of migration; and the impact of the UK's ageing population.

Could it be good?

In principle, 'Quiet Hiring' is the stuff of HR managers' fantasies. It can help employees enhance and grow their skillsets, take on new challenges and gain invaluable opportunities.

Then, with all these wonderful new skills, they become indispensable to their employers and advance their careers.

A promised land of greater employee retention and improved business efficiency awaits, with hopes that the expensive, and often ineffective, recruitment process can be avoided. In April 2022, jobs consultancy Robert Half reported that 46% of senior decision-makers felt they had made a bad hire over the previous year.

So where could it go wrong?

In practice, however, a multitude of potential pitfalls can arise. Employees may find themselves with new and harder responsibilities without any promotion or pay-rise to account for. The scope for escalating employee resentment is thus significant.

Jamison further stated that, "An individual job can become unmanageable if you're asked to use your skills in new areas without relinquishing any of your original responsibilities."

"Also, it's very possible that you are moved from a position with tasks and people you enjoy, to a place where you don't like what you're doing."

Despite the prospect of yet more disgruntled employees 'quietly quitting' on their employers, 'quiet hiring' does seem o be here to stay - at least for the time being.