I’m not a TikTok user, but a recent Inc. article about five work-related trends on that platform caught my attention. Three address employee responses to poor treatment, and one describes terrible management. The fifth offers an opportunity that learning leaders can leverage: It’s called “quiet hiring.”
What is ‘Quiet Hiring’?
We’re all familiar with the term “quiet quitting” as a description of employees refusing to go above and beyond, instead simply performing their jobs—and nothing more. Some—often managers who expect or demand extreme dedication—see it as a subversive behavior. Others—often workers who’ve taken on the duties of absent or laid-off colleagues or added higher-level responsibilities without a raise or promotion—see it as restoring proper balance.
Either way, quiet quitting it is an employee behavior or set of behaviors.
Quiet hiring comes from the management side.
It’s “squeezing more out of their teams without hiring new staff,” according to the Inc. article. If this “squeeze” is not accompanied by pay raises and title bumps, quiet hiring could launch a downward spiral of more quiet quitting. Even so, Inc. says, “Experts insist it's likely to ramp up in the immediate future as executives and business owners prepare for possible rocky economic times ahead by hiring slowly and working more efficiently.”
Gartner offers a more neutral and optimistic definition: “Quiet hiring is the practice of an organization acquiring new skills without hiring new full-time employees. Quiet hiring enables organizations to strategically address acute, immediate business needs by assigning existing employees to new roles, expanding existing employees' responsibilities through stretch and upskilling opportunities (in both cases with commensurate compensation), by hiring temporary workers to perform specific tasks, or any combination of the three.”
While hiring temporary contractors to fill immediate needs is a way to avoid making long-term commitments, the other approaches—moving employees to new roles and/or upskilling and promoting them—can be short- or long-term changes that benefit employees.
Indeed, Gartner posits that, when done correctly, quiet hiring is a win for both employers and employees.
Exploitation or upskilling?
Even as the labor shortages ease, employers cannot always find job candidates with the perfect set of skills. Economic conditions mean that many companies and hiring managers are working with less: smaller budgets, fewer job openings, fewer employees. And the in-demand skills are changing quickly; even top candidates may need upskilling.
Quiet hiring can be a response to all of these constraints while offering growth opportunities to existing employees—improving their job satisfaction and retention.
This is the basis of Gartner researcher Jordan Turner’s optimism. Rather than seeking to hire to fill skills gaps, Jordan wrote, “Smart organizations will increasingly look internally to find those skills—not to exploit employees, but to make sure the organization is using the limited talent it has where it can have the biggest impact.”
Trade-offs and strategic planning
Learning leaders’ opportunity to get involved and provide appealing opportunities to workers come into play when HR and corporate leaders collaborate on solutions to skills gaps.
The first step is identifying:
- The needed skills, and
- Departments and individuals in the organization where similar and related skills already exist
The example Jordan offers is deploying data analysts from marketing or HR to an IT team when data scientists are needed. The existing IT data scientists can focus on complex programming tasks, Jordan said, while the redeployed marketing and HR analysts take on the task of “communicating the results of the analysis to stakeholders, helping them make decisions off of the data.”
This kind of redeployment entails making strategic decisions about where specific skills are most needed at a particular moment—which is different from routinely asking people to “do more” on an ongoing basis. Thus quiet hiring may require that roles or tasks be tweaked, deadlines moved, etc. in order to meet the most pressing immediate needs.
Strategic learning leaders in companies where there are existing or anticipated skills gaps can prepare for and encourage beneficial quiet hiring by staying up-to-date with their assessments of the organization’s existing talent and skills—and preparing upskilling plans while identifying employees with the potential to broaden or deepen their skill sets.
The most important benefit to the organization is that an urgent need is filled, enabling a critical project or task to move forward.
The redeployed employees may also benefit by stretching their skills, gaining a deeper understanding of how the organization works, building cross-departmental relationships, and possibly learning new skills.
And these benefits also strengthen the organization, as it now has employees with enhanced skills and understanding of key organizational needs and goals.
The key to all of these wonderful results is highlighted in this caveat from Jordan: “To capture the benefits of quiet hiring without risking attrition, organizations should expect to offer incentives, such as additional compensation, one-time bonuses, extra personal time off, [and] flexible hours and working conditions.”
Communication & transparency
Getting it right, according to Entrepreneur, requires good communication and transparency. Employees need to know why they’re being redeployed, for example, and that the move isn’t an indication that their regular role is unneeded, undervalued, or about to be eliminated. And they need to see the benefits to themselves, not only to the company.
Learning leadership is ideally positioned to facilitate by communicating with affected employees about how their skills and contributions are valued and their opportunities for professional development and career growth—as well as about the logistics of the change, how and when they’ll return to their previous roles, whether the assignment could lead to a new permanent role or promotion opportunity, and what compensation or perks they will receive. This is especially critical when asking employees to transition to roles or projects they may not be interested in or who are already feeling stretched in their jobs.
Address employee concerns
Employers need to be clear about both their expectations and benefits to employees. And when making the request, managers also need to be transparent with their employees about whether the new assignment is a short-term patch to meet an urgent organizational need or a longer-term evolution of the employee’s role.
Employees may worry about burning out—being expected to shoulder their regular full-time responsibilities while also filling in the temporary role, for example. They may wonder whether their skills are up to the new assignment or fear failing in a way that will harm their careers or job security. Their teammates may similarly worry about being expected to fill in while the redeployed person is on temporary reassignment.
Employees who feel exploited are at risk of engaging in another trend Inc. mentioned: quiet quitting. A conversation between the employee and HR, learning leaders, and the employee’s manager can do a lot to allay fears, address concerns, and answer nagging questions the employee may have. This is the time for learning leaders to leverage their own strategic relationships and communication skills!
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