Quiet Firing Is Nothing New, Why All The Fuss?

–Hasn’t anyone under the age of 40 seen the film Office Space?

Enjoy Part 1 in this Series HERE.

I don’t understand what all the fuss is about!

Quiet firing, the term used to describe an employer’s desire to demoralize unwanted workers to the point that those “undesirables” decide to quit, has been around for time immemorial.  All of the recent articles and social media posts on the subject of quiet quitting lead me to ask one simple question:

 “Hasn’t any working professional, under the age of 40, ever seen the 1999 workplace comedy Office Space?”

Starring Ron Livingston, the film follows a group of low-level office workers at a tech company whose passive-aggressive boss makes their lives so miserable that they decide to hatch a scheme in revolt.  The film takes the audience on a fun-filled trip as the three hatch their crazy plan to a hilarious, and unexpected, end.

But, perhaps the movie’s most memorable character is Stephen Root’s Milton. Milton is an anxious, neurotic staffer who was apparently laid off from his job, five years prior to the events of the film, but no one ever told him so he kept coming to work and because of a payroll system error, he continued to be paid. All the while, the boss just continued to attempt to demoralize him by moving his desk repeatedly over the course of the film, until his desk finally winds up in a basement storage area.

If Milton’s treatment by his unscrupulous boss isn’t an example of quiet firing in action, I don’t know what is – and, remember the film was made over 20 years ago! So, ask again, why all the fuss over a concept that has been around for so long?

The Interest Highlights Another Problem

The fact that people are making the concept of Quiet Quitting into some new phenomenon is of concern to me – and, likely, not for the obvious reasons.

Might the fact that so many current thought leaders are making such a big deal over something that’s been recognized within leadership circles for many decades already amplify another issue?

Might it demonstrate that current thought leaders lack the experience and have an unwillingness to do the work necessary to truly contribute fresh and original insight to the betterment of leadership thinking?

Where have all the “editors” gone?

As a person who has written 6 books and has published over 500 articles in leading trade magazines including Inc, Fast Company, and Bloomberg Businessweek, I know that editors can play the vital role of gatekeeper. They can ensure that high-quality content is being published in their magazines and on their websites.

The fact that a recent Google search on the term “Quiet Firing” delivered an astonishing 174,000,000 hits suggests that the current crop of business magazine editors are more interested in running pieces that serve-up popular clickbait than actually publishing content that contributes to the betterment of leadership thinking.

What Can We Do?

While the current state of affairs is worrisome, there are a few steps we can take to improve the quality of what we are getting in the trade press.  Let me offer three ideas to get us started:

  1. Realize that the game is shifting towards a “Pay To Play” model. Once respected outlets including Forbes, have moved to a model where you can pay an annual fee and get just about any drivel published.

That said, it might be worth your time and effort to check into the editorial standards and, perhaps, think twice before signing up for feeds from the Pay to Play outlets – their content may not be all that new or original.

  1. Don’t jump on every bandwagon! Yes, it’s fun to be thought of as hip and cool. Just recognize that each time you “like” or “share” an article that is just a redux and repackaging of someone else’s idea from 20 years ago, you are weakening the quality of thought leadership.

After all, if you contribute to the click count, you’re squeezing out shelf space for those that have original content to offer – and, it’s that fresh content that may make a difference to you and your organization (not some regurgitation of something Peter Drucker wrote about 50 years ago).

  1. Develop Your Own Stuff and Work to Publish it. At first blush, maybe writing a thought-provoking leadership article and getting it published in a respected periodical can appear to be a bridge too far. However, what if you do accomplish it?  It could lead to all sorts of great things for you and your organization, including promotion, introductions to new opportunities, and an ability to attract new talent that was turned on by the idea of working with a true thought leader.

To Close

Quiet firing is not a new concept or some kind of reflection of our times.  The concept has been around for a very long time.  It’s part of the human condition, in fact.  Shaming someone into quitting is part of the mind games that some, less than respectable, leaders use to thin the herd. To position it as anything else is doing a disservice to those whom you lead. Let’s stop promoting it and, instead, let’s work to create novel content that will inform and inspire.


James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr is a management consultant, leadership coach, keynote speaker, author, and columnist. He has consulted with, and coached leaders at, many well-known organizations including The Home Depot, BIC, Accenture, Mitsumi Sumitomo and General Dynamics, to name a few. Jim is an expert in the development and implementation of multi-faceted change initiatives centered on vision and strategy, culture redesign and organizational effectiveness. Indeed, Jim enjoys forging new ideas and devising practical solutions to clients’ broadly relevant business problems, while shape-shifting them into opportunities for their success. Additionally, he hosts the popular The Indispensable Conversation podcast, which features authentic conversations about real topics that impact leaders of all kinds – all in a one guest, one provocative question, one indispensable conversation format. . His work has earned several industry awards, as well, including the highly renowned Global Gurus Top 30 Organizational Culture Award (2022), LeadersHum Top 10 Leadership Power Ranking List and several Thinkers360 Top 10 Worldwide Thinkers awards in the categories of Leadership, Strategy, Culture and The Future of Work. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead a Company Customers Can’t Live Without, (Humanix Books, 2021) has garnered rave reviews from business leaders and the trade press. Work has begun on his 7th book, which he hopes to complete in 2023.

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  1. Thanks for sharing these ideas here Aldo — I agree theory without action is just fiction. My intent in creating fresh and provocative content is to “keep it real.” I believe I do that by offering ideas to tackle the problem that I may be highlighting in a given piece. I hope that I did that in this Quiet Firing article, too (i.e., don’t jump on the bandwagon etc.)

  2. This is a real good read and there is a lot one can agree with.
    However, I would like to make some considerations.
    Meanwhile, it is not easy to always have new ideas and sources of inspiration.
    Not all the contents already known are to be neglected because they can represent a source from which to develop new ideas or to readjust the old to new contexts in a world that changes extremely rapidly.
    The contents are then created for the public who reads and shares them. And it is the audience, therefore, the first major source of inspiration for any content creator.
    To generate content that forms and inspires, in addition to knowledge, a spirit of observation and a good dose of creativity is needed, which finds an excellent ally in a good dose of strategy. The search for sources for one’s own contents must be the result of a good balance between creative drive and tactics.
    In fact, creativity is completed when it is combined with method and organization.