Quiet quitting was the buzzword of 2022. And although 2023 has barely begun, yet another phrase has surfaced as a potential solution: quiet hiring. Essentially, quiet hiring leans more toward developing the talent already within an organization or seeking specialists in the form of external contractors — instead of hiring and training new personnel.
But in the wake of many organizations restructuring, downsizing or laying off teams — what could quiet hiring actually look like for your company? Could quiet hiring help you expand your talent pool? Or could quiet hiring negatively affect employee morale for your distributed workforce?
While the goal is to ensure psychological safety within your teams while continuing to meet business priorities, we at Inclusion in Progress want to help you examine the potential impact quiet hiring can have on your organization — and which strategy would work for your teams.
Here’s what we will explore:
- What is quiet hiring in a distributed workforce?
- How can quiet hiring be of immediate benefit to your distributed workforce?
- How to manage the social and emotional aspects of hiring contractors to your team.
- How can you respectfully engage in quiet hiring practices for your organization?
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Welcome back to the show! We capped off 2022 with our annual Whitepaper and we looked at the, then popular buzzword, the workplace trend of Quiet Quitting. And now, as we're kicking off 2023, we are finding that a new trend is on the rise, that of Quiet Hiring. But what does this actually mean and what does Quiet Hiring look like in practice when it comes to a post-pandemic distributed workforce like yours?
So I'm Kay Fabella. I'm a DEI consultant for remote teams and, of course, your host for the Inclusion in Progress podcast, where you will get research-backed industry insights into the future of work and practical How To’s for implementing equity and inclusion in your workplace. I also happen to lead a remote or distributed team and, of course, also work with clients across EMEA, APAC and the Americas. Which means you'll get a global perspective on how companies are supporting their distributed teams today, to build workplaces that work for everyone tomorrow.
In this episode of Inclusion in Progress, we'll be discussing Quiet Hiring and how this trend will influence the distributed workforce.
And, of course, as always, if you love what you're hearing on the podcast, make sure that you follow us on your favorite podcast app, whether that's iTunes or Spotify, or any of the others. And leave us a review there. Because that really does help get this content in front of equity-minded people leaders in the workplace like you.
So what exactly is Quiet Hiring? And why do companies like Google and Meta use it?
So Quiet Hiring kind of took over our feeds, we found, after an article in CNBC, and the interview was done with Emily Rose McRae, who leads Gartner's [GARTNER’s - you can laugh at me all you want. I'm an American through and through, and I swallow my teeth! It is what it is]... who leads Gartner's Future of Work Research Team. And so Emily Rose McRae really talked about this more in depth in January 2023 and mentioned this trend that they're expecting to see this year around Quiet Hiring. And the way that she defined it is when, “an organization acquires new skills without actually hiring new full-time employees. This could mean hiring short term contractors, or encouraging current employees to temporarily move into new roles within the organization.” This sometimes happens when an organization doesn't plan to do layoffs but is, according to McRae, slowing down a little bit on their hiring. And, of course, this may happen because companies may be short staffed but unwilling or unable to hire full time employees in the wake of organizational change.
And this makes sense, right? We have, depending on which news outlet you're following, we are in a recession or we have a recessive period that is currently upon us or is about to fall, and whatever version of that companies are tightening their belts, right? And it also means companies are either struggling to recruit in the midst of a talent shortage or seeing a shift in their own staffing budgets, which is also affecting their ability to keep folks on their teams.
Hiring, of course, when we think about it, if we want to go old school and just dive into the basics here, hiring usually falls into one of three categories: there's the first, backfilling old roles; the second is creating new roles to help a company grow, and the third is addressing an immediate need that the company has. Quiet Hiring is all about this third category, even if, technically, it doesn't necessarily involve any new hiring at all because the idea behind it is to prioritize the most crucial business functions at a given time, which could mean temporarily remixing the roles of current employees. If you saw me in the recording booth now, when I said remix, I did a little bit of a DJ thing… I've never DJ-ed, I don't know how to scratch, but I ended up doing that with my hand motions! Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy that visual!
So, with that said, Quiet Hiring is also, according to some sources – because, you know, our team was going through a bunch of different sources to find, “Where have we heard this term before?” – refer to a process that is designed to be more inclusive of candidates who may not fit the traditional mold of a highly-networked, extroverted job seeker. And that is actually the original definition of Quiet Hiring. How do we try to get people who are within the organization who we wouldn't normally see due to our own biases or the fact that most of us operate in an extroverted environment, where extroverts tend to be prioritized and seen? How do we try to hire some of those more “quiet people” within our organizations? So, again, this is one of those amorphous things that has become trendy, but nobody really knows what it is, and it's why we wanted to talk about it more in-depth today. To give you some clarity and decide how you want to apply it in your organization.
So, of course, Quiet Hiring is a trend that's finding its way into the mainstream now. But Google has been using this under-the-radar recruiting strategy since September 2022. Quiet Hiring is part of what enables Google to identify the brightest minds both internally and externally, and place the best candidates into its open positions. Qantas, an Australian airline also made use of Quiet Hiring by actually rotating baggage handlers to include their own executives, who then gained a deeper understanding of how their company operations worked in the process.
But Quiet Hiring is not just about distributing a workload among workplace survivors. It's also about, as we mentioned before, hiring freelancers or external contractors to fill roles. And, according to McKinsey, 36% of respondents in a recent survey, that represented nearly 60 million Americans, self-identified as independent workers. It's anticipated that by 2028, the number of US so-called “gig workers” will actually surpass 90 million. So all those people doing side hustles, or actually being hired as external contractors or freelancers, we are definitely seeing more of not just within our own company, but also with many of the clients that we're working with. Which means that potential employees are now choosing to freelance instead of jumping into a company to work full-time. Once people actually decide to work as freelancers, they usually train to become experts in their field and can take on the one-off projects that would otherwise be additional tasks for internal team members in an organization. And that's another Quiet Hiring strategy that could be beneficial, especially after an organization is going through shifts in staffing.
So Quiet Hiring, as we've already seen in this little intro, where he tried to give you a taste of all the different things that it includes, is quite undefined. Quiet Hiring actually encapsulates a lot of different strategies within it. And, of course, all of these different Quiet Hiring strategies will need to be applied in a way that works for your team or for your organization, depending on where you find yourself at this time.
In this episode, we're going to go over two of the most common Quiet Hiring practices that we've observed well before it became a buzzword, and walk you through the benefits and challenges of each one. That way you can make an informed decision to alleviate the pressure that is currently on your teams and continue to encourage innovation for your distributed workforce through whatever period of organizational change they'll be facing.
So let's dive in!
Now we know that in 2022, we heard so many conversations about how Quiet Quitting would have an effect on employee morale and productivity and engagement. And so Quiet Hiring feels like a solution, right?
The answer is yes and no. Like every HR buzzword or trend, there are no quick fixes and, to that end, we wanted to define the benefits and challenges of Quiet Hiring for distributed teams. Starting first with how you can use Quiet Hiring as a temporary redistribution strategy for existing employees to move them to new roles within your organization.
So let's talk about Quiet Hiring used in this sense and how that can be a huge benefit to your teams as you're navigating a period of organizational change. It's the easiest way to identify your best and brightest employees and provide them pathways to career advancement. This Quiet Hiring strategy allows you to identify internal candidates first and, more specifically, it looks to staff who have begun taking on duties and responsibilities above and beyond the parameters of their job descriptions. And the result is that they effectively begin working in the position that they already wanted, or at least start to do something related to the role that they want to grow into before they actually get that job. Employees can take advantage of this time to seek promotions at work. It's a really good chance for employees to sit down and say to their managers, their HR people, and to their company, “Yes, I'm willing to take this on. Let's talk about what this means for my career here at this organization.” It's also a great way to, of course, support underrepresented or historically excluded employees who may have been edged out of advancement due to biases that arise, such as due to not being co-located with their manager, their peers while working in a distributed environment. This allows us to actually reach out to them and create opportunities that would allow them to grow into roles that are now requiring their attention and their presence, as well as introducing them to parts of the organization where they could advance and move up the career ladder. So, in return, these high potential employees can prove to employers that they have what it takes to perform any job well and, not surprisingly, these employees tend to be those who get the raises and promotions.
For employers, this means there is far less risk as well as little to no cost associated with having to invest in recruiting and training. Using Quiet Hiring this way to identify your best and brightest employees also provides your company flexibility because you can quickly deploy internal resources against the highest priority areas of the business after a restructure.
Finally, identifying and redistributing workloads for these high potential employees saves your company time, money, and resources. There's no need to pay for or spend time on promotion for recruitment with this Quiet Hiring strategy. There's no need to spend hours rifling through resumes or CVs or interviewing potential candidates when you're feeling the pressure to get the job done. And there's also no need to worry about how to compensate for and properly train a new workforce to replace them once they've landed.
Now, of course, there are challenges to be aware of when utilizing this Quiet Hiring strategy to redistribute workloads amongst your employees. Let's take a look at some of those.
The first of which is how to avoid burnout. Now I know we've dedicated several episodes of how strained our employees and our people leaders are over the last few years and burnout, of course, continues to be top of mind, especially when many of our team members are still working in a distributed environment. Saying new tasks need to be completed isn't enough to motivate a workforce. But framing it by how it could improve work-life balance or advance an individual's career is a better way to reach and engage your teams after an organizational change. Employees may also aim to negotiate a higher pay. If this isn't an option, of course, for your company; maybe it could be doled out in a bonus over a period of time, flexible working hours where they can set the hours they work, maybe take a break during the day and then come back and work in the evenings, for example; or even offering additional time off to negotiate with those employees. Other things that we've seen client partners use are offering resilience training, reverse mentoring opportunities, skill sharing opportunities with folks in other divisions of the organization to support employees who are navigating new workloads alongside their existing ones, which will support their continued career growth at your company.
Another risk is that your employees may be dealing with competing priorities which leads to inefficiencies and, of course, potentially lower productivity in the long run. Think about it, there's a bit of tension, right? Because if you're an employee who's been temporarily reassigned to a different part of your company, you might interpret that as being told that your regular job or the normal duties that you would have taken on aren't particularly important. After all, nobody's getting hired to backfill your old responsibilities. And so bosses in this case can help address that by clearly articulating why a specific project or business division is so crucial to a company's success. It'll help that employee to not only feel valued, but also make them less likely to see the move as a sign that they may need to start looking for jobs elsewhere because they're expected to do more for the same pay.
It's possible that an employee may find themselves in a role that they feel doesn't match with their priorities. In this case, leaders can address this by communicating to that employee how their roles would align with their priorities in a work-life balance sense, or climbing the corporate ladder, or something that reframes it as an opportunity for them to advance. Employees, in this case, can take the opportunity to discuss long-term goals with their managers and create career plans that will boost productivity and morale for remaining employees.
So that was the first Quiet Hiring strategy. Actually remixing [and I'm doing my DJ thing again] the roles of folks who are still internal within your organization. Now let's take a look at the second strategy, which is how to implement Quiet Hiring through short-term contractors or freelancers.
Now, short-term contractors have been invaluable on our own team here at Inclusion in Progress. They're a great way to temporarily, if not permanently, fill roles and responsibilities that were affected by a downsizing or restructuring in your organization. Team IIP has also had the privilege to work with companies to fill in the gaps that were left when roles were either shifted or downsized or even left unoccupied when our client partners experienced layoffs or restructures. Leveraging the power of short-term contractors or freelancers is also another way for leaders to offload responsibilities from their employees without replacing them. It's also a way to identify potential future talent without having to undergo a time and resource-consuming recruitment process because, essentially, the contractor is already showcasing what they can do within your company.
Not only do contractors and freelancers provide much needed help during challenging periods, they also offer invaluable external perspectives that could contribute to sustained innovation and, of course, uninterrupted productivity for companies who are seeking a way to troubleshoot existing challenges with fewer people while at the same time needing to meet their key priorities. If you bring a contractor into that equation, it helps both executives and permanent employees get what they want. Because executives know that the job will continue to be done, and permanent employees will not have to worry, necessarily, about taking on roles or responsibilities on top of their existing ones that they're not ready for.
Now, if you have a contractor-heavy workforce, it also provides your organization with the flexibility to quickly scale up or down teams as business needs to rapidly change. If your employees or your frontline managers are already settled in their roles and routines and they're best serving the company there, they might be unwilling to or simply unable to take on additional work. Whereas contractors and freelancers are usually savvy self-starters who know enough to take on or backfill a newly vacant position and contribute their expertise in a way that isn't shaped solely by your company culture and actually contributes to getting the job done almost immediately after they're hired. In our experience, working with contractors provides a much needed fresh perspective, expertise, accountability, and a willingness to contribute impactful work immediately. Of course, as we know, there are also inevitable challenges to implementing a contractor-focused Quiet Hiring strategy, especially as we're seeing them become more prevalent in our distributed workforces.
LinkedIn’s economic graph team found in October 2022 that tech companies, in particular, over the past two years have greatly ramped up their reliance on non-employee independent specialists. Almost 20% of paid tech listings on LinkedIn were aimed at contractors. In-demand roles ranged from things like data scientists to IT specialists who can provide onsite support. In high-demand fields, though, elite contractors or freelancers may sometimes out earn their internal employee counterparts. Often we find that top contractors come in as experts in their field. So that means they can basically be productive for your organization from Day One. Bringing them on board can generate results faster than the training and onboarding associated with new full-time employees. And because contractors know this, they negotiate their pay accordingly.
Now, contractors, of course, won't be on payroll, which means they won't necessarily be eligible to receive things like sick pay or holiday pay, pension benefits, health insurance, among others. So the tasks that they're required to do will be completed at, sometimes, a much smaller budget than what would be required for a full-time employee. While this may be more efficient for a company, you may have some internal employees who have their feathers ruffled a little bit, and we've seen this happen time and time again. Because many of the internal employees will see these external contractors who are brought on and say, well, “Why is our company paying more for a short-term contractor than actually they're paying me?” Which is why it's important to, when and if you decide to use a Quiet Hiring strategy that leans on external suppliers or contractors or freelancers, to be very strategic and very intentional, to navigate the psychological safety of both your existing internal employees and your contractors. Because, at the end of the day, you need them to work alongside one another effectively.
One way you can do this is by highlighting how external contractors will allow your full-time employees the opportunity to focus on their day-to-day tasks, instead of possibly being distracted by another set of tasks or a project that's urgent, but that they wouldn't necessarily be able to learn in time. And since contractors are mostly 100% autonomous, more likely than not they'll already have the knowledge and the tools to problem solve independently when issues arise. This also avoids the need for management to get involved and frees up your company to focus on core activities and the day-to-day running of the business.
Finally, there might be a challenge – which we'll reframe here as an opportunity – for companies to hire freelancers that are outside of their usual area of operation. That is, people from different regions or cities, or even geographies or timezones. This, of course, means you'll alleviate the pressure on those who have, say, survived a layoff or restructuring, as they may see the outside hiring as the company making good on its commitment to DEI or diversity, equity and inclusion. By actually reaching out to the contractors from regions that we wouldn't necessarily have hired from before, it also provides a valuable external perspective for your organization to tap into the wider market. There, of course, might be some resistance as a contractor's way of doing things may not necessarily align with how “We Do Things Around Here.” [How many of us have heard a version of that?] But the contractors you hire may be from regions or geographies that you don't typically have access to, which means that you can reframe their experience or their way of “Differently Doing Things” as an invaluable perspective that actually makes your teams better. Because ultimately, the wider your perspective is, the greater your opportunity for innovation in an organization and new ways of doing things that can make your teams even more efficient. Which can only be a good thing as we need, truly, as many perspectives as possible if we're troubleshooting for any challenges that lie ahead.
So there you have it! We were looking in this episode today: what Quiet Hiring actually looks like in a distributed workforce, different ways you can apply Quiet Hiring strategies during recess period, and how you can engage in Quiet Hiring practices for your organization in a way that continues to support your team's psychological safety, productivity and morale, which are high priority for us during periods of organizational change.
At Inclusion in Progress, we've always recognized the need to investigate barriers to psychological safety at the Individual, Behavioral, and Organizational levels while navigating the reality of a post-pandemic distributed world, because we know that identifying how to remove those barriers allows organizations to create a work culture where employees contribute their best ideas without fear of judgment or exclusion, ensuring an engaged, productive, and equitable work environment, no matter where your teams choose to work from. We also know that the last three years have been challenging for every one of us to navigate and it's important for us to provide organizations resources that set you and your teams up for success. To that end, we're pleased to announce the release of our 2023 Whitepaper on the Future of Work Culture: How To Make Distributed Work Inclusive. You can download a copy on our website today at inclusioninprogress.com/learn or you can head to the link in the show notes of this episode to grab your copy. And if you'd like to learn how we can support you with creating inclusive distributed work strategies in your organization in 2023 that will help you increase psychological safety and morale for your current and future teams, you can email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free, no pressure consultation call with our team.
As always, thank you so much for listening! Thank you for sharing these episodes with others! And we will see you next time on Inclusion in Progress.