Stealth behavioral shifts continue to be the flavor du jour in the workplace. First, we saw the rise of quiet quitting, which wasn’t quitting, but was employees not doing anything beyond their job description; then, we saw quiet firing, which wasn’t firing, but was managers neglecting employees to the point that they resigned. And now, we have quiet hiring, which isn’t (usually) hiring, but is shifting around talent internally, moving people into new or new-ish roles. Identified as a future-of-work trend by research and consulting firm Gartner, this faux “hiring” is designed to help companies meet outstanding needs without actually hiring new workers. Its impact on employees, however, depends on how, to what extent, and at what cost or benefit their roles are remixed.
Though the term “quiet hiring” is new, the concept isn’t novel, according to Shonna Waters, PhD, vice president of alliance solutions at virtual coaching platform BetterUp. “It refers to any top-down management of the workforce, where leaders are shifting people into different jobs, or just different projects or initiatives in order to meet needs,” she says. “Or, it could refer to hiring temps in strategic ways, where the company might have traditionally just hired people into full-time roles.” This type of largely internal re-jiggering is something that she says “has always happened in times of economic downturn and uncertainty, where company needs are going unmet or new ones are emerging.”
Quiet hiring helps companies meet outstanding needs without actually hiring.
But it’s important to know that quiet hiring isn’t always an omen of trouble to come. “There’s a very big distinction between employees learning new roles or taking on stretch assignments when an organization can’t get the talent it needs from the labor market [à la quiet hiring], and organizations redeploying their workforce because roles are being eliminated,” says Emily Rose McRae, senior director of research at Gartner and head of the Future of Work research team. “While redeployment involves business leaders shutting down an area of the company, often to the point that they cannot accommodate all impacted employees, quiet hiring typically looks like a temporary reassignment.”
While it’s arranged for the continued success of the company, such a reassignment has the potential to benefit the employee, too. Indeed, in a recent poll of more than 1,100 workers conducted by career site Monster, 70 percent of respondents reported viewing quiet hiring as an opportunity to try a new role and gain new skills. Whether quiet hiring could prove similarly beneficial for you depends on a few factors, including why, exactly, you’re being reassigned and how you go about shifting into that role.
What is driving companies to “quiet hire” now?
Essentially, companies are being forced to do the same amount of work with fewer resources to hire, says Celia Balson, founder and CEO of human-resources consulting agency Work Friendly. Quiet hiring, in its purest sense, allows these companies to solve for key needs without expending the resources necessary to bring new people into the fold.
After all, some of the skills they so desperately need could very well exist within their ranks. For example, let’s say you have both product-design and social-media skills, and you’re in a social-media role. And suddenly, there’s a much bigger business need at your company for product design but limited resources available to hire. It’s likely the most resourceful option to quietly hire you into the design role. In that way, part of what’s driving quiet hiring is a desire among leaders to better optimize for both existing talent and key organizational needs, says Dr. Waters.
“Organizations are getting flatter, skills are becoming obsolete, and new needs are emerging all the time.” —Shonna Waters, PhD, vice president of alliance solutions at BetterUp
At the same time, the “Great Resignation” of the past couple years has created significant pressure on companies to retain employees, says Dr. Waters, “and we know that career-development opportunities are consistently cited as one of the top drivers of retention.” Traditionally, companies have gone about this by defining a career ladder and handing out regular promotions to move people up the rungs—but that’s getting tougher and tougher to do in the current workplace climate, says Dr. Waters. “Organizations are getting flatter, jobs are changing rapidly, skills are becoming obsolete, and new needs are emerging all the time.”
Quiet hiring, Dr. Waters suspects, may be a modern solution: By proposing a new role or version of a role to an existing employee, you could theoretically give them a new reason to stay and eventually grow with the company. “Oftentimes, employees themselves want to diversify their skills to broaden their skill sets and sharpen their knowledge,” says McRae.
What are the upsides and downsides of quiet hiring for you?
The most obvious upside is the potential for growth. “While being asked to move into a completely new role at your organization might feel daunting at first, it presents you with new opportunities to learn and expand your skills,” says LinkedIn career expert Andrew McCaskill. “Our research shows that learning new skills is one of the top priorities for workers today, and moving into new roles within an organization can keep employees there longer.”
The shift also gives you the chance to prove to your employer that you’re willing to take on new or more senior responsibilities “in an effort to best support the company’s success,” says Balson. And in a workplace landscape dominated by quiet quitting, leaders understand now more than ever that any kind of additional work put in by employees isn’t to be expected for free. This puts you in a good position to leverage any new role for extra pay, benefits, training, resources, or other perks.
Naturally, a downside to quiet hiring is that you could be shifted into a role you don’t like or one that you’re not well-equipped to do, given your time or talents. Indeed, of the 80 percent of respondents to the Monster survey who reported being quietly hired, half of them said that their new role was not aligned with their skill set. But according to McRae, since the change is in service of the organization’s success and it’s in their best interest to retain you, you do have the bargaining power to advocate for whatever it is you need to succeed in the new role (more on how to do that below).
The other downside, however, could come in how companies choose people to quietly hire. “Many employers are still going to look to those employees who they deem to have a lot of ‘potential’ to take on these new roles,” says executive coach and DEI strategic advisor Brooks E. Scott, “and often in the workplace, people from non-majority groups are the ones that people in majority groups overlook when the perception of ‘potential’ comes into play.” As a result, the overall success of quiet hiring hinges on both employees advocating for what they need to succeed and employers creating an equitable way to assign new opportunities, he says.
How to make the most of being quietly hired into a new position
1. Consider it an opportunity to assess your career trajectory
Change can be a vessel for growth even (often, especially) if it feels frightening. “We tend to become creatures of habit, and we get comfortable with what we’re doing or where we think we’re headed, which makes it easy to view quiet hiring as a deficit or a threat off the bat,” says Dr. Waters.
Instead, approach the need for change as a chance to take a new and exciting path, perhaps one that may be even more in alignment with what you actually want to achieve. “If you’re being quietly hired, use this juncture to create some space for reflection and assess your mindset,” says Dr. Waters. “Consider what skills and experiences are important to you and whether there might be ways to get the value that you want out of this role.”
If those upsides aren’t imminently apparent, shift your outlook to the next nine to 12 months or even beyond, says Scott, and “consider how you might leverage the opportunity that’s being proposed to you now in order to build your career in the future.”
2. Get clarity on *all* the details of the job change
In any quiet hiring scenario, it’s essential to understand exactly what is being asked of you. This will help you avoid agreeing to work that is beyond your scope without sufficient support, and will also put you in a good position to discuss and negotiate with leadership.
That means having a candid conversation with your manager to get a clear picture of the new role or responsibilities, whether this will be a permanent change or a temporary one (and if the latter, how long), how you’ll be compensated or recognized for it, how your success will be measured, and how the shift will impact your future performance reviews, says Dr. Waters. This information will help you determine whether you can really thrive in the new role and use it to your advantage.
3. Enforce work-life boundaries to avoid taking on too much
“Quiet hiring should not be a recipe for burnout,” says McRae. If an organization is actually just shifting around talent to best optimize for current business needs, no one should wind up with disproportionately more work than they had before. Not to mention, that outcome would just make the company even more vulnerable; if they already can’t hire the usual way, they certainly don’t want to lose additional employees to overwhelm.
“If you’re being asked to take on more responsibility, you should also be mindful to ask what will be taken off your plate.” —Emily Rose McRae, senior director of research, Gartner
That’s all to say, “if you’re being asked to take on more responsibility, you should also be mindful to ask what will be taken off your plate,” says McRae. Ensuring your workload is feasible in this way is a key part of maintaining your work boundaries—which shouldn’t shift just because your responsibilities shift. If that does start to happen (for example, you find yourself responding to pings at 9 p.m. despite having a boundary to end your workday at 6 p.m.), that is a sign that you need to re-negotiate the new opportunity with your manager.
4. Advocate for whatever you would need to thrive in the role
Business leaders now know that employees won’t necessarily agree to step up (or step over) into a new role for nothing. “If your company is acknowledging that they are placing you into a new position, then they are also acknowledging that you’re going to need some things to be successful,” says Scott. One of those things might be more money—which you can absolutely ask for, if the position is more senior, requires more responsibilities, or involves you learning a new skill(s), says McRae.
If a pay raise is a no-go, you still have two key fallbacks: Your first, says Dr. Waters, is to ask, at what point in time that can be reconsidered, whether it’s on an annual or semi-annual cycle (or otherwise), or if there are particular business criteria that you need to hit, so you know when to expect more compensation in the future. And your second is to ask “what learning and development opportunities the company can fund in order to boost your chances of success in the role,” adds Dr. Waters, “whether that’s a training program or certification you can do, conferences you can attend, or other things of that nature.”
Because the learning curve for a new role can take time, also set a schedule with your manager for regular feedback to be sure you know whether you’re headed in the right direction or if things are veering off course and you need some extra support, says Dr. Waters.
5. Propose an alternative solution before giving an outright “no”
While you may certainly choose to leave your company if the new arrangement seems like a bad fit (even after reflecting on how you could leverage it), that isn’t your only recourse. With some tactical negotiating, you may be able to keep your current role.
Dr. Waters recommends discussing the situation with your manager, and seeing if you might help them and the organization better problem-solve for the need at hand. “You might say, ‘You know what? That [new position] isn’t really my sweet spot, but I think this other person actually has a great interest in this,’ or ‘I think we have a contractor resource that may be able to help with this,’ or ‘What if we break up this role among me and a couple other employees?’” she says. Offering up these alternatives is an act of goodwill, which could earn you the same in return.