The ‘Quiet Cutting’ Trend Is A Controversial Leadership Strategy, New Study Shows

There’s a lot of quiet action taking place under the radar in today’s business world. Quiet culture workplace trends—such as quiet firingquiet quitting and quiet hiring—were intended to assuage the immediate and acute needs of businesses. Instead, they have backfired—creating suspicion, mistrust and low morale. Now, another controversial quiet trend is stirring up conversations in the corporate world. The practice of “quiet cutting” is an old practice with a new name. It involves employers reassigning workers to new roles in hopes they will eventually quit so the company saves the cost of severance.

The Frequency Of ‘Quiet Cutting’

To dig deeper into this controversial approach to modern-day layoffs, the team at Zetwerk surveyed 1,015 business owners and employees across various industries—information technology (36%), engineering and manufacturing (27%), health care (11%), retail (eight percent) and education (eight percent). The generational breakdown among participants included millennials (52%), Gen X (24%), Gen Z (17%) and baby boomers (seven percent).

The Zetwerk team discovered that nearly 24% of employers practice quiet cutting for reasons of performance management (73%), cost-savings (42%), reorganization (33%) and employee turnover (16%). Those companies that encourage quiet cutting, end up firing more than one in three of the employees that they reassign. Entry-level employees are the ones most often cut (53%), followed by mid-level (40%), management (5%) and senior level (2%). The percentage of employees quietly cut by industry include information technology (38%), retail (37%), education (30%), health care (25%) and engineering and manufacturing (24%).

Additional key takeaways from the survey include the following:

  • 56% of surveyed employees prefer straightforward termination.
  • One in three employees have experienced quiet cutting, with nearly half knowing an affected colleague—50% of employees feel betrayed by this approach.
  • 62% of those who were reassigned disliked their reassignment.
  • Almost 40% of quietly cut employees eventually leave, with another 28% planning to do so—but not so quietly.
  • Nearly 30% left a negative company review.

I communicated by email with Madeline Weirman, creative strategist for Zetwerk, who told me that the most intriguing aspect of their research is the prevalence of quiet cutting in the business world, with nearly one in four business owners admitting to practicing it. “It’s striking to see the impact on both employers and employees, shedding light on the complexities of this controversial practice,” Weirman says. “It’s also encouraging to note that approximately 70% of employers advocate for transparency, and 54% consider ‘quiet cutting’ as unethical. Furthermore, more than half of reassigned employees surveyed acquired new skills, 15% were promoted to higher positions and nearly one in 10 even received a raise, suggesting that quiet cutting often doesn’t achieve the employers’ intended results.”

Consequences Of ‘Quiet Cutting’ For Employees

Employers who practice quiet cutting cast an ominous cloud of mistrust over their workforce. Fellow workers (62% of respondents) who observed their companies quietly cut their co-workers say it made them feel negatively toward their employer. And half who saw quiet cutting in their workplace feel betrayed by management, with nearly another half saying it motivates them to leave their positions.

Quiet cutting is one of the reasons the American workforce must pay attention to a variety of conditions and risk-proof their careers in an increasingly unpredictable work world. Considering 56% of surveyed employees prefer to be fired instead of quietly cut, employees can benefit from understanding and identifying this trend in their own workplace. “For employers, prioritizing transparent communication and ethical practices in workforce management is crucial,” Weirman insists. “When termination is necessary, being honest and straightforward with employees can mitigate negative impacts on morale and company reputation. Additionally, investing in training and regular performance reviews can offer support to struggling workers, ultimately benefiting both the company and its employees in the long run.”

Final Takeaway

Overall, these findings highlight the need for transparent communication and ethical practices in workforce management. “Business owners can retain talent and maintain company morale by prioritizing training and regular performance reviews to support struggling workers,” the Zetwerk report concludes. “When termination is unavoidable, owners should be honest and straightforward with employees. Ultimately, the cost of paying out severance will likely be less than the negative impact on employee morale and company reputation.”

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