Oct 31, 2022 | Advancing Your Career

I’m getting boring assignments. Am I a victim of “quiet firing”?

Q. Dear Zenagos, I’m sure you’ve heard of “quiet quitting.” Recently, I’ve noticed my boss is giving me really boring assignments. Am I a victim of “quiet firing”? If so, what should I do?
–Marion

Great managers don’t do “quiet firing.” Instead, they provide employees with clear goals and direct feedback, enabling self-monitoring and performance improvement.

What does it mean to “counsel out” an employee?
If an employee continues to do poor work despite direct feedback, then the manager may try to “counsel out” the employee by providing frequent feedback that the work is substandard. The hope is that the frequent feedback will cause the employee to look for work and resign, without having to be formally fired.

If the employee does not respond by leaving, then the manager will begin a formal process of removal – a gradual firing process with a name like “Performance Improvement Plan” (or “PIP”), in which employees are told that if certain conditions aren’t met by a certain date, then they will be fired. An employee who doesn’t catch the hint when being counseled out may also not catch the hint when being PIP’d and may be truly shocked when the eventual firing occurs.

Is “quiet firing” a thing?
Sadly, yes. A less confident manager who is not happy with your work may try to counsel you out indirectly, without providing you with direct feedback. These attempts to induce you to leave on your own can take several forms, including never looking at you or speaking to you, assigning you boring or undesirable work, or even mocking you or your work in front of others.

What should I do?
First, consider the idea that your boss is simply oblivious. Most bosses are overwhelmed and don’t have the time or energy to worry about how every employee feels. Maybe all of the work that your company does is boring to you, so you would find anything your boss assigned to be boring? It’s likely that it’s not personal.

However, even if your boss is assigning boring work unintentionally, the fact is that you find the work uninspiring. When you don’t like the work you do on a day-to-day basis, you have a decision to make: Do I want this job? What you should do next depends on your answer to that question.

If you do want the job: Try to repair the relationship with your boss
Changing how someone feels about you and your work takes time and energy. If you decide that it is important to change your boss’ mind, then here are some useful steps:

1. Focus on what your boss wants and needs

Employees often focus on what they want and need. This is a mistake if you are trying to inspire your boss to invest in you. Instead, try to figure out what your boss wants and needs. Is there a way that you can help? See if you can figure out a way to make your boss’ life easier.

2. Offer to do extra work

Finish your boring work quickly each day and then ask your boss if there’s anything extra that you can do to help. If your boss is open to working with you, then you will get something additional to do. If you perform well on that assignment, then you might get more. Employees often try to avoid extra work; doing something extra is a great way to earn positive attention from your boss.

3. When you do something well, gently remind your boss
If your boss has a negative opinion of you and your work, your boss may not even see it when you do something well. So, you will need to do a little positive PR (public relations) for yourself. For example, if your boss has complained that you are late to meetings, start arriving early, and each time you are early, call attention to yourself when the boss walks in by giving a smile or a wave hello.

Changing your boss’ opinion may not be easy, but if you really like your job and your company, it may be worth your time. If you know what it is that your boss doesn’t like (such as that you are late to meetings), the key to changing that impression is that you must never do it again. (Once your boss thinks of you as someone who is late, then each incident of being late counts double or triple against you.)

If you do want the job, but your boss isn’t receptive: Look for another role in the company
It may be that you cannot change your boss’ opinion. If you have put in several months of trying to repair the relationship, and you are seeing no progress, then it is time to accept that you cannot change your boss’ opinion.

If you still like the company, then start building relationships with other bosses at the company, and keep an eye out for roles that come up in other departments. Most companies have a policy for how to transfer between departments. Learn the rules for making a transfer, and see if you can find a role and boss that will give you more opportunity.

If you don’t want the job: Complete your work quickly each day and then search for a better job
When you think about it, you may decide that you really don’t love the job. If that’s the case, then be grateful for the boring work because it will not take too much of your energy each day. Do the work quickly while you are on the job. Then, after work, you will have the energy to search for work that really inspires you. Talk to as many people as you can about what they do and whether there are opportunities where they work. This could be just the push you need to make a meaningful change in your life.

Your life is precious, and if you are like most people, you will spend the majority of your waking hours at work. Make sure that you choose work that genuinely interests you and bosses who actively support you. It is worth the effort to find a role that makes you smile when you get up in the morning.

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