Photo by Kristina Flour

Have you heard about “quiet hiring?” Along with “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing,” it’s the latest passive workplace trend that describes how some employers are filling hiring needs without going through the formal job requisition process. 

With “quiet hiring,” leaders may ask employees to shoulder additional responsibilities or take on a role in an emerging area, such as a generative AI taskforce.

Giving people stretch opportunities can be a great way to build skills while testing whether they’re ready for that next promotion. But, it’s important to make sure they have the resources needed to succeed and aren’t being asked to take on two jobs or sign up for a dreaded unpaid promotion.

When you’re ready to do quiet hiring the “right” way, consider how upskilling can help your employees grow into new roles with confidence and make internal promotion a cause for celebration, rather than an occasion for side-eye.

Below is a guide to some Dos and Don’ts when engaging in quiet hiring and quiet hiring-adjacent activities. We’ll get the Don’ts out of the way first and then focus on the good stuff.

Quiet hiring don’ts

Don’t be shady.

Errr, this should go without saying, but don’t engage in any practices that could be illegal, violate company policies, or otherwise give people the ick. For example, make sure you know which employees are non-exempt and must legally be paid overtime. Additionally, many companies require that all jobs be posted publicly on their website – even if an internal candidate has already been identified for the role. And most states protect employees on parental leave from having their jobs replaced. So take precautions and work with HR any time you create a new role or expand an employee’s job responsibilities significantly.

Don’t kid yourself.

We’ve all heard “it’s just a little project” when it’s not. Be honest about the amount of work that will be required when asking someone to take on new job responsibilities. We recommend writing out all the tasks like a job description and estimating the number of hours required per week. If it turns out it’s adding up to a second job, consider whether you need to spread tasks out among more employees, hire new team members, or marshal additional resources.

Quiet hiring dos

Communicate effectively

It’s always important to communicate effectively when dealing with personnel matters, but quiet hiring is one of those times when it’s extra important to be thoughtful and deliberate. Whenever possible, we recommend introducing new job responsibilities in person and in private – not over the phone or by email. It’s important to read the person’s body language to sense whether they’re feeling excited, nervous, or confused. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and process the information.

You’ll also want to communicate how this new role or project will benefit the employee and  impact their career aspirations. Be clear about the degree of choice they have in the matter and the consequences if they say no. Is it a project that just needs to get done now? Is it a promotion that, if they don’t take, may derail their career growth or result in someone else being hired? If it’s a thankless or otherwise difficult project, you may need to dig deep to surface the key learnings they will gain.

Once a change has been made – whether it’s a new project or a new title – the next step is to communicate proactively and transparently with other relevant team members and employees. Make sure they know what is happening and why, and that they’re aware of any new reporting lines. Give them the chance to speak up if they have concerns about how it will impact them. 

Offer upskilling support

All too often, employees are thrust into new roles with very little training or preparation, especially in times of rapid change when things just need to “get done.” This is a huge missed opportunity when there are so many ways to support employees with quality upskilling and professional development. From management training to executive coaching to new technologies like AI, we recommend working collaboratively with employees to create personalized growth plans. The good thing about internal promotion or quiet hiring is that employees and managers already have a track record of working together and know the areas they need to focus on.

Image of hands meeting
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel
Have a Plan B

When offering a new project or role to an employee, don’t pressure them to accept it right away. If possible, give them at least 24-48 hours to discuss with family and respond (or more for projects that will require significant travel, relocation, or extended hours). And try to have a Plan B in your back pocket if they decide to forego the opportunity. For example, could you do the work through a task force instead of a single individual? Could you hire a contractor or temporary employee? 

Provide management support

In the quest to lead your employee into an exciting new world of opportunity, you should consider yourself their greatest asset. Set key milestones and ensure the parameters for success are clear. Do what you can to take existing work off their plate. Regularly check in with them to see how things are going. Encourage them to be proactive about surfacing problems that you might be able to help them with before they get out of control. 

Show them the money 

At the end of the day, all of the amazing communication, support, and even – we said it! – upskilling in the world can’t make up for cold, hard, ca$h money. Be realistic about when you’ve asked someone to take on a volume of work that warrants additional compensation. That could take the form of overtime pay, bonus pay, emergency pay, extra time off, an award or other form of public acknowledgement.

Alternatively, it could mean that what started out as a project becomes a promotion. Sometimes even a moderate raise or increase in benefits can go a long way toward making employees feel that their above-average efforts are valued, versus feeling taken advantage of. And if you do decide to give a promotion, take time to celebrate! Bust out the cake and champagne for all to enjoy.

Take the quiet out of quiet hiring

It’s normal to ask employees to take on new roles and responsibilities, especially in times of great change and upheaval. But, the way you do it can have a major impact on whether it becomes a force for boosting morale or a source of resentment. By supporting internal transitions with open communication, clear parameters for success, and meaningful upskilling, you can make quiet hiring a little less quiet and a lot more human.