For many of us, the term ‘restructure’ instils fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for businesses to move employees around and switch up teams – and carry out redundancies – in a bid to save money. And although it’s not a new phenomenon, a phrase has been coined to describe the shuffling around of workers: quiet cutQuiet cutting is where employees are reassigned to new roles within their current organisations. Often, they’re told their jobs have been cut – but they can move to another role in the company as part of restructure. Some say quiet cutting is a genuine attempt to avoid making people redundant. But others argue it’s an attempt to push workers to quit of their own accord, so businesses don’t have to pay severance.
“In most cases of quiet cutting, the movement of talent around a company is designed to increase efficiency, trim costs and fill roles that are needed across the business,” says Jill Cotton, career trends expert at the jobs platform Gumtree.
However, Cotton adds, how cynically you view the practice depends on how a company goes about quiet cutting employees.
“For example, if there is no transparency around why people have been reassigned roles or the new positions have fewer responsibilities, benefits or development opportunities, it could signal that the employer is trying to reduce their workforce by voluntary attrition – and therefore avoiding costly redundancies,” she says. “Moving employees into roles that don’t align with their career goals could force those workers to look for better suited opportunities outside the company.”
Although quiet cutting may be the latest career buzzword, it’s not a new practice. As we adjust to a post-pandemic world, businesses have had to change to meet changing demand.
“When Covid hit, many employers were forced to rapidly adapt their business models to meet consumer needs and adopted new ways of working,” explains Cotton. “Now, employers may find that they rushed to hire positions that are no longer needed or simply not part of the company’s future strategy.”
Valerie O'Hanlon, a career and business coach at Clarence Consulting, says firms may also quietly cut employees to avoid bad press.
“Often, it’s when an organisation needs to downsize but doesn't want to incur the cost of a redundancy or wants to avoid the bad PR associated with layoffs,” she says. “Instead, the organisation makes it difficult for the employee to stay, gradually pushing the employee out and allowing it to look like the employee's decision to leave.”
What are the signs that you are being quietly cut?
There are several tell-tale signs that you’re being quietly cut. According to O’Hanlon, these include: Bonuses being cut, salaries not being increased, withdrawing promotional opportunities, a recruitment freeze and not replacing staff when they leave.
“You might also be asked to take on extra work for no extra pay,” she adds. “Employees might be redeployed to different roles without much choice or consultation.”
Reduced employee support and diminishing company transparency are also signs of quiet cutting. “For workers, be aware if everything around you quietens – whether this is feedback on work, access to training or career development opportunities, or being put forward for new projects,” says Cotton.
“Broken promises can also be a red flag, as is disengagement from managers with your work or overall team.”
Is quiet cutting a sign that your job is at risk?
Being quietly cut – or reassigned to a new role – isn’t always a surefire sign that you’re at risk of losing your job. Employers want to keep hold of talented workers and there may be a genuine need for your skills elsewhere in the company.
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“When internal mobility is supported correctly, quiet cutting can be a great way to develop existing talent for the company’s future needs – and the employee has the opportunity to learn new skills,expand their knowledge and build their business experience,” says Cotton.
“However, if you are reassigned to a position that has noticeably less favourable terms – such as mandatory relocation, different levels of flexibility, fewer responsibilities – it might be a sign of your employer wanting to reduce headcount.”
And if your organisation is constantly restructuring, O’Hanlon adds, this could indicate the start of the decline of the company – which they may not be able to recover from. “This can cause undue stress and anxiety for the employee and the employee might decide it's better to look elsewhere,” she says.
What should you do if you’ve been quietly cut?
Firstly, try not to panic. Remember, hiring new people isn’t a quick or easy process. It takes time and is expensive, so most organisations will do what they can to retain existing employees.
If you are quietly cut, ask why your role has been reassigned. “Good employers will be transparent and explain their reasoning and outline your new career path within the organisation,” says Cotton.
“If you don’t get a straight answer or feel unsupported in the internal move, the quiet cutting might be a signal of wider changes within the company.”