Quiet Hiring: What Is It, and How Can It Benefit Your Team?

By: Allison Hache - Guest Contributor on April 27, 2023
On this page:

It's a good time to be a worker in the U.S. A tight labor market gives job seekers an advantage over employers who are competing for a small pool of available highly-skilled workers. Small business leaders and HR managers are looking for creative ways to broaden their sources, hire talented employees, and increase employee retention. A number of them are turning to a practice called quiet hiring to meet their talent needs.

What is quiet hiring?

Quiet hiring is the practice of shifting current employees into new roles to fill staffing gaps and balance the workforce. The term may be new, but the action is not. Organizations have often looked to their existing talent pools during economic downturns and when the company's skill needs change. They may upskill employees, convert them from part-time to full-time, or transition them into related roles, with the goal of leveraging the available talent to save money and boost productivity.

What started the quiet hiring trend?

Although quiet hiring [1] isn't a new practice, it is trending now in response to the quiet quitting that dominated the headlines in 2022. More than half of the employees surveyed for a Gallup poll in June 2022 admitted they had quietly quit their jobs and were doing only the minimum required for their positions due to burnout and frustration at work [2]. This presents a new challenge for companies that are keeping their employees but losing productivity.

However, employee dissatisfaction isn't the only factor contributing to the growing interest in quiet hiring. The U.S. labor market has been surprisingly robust, with an unemployment rate at record-low levels not seen in nearly 60 years [3]. Yet, the threat of a recession still looms as inflation remains high, and executives are responding by trimming staff budgets to prepare for the possible economic downturn. Amazon cut 27,000 positions in the first part of 2023 [4]. Alphabet slashed 12,000 jobs [5]. More than 30,000 workers in the financial industry have lost their jobs in the last six months [6].

At the same time, competition for in-demand skills has increased as record-low unemployment has employers vying for the same pool of highly-skilled candidates. Nearly 10 million jobs were still unfilled at the end of February 2023, a month when U.S. employers hired more than 6 million people [7]. There are simply more jobs available than there are people willing to fill them, despite the fact that the pandemic created more opportunities for remote and freelance work since people can work from anywhere they have an internet connection.

What can quiet hiring do for your team?

Companies use quiet hiring practices because they work. Onboarding new employees costs several thousand dollars on average and, in some cases, three or four times as much as the person's salary [8]. In addition to the financial costs, bringing in people from the outside can disrupt teams and increase the frustration current employees feel—especially when they believe they have the necessary skills and could do the job better. Drawing on the talent already available to you within the workplace is a clear advantage.

Broaden your talent pools

Hiring employees to fill a single, specific role is a short-sighted approach to building a workforce. According to the "2023 Workplace Learning Report" from Linkedin, skill sets required in the workforce have changed by as much as 25% since 2015, and this trend is expected to double within the next couple of years [9]. Instead of restricting people to certain jobs based on their degrees and work experience, consider the skills they bring to the table and how they fit in with the needs of your organization.

How to get started: Consider "skills-adjacent" candidates

Adjacent skills are the skills closely related to an employee's skill set. For example, restaurant servers have customer service and sales skills that apply to roles in call centers, marketing departments, and sales teams. Research from Gartner TalentNeuron [10] found that the skills needed to successfully learn natural language processing overlap with the skills used in machine learning, Python coding, and sentiment analysis. Hiring managers can use recruiting software to identify the adjacent skills in their workforce.

Highlight internal opportunities

Ideally, your company's recruitment strategy should include posting jobs internally. Not only does this increase transparency within the company, but it creates opportunities to identify which employees are open to upskilling and interested in taking on new roles within the organization. You may be surprised to find out how many current employees are ready for a challenge or have been secretly developing new skills to try out.

How to get started: Focus on internal talent mobility, stretch assignments, and upskilling employees

Even before the pandemic, businesses were already shifting their focus to internal talent mobility with "hire from within" initiatives. Identifying which employees have the skills needed for open positions sometimes requires more work than reading a resume presented by an external candidate, but having an agile workforce is an advantage for your company. Offering stretch assignments to employees is one way to determine who has the right skill set for a new role and how well they respond to challenges. You'll have a chance to see the employee in action and let them get first-hand experience to decide if they really want to pursue the role. Another option is giving employees an opportunity to upskill through taking courses or earning certifications in key areas.

Encourage your team to invest in their goals at your company

Quiet hiring is a win-win because it benefits employees as much as the company. It gives them opportunities to work on stretch assignments, grow their skill set, and extend their careers. The reality is that they want these opportunities—a surprising number of workers leave their jobs when they feel like they won't be able to advance within the company [11].

How to get started: Offer incentives for volunteers

Quiet hiring doesn't mean the company gets current employees to do more work for the same amount of money. That approach will likely backfire, as low pay is the number one reason employees quit their jobs [11]. Be prepared to offer incentives like additional compensation, bonuses, paid time off, and flexible hours or workplaces. You also can offer training opportunities within the company or pay for employees to take classes or earn certifications. To find out who is interested in stretch assignments and upskilling opportunities, take advantage of employee engagement software or invest in learning management systems to train employees who want to take on new roles.

Careful planning for quiet hiring implementation

Without an intentional quiet hiring strategy, you risk employee burnout—the exact opposite of what you're trying to do. To make this strategy work, you need to be aware of how your employees feel and be willing to prioritize their well-being. Giving them more work than they can do in the allotted time, allowing favoritism, and failing to recognize job performance are top causes of burnout. They also become a flight risk when they don't build relationships at work or lack the flexibility they need for a positive work-life balance [12]. Get to know your people and avoid asking them to take on more than they can handle.

Here are some tools that can help in the process:

  • Talent management software: These platforms automate HR processes so companies can manage and track employee data and performance metrics. You can tap into the data to identify adjacent skills and training needs, reward performance, and facilitate conversations between employees and managers.

  • Project management software: When you have teams collaborating with others on projects, project management software helps them track progress in real-time. The improved communication creates opportunities to build relationships and avoid duplicating work that leads to delays.

  • Recruiting software: Not only do these programs automate tasks and reduce workload, but they also help HR managers gather valuable information about new hires. You can use them to store data like candidate skills and goals so you can refer to them when it's time to offer a stretch assignment or an upskill opportunity.