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What is quiet hiring?

Far from being the latest industry buzzword, quiet hiring could be the perfect antidote to the widening skills shortage

A man in an office using a mobile phone and writing on a notepad

‘Quiet hiring’, the latest buzzword permeating the global technology industry, might be more than just a flash-in-the-pan trend for businesses.  

This broad term, which refers to organisational approaches to reskilling and retaining critical talent, has emerged in the wake of the pandemic-fuelled ‘quiet quitting’ phase, which saw workers at firms across a range of industries ‘quietly’ refusing to go above and beyond their contractual duties. 

Quiet hiring was identified as Gartner’s number one Future of Work trend for 2023, suggesting it’s a practice or approach that businesses will focus on sharply throughout the year. It’s not without justification; amidst a period of acute economic disruption, tightening budgets and talent shortages spanning a host of key industries, Gartner suggests quiet hiring could prove vital for business decision-makers.

What is quiet hiring? 

Emily Rose McRae, senior director of research at Gartner tells IT Pro quiet hiring is an approach for organisations to “get skills and capabilities without adding headcount”.

“That’s to contrast it with quiet quitting,” she says, “which would ultimately be an organisation losing skills or capabilities, but not losing headcount.”

Fundamentally, quiet hiring as a concept involves placing a stronger focus on maximising the potential of current staff by offering them the chance to upskill, retrain, or move to other areas of the business. The aim is meeting the demand of certain critical functions that may be short-staffed or otherwise left lacking.

“It’s a way to get the skills and capabilities where you need them and redistribute what you have to where it’s going to have the most strategic value,” McRae adds.

“It’s recognising a reality that we’re all facing right now, which is that the talent shortage is materially impacting our businesses. We are not able to do things that are part of our strategic plan because we don’t have enough talent, or the right talent.”

How does quiet hiring work in practice?

A prime example, McRae says, would be an organisation with a ten-strong data science team seeking to fill five new positions, but not being able to fill these roles within a realistic timeframe.

“You could suddenly offer way more money in the market to try and attract people faster, but that’s expensive, and with current economic uncertainty, it’s not necessarily an option for a lot of businesses,” she says.

To compensate, the hypothetical organisation could source talented analysts within the HR or marketing team, for example, and reassign them to work within the data science function to plug the gaps.

However, while this appears to be a straightforward decision, there are pitfalls, McRae notes. Not least of all in terms of cross-functional skills capabilities.

“The problem here is they aren’t data scientists, they’re analysts, and there might be some skills missing there. So how do you deal with that? Well, one option would be to upskill them; send them to a bootcamp or do an apprenticeship.” 

“Another option would be to actually redesign the role, so the data scientists focus on compensating for the skills the analysts don’t have and they can do the things that they’re familiar with.

“You could also hire contractors to do the complex statistical programming that’s not normally in the analysts’ wheelhouse.”

Is quiet hiring right for your business?

All too often, organisations and business leaders have a tendency to get caught up in the latest buzzword trend and buy into the hype and hyperbole surrounding new technologies, leadership approaches, or management styles.

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With quiet hiring, this is no different, and McRae emphasises it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. There are nuanced considerations businesses and senior teams must take into account when pursuing this approach –  whether it’s right for their individual circumstances.

This is particularly relevant for smaller businesses, McRae adds, who simply might not have the headcount or capacity to redirect talent and resources to other areas of the business.

“For some companies this isn’t going to fly,” she says. “For some companies, they’re going to look at quiet hiring and say ‘no, HR people are HR people, marketing people are marketing people” and they’re not open to that idea. Culturally this doesn’t work for some.” 

What are the business benefits of quiet hiring?

Amidst a period of tightening budgets, hiring freezes and growing economic uncertainty, McRae says quiet hiring offers businesses a range of benefits, including creating a more cross-functional workforce that understands the acute challenges faced by the organisation.

“It can absolutely create a more agile workforce as a whole, who have some background knowledge to start with that allows them to adapt to a lot of different circumstances and move more easily across the business,” she explains.

Similarly, in terms of alternative benefits for the organisation, McRae notes this approach can prove highly beneficial in creating future leaders who understand the acute challenges facing the organisation.

These employees could be vital in terms of long-term success due to their understanding of strategic goals and considerations.

“It also, frankly, helps build your leadership pipeline, because the more cross-functional experience people have, the better leaders at an organisation they’ll be,” she adds. “They won’t be so siloed into a part of the business. So that’s a benefit for the employee and the organisation to have people who understand the business better.”

Are there employee benefits to quiet hiring?

While there are tangible business benefits to quiet hiring, McRae says that in terms of individual employee benefits, there is a “tricky” element at play here.

She notes that while a key benefit for employees is the potential for increased internal mobility, and the opportunity to upskill or retrain, employees are still ultimately beholden to senior leadership.

Therefore, employees making proactive moves to capitalise on the opportunities of quiet hiring may encounter difficulty. There are, however, some things individuals within an organisation can do.

“It is an opportunity to increase your skills and value within an organisation,” she says. “But the thing that makes this different from your standard internal mobility, so applying for a new role within the organisation, is that that is coming from the employee.

“Quiet hiring, as an approach, is coming from senior leadership. The direction is different. You can make suggestions, you can actively reach out to parts of the business that you know are hiring, or struggling, and suggest you rotate in.

“Those are just some of the things you can do to jump start this on an individual basis. But this really does come from senior leadership.”

What are the downsides to quiet hiring?

Some employees within an organisation pursuing a quiet hiring policy or approach may view this with hesitancy, McRae notes.

In recent years, workforces across a range of industries have become increasingly burnt out and taken on heavier workloads, which has been exacerbated by talent shortages. The key difference with quiet hiring, however, is that it isn’t a case of employees being lumbered with additional work, it’s a redistribution of those individuals to other areas of the business.

“There is 100% a risk [of burnout],” she says. “What keeps it from coming to that is really whether you’re doing quiet hiring right. You’re not doing quiet hiring right if you ask someone to take on responsibilities on top of their normal job.

“The reality is that if this is not a good fit for you, you’re able to say no. Because, your company still values your work. And that might sound counterintuitive, telling your company no, but in this circumstance you 100% can.

“Now, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have a bad manager that wouldn’t respond poorly to it, or senior leadership that would respond poorly to it. But the reality is that your skills are so valued that they want to move them over into another part of the business. Trust that if you needed to, you could look somewhere else, but also that they want to keep you.”

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