Quiet Firing Can Upend Family Finances for Black Breadwinners

For many Black heads of household, quiet firing isn’t a question of 'if' but 'when.' Here’s what to look out for and what to do about it.

Black man looks at computer monitor in frustration

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While much of the workforce seems to be focused on quiet quitting, a term that first became popular on social media, Black breadwinners are more concerned about quiet firing and they have reason to be.

Quit quitting has gained traction in reference to the resistance of going “above and beyond,” doing only the job you are paid for to maintain a better work-life balance. Considering the inherent biases and racism in some workplaces, quiet quitting for Black people is a bit more complicated. Only working within the boundaries of their job descriptions can sometimes leave Black employees at a disadvantage, opening them up to potential repercussions. 

According to a poll on Linkedin discussing the trend among millennials and Gen Z employees, 48% of respondents have seen quiet firing and 35% of respondents have said they’ve experienced it. 

Some signs of quiet firing include being singled out, being left off of relevant company messages, not receiving expected pay raises, being assigned fewer tasks, or unfavorable work, and being passed up for expected promotions, amongst other things. And a 2018 LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. report found that Black women are less likely to be promoted or receive support from managers.

“[It’s a] new term, old behavior,” according to Leslie Forde, career expert and CEO of Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs. Forde says this is especially true for Black employees who have long been the  “last ones hired and first ones fired,” subjected to toxic work environments and dealing with common microaggressions before “quiet firing” had a name. 

At times “quiet firing” is a repercussion for an employee’s inability to adhere to unwritten rules of office culture. It’s often likely that Black employees aren’t savvy to those rules because they are often determined by leadership circles that Black employees aren’t part of or aren’t welcomed in. 

“Many leaders aren’t transparent in the workplace and there's a gap between what the stated expectations are, and often what the real expectations are,”  says Forde. Those expectations are often the norm amongst senior leadership because many of them are alumni of the same schools, own vacation homes in the same areas, or join the same clubs, she continues. 

Business Chief recently published a story noting that Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, produce the most senior executives in many leading companies. Historically, those schools also lack diversity.

Therefore, those non-Black employees are more likely to share and understand workplace vernacular and subtleties that leave Black employees out of the circle. A poll in Bain found that less than 25% of Black people feel included at work. 

Those who aren’t part of those social circles inherently may have the opportunity to learn about unwritten rules about office culture at happy hour, early morning breakfast, and other work events. Yet, those opportunities create another predicament for Black parents who are then forced to find childcare on a salary that is likely less than that of white employees. 

In 2020, the Center for American Progress found that Black families with two small children are more likely to spend 56 percent of their salary on childcare, more than any other racial group. That means they are routinely forced to make more pressing decisions, pitting their children against their work. And choosing to be with the kids because of limited access to affordable childcare in lieu of attending office happy hour might threaten the potential of any upward mobility with their job. 

Or employed Black parents can attend those off-hour work events to engage in the shared culture and language of the office with their colleagues. However, it’s at the expense of further subjection to the potential of common microaggressions.

Essentially, they are tasked with “picking their poison” and both lend to work disruptions and the possibility of quiet firing. For the Black family, that means not only feeling inadequate at work but at home, too, as parents struggle to provide attention and necessities to their children to enrich their lives.

Quiet Firing in Blue Collar Jobs 

Quiet firing isn’t only limited to those in traditional office settings but domestic work, as well. Domestic work is inclusive but not limited to work that happens within a residence such as nannying, house cleaning, and caretaking. 

“When over 90% of the domestic labor workforce are Black people and people of color, it’s necessary to include them in the conversation about quiet quitting and quiet firing, especially since, now, even more people see that the work they do is essential,” says Jenn Stowe, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Domestic workers are the center of making all other work possible, yet they are routinely underpaid, disrespected, and mistreated - all the makings of “quiet firing.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of that behavior stems from racism and classism, Stowe explains. “Oftentimes people hire domestic workers don’t bring enough respect because they look at them as just the help and not as skilled workers with a specific job to do worthy of dignity,” she says. “And I think domestic work being rooted in slavery also lends to the devaluing of that work when it shouldn’t be.” 

And so they experience quiet firing. It commonly starts with expanding the role by suddenly expecting more duties outside the job scope without previous discussions, such as being asked to walk the dog when you’re the nanny to an infant. Though the term quiet firing isn’t often used in the industry, reports of receiving fewer hours, wage cuts, and the overall creation of a hostile environment, seemingly on purpose, has increased. 

In some cases, it’s in direct response to a domestic worker asking for clarification in writing or pushing back about a responsibility. “It often ends up being more of the rule and not the exception. [That means] they end up having to choose between feeding their family or putting up with exploitation,” she says.  

Because many of them work in solitude or are immigrants, they likely don’t know about laws or what they can do about it so they suffer alone and in silence. 

What can Black employees do about it?

Though quiet firing can be more pervasive for Black families, being strategic about business dealings and finances can assist in mitigating the impact. 

“It starts with boundaries. You can have very respectful, candid discussions about what’s expected of you, and try to surface any unmet needs on a very frequent basis,” says Forde. 

“That’s when you can take control of the situation and build a one-on-one relationship that’s hopefully free of microaggressions and gives you the opportunity to discuss expectations and understand the culture,” Forde says. 

Growing your network can also be a safeguard against the repercussions of quiet firing. In some cases, quiet firing has been rampant for Black families for some time. Employees can work against that by building true connections and relationships as much as possible. Even if a lack of childcare makes it difficult for employees to attend events outside of work hours, they can take the initiative to have meaningful conversations. 

Additionally, attending industry conferences to connect with other professionals in the field can set you up for success. Forde points out that conferences not only give you an opportunity to expand your knowledge and learn about resources, but they can also be where you meet your next employer.

For domestic workers, it can mean joining an organization such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance or connecting with other workers so they can learn about advocating for themselves and what protections are available for them. 

Finally, because quiet firing isn’t a question of “if” but more so “when” for many Black families, anything you can do to prepare yourself financially and professionally is recommended. “Financial well-being is well-being,” says Forde. 

Acknowledging that it is harder for Black families, she encourages them to take a close look at their personal finances, and be intentional about budgeting and creating a safety net, knowing that the workplace is not designed equally.

”Doing so can help you build a cushion to ride out any changes until you land in a better professional situation,” she says.

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