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The morning I became part of the latest trend: quiet firing

I have flash memories of snarky or needling comments that were said to me. Mortgage payments and property taxes kept me quiet. I needed the job.

That morning I became part of what now seems to be a trend: quiet firing. Quiet because people are blindsided, as I was.GABRIELA BHASKAR/NYT

The train ride home was quiet. Late morning on a Thursday in May. I watched the overgrown shrubs peppered with litter and weeds, followed the curves in the tracks looking for the one section that seemed even broader with more open sky, the one that ran parallel to the cherry blossom park. Other than the quiet of late morning, vacant of commuters like myself who were already at work, the ride was as always. Except I was heading home, having just been fired from my writing job at a professional services firm.

That morning I became part of what now seems to be a trend: quiet firing. Quiet because people are blindsided, as I was. Quiet because managers use a variety of tactics — such as failing to adequately provide coaching, support, and career development so as to then push someone out. Other highlights from a Harvard Business Review article rang true for me: Not assigning promising new opportunities. Changing work hours. Not discussing career trajectory or providing performance feedback. “Ghosting” or repeatedly canceling meetings.


Reports since last fall pointed to the recession and over-hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the impetus to reduce staff. Businesses will find a way to dismiss people, and most states have “at will” hiring or firing and employers do not have to provide an employee any reason for why they are being let go. There are no hard and fast rules or clean statistics about quiet firing. There are only the stories and there is nothing clean about them.

Quiet or loud, it messes with your head: Today is your last day.

“Don’t let these people get inside your head,” said my neighbor Dana, who has been in public relations for 25 years and was quietly fired a year ago. “It happened completely out of the blue to me. I got the worst review I have ever gotten in my entire life with horrendous things written in it.”


“Even talking about it now,” she said, “it’s almost like PTSD. It’s a trigger just thinking about it. It totally makes you question yourself and question your worth.” Tell me about it.

Friends know others from various industries who were either quietly fired or who quit hostile work environments — the precursor to firings that managers hope will accomplish the deed. An acquaintance even tells me of a technology department that learned they were being fired at the end of a meeting when it was announced. Employees resist talking about their experiences. I get it. It’s humiliating and somehow you feel as though you have failed miserably. There is also an odd kind of fear cloaking the situation.

In these months following this anything but quiet experience, I did what I do: I turned to art. Books. Streaming. Movies. Music. Art finds me when I most need something — a sentence, a character, an experience — that speaks to me, that heals.

Promise led to whiplash: Moving from a crowded grocery store with a sense of community and collegiality to a hybrid office where people working on-site had different schedules. Let’s put it this way, I often had more exchanges with various security people I passed on my way in.

Despite a positive review and kudos for other written accomplishments, I got the boot. Quiet firing might be legal, but would we describe it as ethical? Honorable?


You know what they say about hindsight. I have flash memories of snarky or needling comments that were said to me. Mortgage payments and property taxes kept me quiet. I needed the job.

That morning, walking toward the office to what I thought was a meeting with new leadership about assignments — just five days shy of my one-year anniversary — I felt a cool chill and instinctively sensed what was about to play out. I saw the two heads: HR’s and the department’s, poised and ready.

When they began speaking, it was like an out-of-body experience. Everything slowed down the way I remember it feeling when I was in a car accident. It’s like being at the intersection of fear meets fear. In my head we became characters in a Netflix series or a movie. I felt trapped in an airless room with Roz, the suspended lawyer from the Australian comedy series “Fisk,” who became the office manager preoccupied with appearances, social media, and coffee mugs in the break room.

Actor speaks with sincere tone: This hasn’t worked since the beginning. This will be your last day.

Actor shakes head and speaks disapprovingly: Oh, the typos.

Actor leans forward, speaks sympathetically: You’re just not catching on.

Actor, with hand over heart says whisper-like: A project was canceled because you’re difficult.

The meeting began at 10:30. By 10:54 I was on the train platform heading home. Twenty-four minutes.


The day after my dismissal, I went to the movies. Since then, I’ve been reading “Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago,” and the beautiful “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” I’ve streamed things that make me laugh and cry, including “Tiny Beautiful Things,” “The Dig,” and “Fleishman Is in Trouble.” I fill the well hollowed by that 24-minute moment with textured stories, with art, with beauty — even within pain. I excavate, and in these stories, find the truth of me, my worth. So much more than the 24 minutes.

I often replay a Fleishman moment when his middle school daughter gets picked up at camp after a humiliating experience. On the ride home, she sings “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. I hear these lyrics acutely:

“And all those things I didn’t say

Wrecking balls inside my brain

I will scream them loud tonight

Can you hear my voice this time?”

Can you?

Mary Ann D’Urso is a freelance writer.