How to Make “Quiet Hiring” an Opportunity, Not a Punishment

HR leaders can turn quiet hiring into an opportunity for accelerated skill development and promotions rather than overworking their skilled employees.

Let’s say your company has a shortage of technology talent, but your CEO has announced layoffs, budget cuts, and/or a hiring freeze in anticipation of a recession. You needed more data analysts, software engineers, Web developers, and customer success managers yesterday, and now you can’t hire them. According to proponents of “quiet hiring,” the loudest new HR buzzword, the solution is to saddle existing employees with more work and responsibilities. In other words, simply have engineers do more engineering…for the same pay.

I cannot think of a better way to increase churn and make your talent shortage worse.

There is little appetite for overwork in America. In September 2022, research firm Gallup estimated that at least 50 percent of U.S. employees were “quiet quitting,” meaning they rebelled against the grind and burnout culture by doing the bare minimum to stay employed. A December poll by job site found that 96 percent of workers are looking for a new job in 2023. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate is 3.5 percent but only 1.8 percent in tech occupations despite mass layoffs. CompTIA, an IT advocacy group, reports that job postings for tech jobs totaled 246,000 in December, while employers hired 130,000 tech workers.

The point is that skilled people don’t have to put up with quiet hiring if it creates stress, work-life imbalance, and unhappiness. They have alternatives. So let me recommend an alternative for HR leaders: Turn quiet hiring into an opportunity for accelerated skill development and promotions. Rather than overwork and overburden skilled people, retrain people in low-wage, easy-to-fill roles through structured apprenticeship programs. Give driven workers a defined path to higher pay in hard-to-fill job roles. Use government funding for apprenticeships to make these upskilling programs far more cost-effective than hiring externally in an already strained, competitive talent market.

The challenge will be identifying and nurturing the right employees for these programs. What criteria should you consider? How will you find candidates? And how will you motivate candidates to develop their full potential?

  1. The Ideal Upskillers

The best candidates for upskilling apprenticeships are reliable, hard-working employees currently in low-wage roles. They may work in customer service, data entry, or a retail store. They have the foundation to be extraordinary but lack the skills, knowledge, or experience to land a higher-paying role. Although most employers undervalue them, they are hungry to advance.

The ideal candidates are also fast learners. Maybe they exceeded their sales quotas and delivered an outcome in four months instead of the expected six months. Perhaps they were rapidly promoted to a customer service team for your organization’s most critical and loyal clients. These individuals naturally pick up on best practices and perhaps invent their own methods and strategies to get ahead.

Last and perhaps most controversially, I believe the best candidates for upskilling are diverse. They didn’t have the same chance to earn a four-year degree and gain three to five years of relevant experience as your cookie-cutter hires. But that means they will bring a new perspective to their role, think about problems differently, and devise solutions a homogenous team would never consider.

  1. How to Find Them

In a company with tens of thousands of employees, start by looking at performance evaluations and metrics. Who racks up five-star satisfaction scores in your customer service center? Who earns the highest commissions at your retail locations? Who changed a data entry process that saved everyone time and frustration?

In addition, survey line managers for their recommendations. Explain that you’re trying to fill, say, 60 roles in customer success. You need candidates who are personable, patient, and emotionally intelligent. Who on their team has these characteristics?

While managers should be thrilled to help great employees advance, they may fear the loss. Their own performance metrics are at risk without the star worker. To combat that, be clear that you will a) replace their talent and b) require the upskillers to help train their replacements to be successful.

  1. How to Get Commitment

Understandably, upskilling candidates might be nervous about leaving a role where they excel. What if they fail? What about the colleagues and community they’ll leave behind? How will their day-to-day experience change?

Connect candidates with mentors in the role you wish them to learn. Good mentors will educate candidates about the job, build excitement, and perhaps serve as experts in the apprenticeship program. Candidates should shadow their mentors at work and join meetings to see how people think, communicate, and make decisions in their potential role. This process of socializing upskillers into a team is powerful and underutilized.

Ultimately, give upskilling candidates a choice: If you want this job and believe you can do it, we will pay you to prove it. Here’s the framework for what you’ll do and learn in the apprenticeship. Here’s when you’ll earn 50 percent, 75 percent, and then 100 percent of your target salary. Are you in?

Be Loud, Not Quiet

There is nothing “quiet” or shifty about the process I’ve described. There’s no scheme to overload employees with work and dress it up as advancement. The apprenticeship model fills open roles with clarity and transparency instead of foisting additional responsibilities onto already overburdened employees.

The supposed talent shortage doesn’t have to be as extreme or severe as HR leaders assume. Yes, it’s hard to hire externally in a tight job market. However, it’s easy to teach a driven person the skills and knowledge your company desperately needs.

Don’t quiet hire. Loudly upskill.