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Quiet Cutting in Healthcare — Quiet Quitting's Evil Sibling

Updated: Nov 3

A white hand cutting a piece of a paper in half that says the word, "headcount."

No, this is not a new surgical technique!

In the past, I’ve written about the moral implications of ghosting and “quiet quitting” in healthcare. The latter is less obvious and is essentially an employee “going dark” from a communications perspective despite being on the payroll. While ghosting is more dramatic and refers to a complete communication blackout, quiet quitting can be much more subtle, especially in rote work environments. It’s better described as a communications brown-out instead of being completely incommunicado.

Not to be outdone by the employees, the Wall Street Journal has reported a corollary to quiet quitting, or “quiet cutting.” This workforce reduction strategy can be as subtle as quiet quitting because it is not an outright layoff. Instead, many executives prefer to refer to it as “large-scale reassignments.”

The catch is that many employees feel that their new “assignments” are no different than being put out to pasture. Others call it the proverbial “velvet coffin” or a very comfortable job with no future. While some employees would relish such a position, others feel they are languishing, and their self- (or organizational-) worth quickly depreciates.

“Quiet cutting” is a tactic used in all industries. Adidas, IBM, Adobe, and Salesforce have all reportedly used the term “reassignment” on earnings calls. However, despite the paradox of severe workforce shortages, healthcare is not immune from this phenomenon.

Compared to other industries, healthcare enterprises risk crossing a very thin line between sensible headcount reduction and patient risk and dissatisfaction. This is the stuff that requires seasoned healthcare communicators to reinforce that there really is a redistribution of talent from low-priority care and budget issues to others that are critical for remaining competitive and producing improved outcomes (both financial and medical).

So, what can I do to avoid being “reassigned” or quietly cut?

I’ve often written about how important it is to develop a strong personal brand within one’s healthcare enterprise. Solid brands of any kind are rarely discontinued. It is no different for the brands of clinicians, nurses, or administrative staff in hospitals.

a young man's profile in front of the LinkedIn Blue circle
Maintaining a strong personal brand, both in the office and online, can help reduce the likelihood of a "quiet cutting" reassignment.

This can be done by marketing oneself among peers and management without being obnoxious about it. Many focus their branding on social media by posting or contributing authoritatively to threads on the healthcare specialty they are involved in. This is not only a good way to keep your current job but also an excellent way to be considered for promotions or professional advancement at other providers.

On the other hand, depending on your age, quiet cutting could be the best thing to happen to you. Many healthcare employees, especially during the pandemic, have said they can no longer tolerate the stress of their current positions. I have talked to many who have said they would settle for less money for a higher quality of life. Many may be approaching retirement age and would like to coast into the golden years rather than fear they’ll never make it to retirement.

Healthcare employers must be very cautious about ageism when it comes to reassignments. Yet, if framed correctly, it may be an opportunity to have honest conversations with older employees about how they see their long-term professional and retirement plans. I’ve personally been on both sides of that line. One where I felt “how dare you” even consider me for reassignment, and the other where I said, “THANK GOD,” I finally have a mutually acceptable exit strategy. I can now rest and/or find something new and exciting.

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