Portrait of Joy Pittman
Joy Pittman: Founder and CEO, HR for the Culture. Credit: Cr3ative Will

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic still impacts many companies around the country. Organizations need help to acquire and retain talent, especially as staff budgets decrease because of the economic downturn.

For companies to cut back on the stresses of searching for new talent, the next step would be to focus on upskilling existing staff. But what does this entail, and how will it impact current staff members?

“Quiet hiring,” a viral term on TikTok, happens when an employer gives new responsibilities to current employees without paying the cost of a lengthy recruitment process. In other words, employees begin to take on work well beyond their job description, sometimes without a pay increase or promotion, thus saving the employer money.

This workplace tactic isn’t anything new, and it has persisted during the Great Resignation and as the average job tenure dwindles.

Quiet hiring is associated with “quiet quitting,” i.e. refusing to allow yourself to be quietly hired in the workplace. Proponents say quiet hiring is necessary for career development, while critics say it’s another tactic to take advantage of overworked staff.

Joy Pittman is the CEO and founder of HR for the Culture, an HR outsourcing and staffing firm for Black women-owned businesses. After 17 years in the HR industry, she left corporate America to launch her HR consulting firm after realizing she couldn’t make an impact in corporate America by defending Black women and people of color in the workplace without people in place to advocate for her.

Pittman struggled with companies hiring Black people as “figureheads” to meet their diversity, equity and inclusion quota instead of creating a space for them to grow and thrive in the company. Now she is using her expertise to guide Black women-owned companies to identify, onboard and develop qualified talent.

The Defender spoke with Pittman to learn about the red flags of quiet hiring and what to do if you’re in that situation.

Defender: Do you feel that DEI roles in these corporations are necessary?

PITTMAN: Yes, we should have them. So, it’s not the “what” for me. It’s the “how.” Yes, they are needed, they were always needed, but most of them have become figurehead roles. So, you hire a Black person to do diversity. Are you positioning that person to actually be effective in the organization? I don’t necessarily advocate for diversity and inclusion models in the way they exist. I’m really about diversity as a means of representation—inclusion as a means of giving voice and belonging. Many organizations are saying now that they will make people less racist. That’s not what I aspire to do. For people who have that aspiration, I respect it. That’s not my fight. My fight is, how do I get more Black people, more women, and more people of color in positions and seats in courtrooms in all those areas and places? I probably couldn’t say this in a traditional corporate space. I get to say this as a consultant.

Defender: How should employees properly raise their concerns to their employers?

PITTMAN: At the point of drowning, you don’t need a swim instructor. You need a lifeguard. When you are already drowning, your ability to then have a conversation is different because you need saving at this point. Most of us are waiting until the point of drowning, and then we’re trying to have a conversation. Employees need to learn how to identify when they are approaching overwhelmed and when it’s getting to the point where it’s beyond what is sustainable on an ongoing basis. There is self-awareness and self-advocacy that needs to happen. Black folk learn to keep their heads down to bear the load and keep it moving, waiting on better days. No one is bringing us better days. This will look different based on where you are in your career [early career versus experienced], so you need to learn how to talk to your manager about how to set priorities.

Say it from a place where you don’t want to compromise quality. You have to learn how to communicate with people above us. People don’t want you to bring them a new problem to solve. Come to them with a solution. Start thinking about how to plan your work week. Look over your deliverables and what needs to be done before you jump into execution. Another way to address this is through your performance reviews. Oftentimes we let the employer tell us if we did good or not.

We’re not going into the performance reviews looking at the areas on our job description being assessed. Another opportunity is if they never give you a promotion, how do you leverage this extra stuff I’m doing to build my resume or portfolio that allows me to negotiate for myself in other places, either in the organization or externally? What I don’t want anyone to do is suffer through it without a strategy. Do you have mentors? Do you have sponsors or individuals you can talk to about your experience?

Defender: What are the pros and cons of Quiet Hiring for the employee?

PITTMAN: The cons are that you get more work and aren’t paid for it. There may be some overwhelm; you may not even be getting the credit for the work you’re doing. Another con is being devalued. You don’t feel good about the work you do. It’s stressful, overwhelming, and it negatively impacts how we feel about ourselves. Most of the time, the world doesn’t make you feel good about our identities in affirming ways, so we have to take our power back.

Here are the pros. I’ll tell you that in my career, I never got a promotion into a role that I wasn’t already doing. If you’re at an organization where you’re not entry-level and have someone behind you, this is a great opportunity to teach down and learn up to take some of the pressure off of you while getting the support you need. Remember, your job is a training ground. Learn everything you can.

Defender: What else can be done to improve our overall mental health in the workplace?

PITTMAN: Find places that allow you to acknowledge what is happening [to you] right now. Sometimes when someone presents a problem, we are quick to tell them, ‘You got this’ when in reality, it’s trash, and you didn’t enjoy it. Also, educate yourself on what your rights are as an employee. That’s something most employees don’t do. What trigger words do I need to say to HR so they can understand that I’m under duress? Self-care is another idea. How are you engaging your support system? Therapy is another way. Being overwhelmed without an exit leads to depression. You may have to leave that job to find another. I took a $10,000 pay cut once to move into a role that was more in line with what I needed.

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...