Whether we’ll see a substantial economic downturn this year or not, companies continue to trim costs in the expectation of disruption. Much of the cost-cutting is in the payroll department. For instance, a rollback of new hiring made since 2020, deemed excessive. Some are cutting into core roles and business functions.

At the same time, some industries — notably health care — are facing a labor shortage. Between these two trends, the incentives for organizations to get creative in filling their critical roles is mounting. The age-old solution, managers getting their existing (or remaining) employees to take on more responsibilities, has been dubbed “quiet hiring.”

While nothing new, quiet hiring has emerged in an unusual landscape where workers continue to wield a lot of power despite widespread layoffs. Quiet hiring sounds more benign than its peers in today’s flurry of disaffection buzzwords — quiet quitting, loud quitting and rage applying. Nonetheless, it’s started a vigorous debate, with many workers bristling at getting asked to do more with no additional compensation.

Who can blame them? Being asked to do more work with no increase in pay is a functional pay cut. With workers on high alert for these situations, a successful quiet hiring program (whether managers call it that or not) will have to offer material incentives to workers asked to go above and beyond. The best way to do that is through training.

Upskilling & Reskilling as an Asset

Whether additional training is necessary for an existing employee to take on new tasks or not, offering quality training to that employee is a cost-effective way to demonstrate the quiet hire deal you’re offering is mutually beneficial. Upskilling is training that enables advancement in the same area, like a construction laborer training as a carpenter. Reskilling adds breadth to a worker’s capabilities, like a carpenter training in business management.

Traditionally, upskilling and reskilling are defined by managers in terms of what these initiatives offer the business: namely efficiency, cost-effectiveness and flexibility. But now, companies must emphasize how upskilling and reskilling provide long-term assets to workers. To do this, training must be designed or selected thoughtfully.

Specifically, training should:

1. Be portable. In our construction example, imagine a company needing to reskill one of its carpenters to handle additional business administration tasks. The company should design or select training applicable to the construction industry that generally gives their carpenter a firm foundation in business administration. While it may be more expedient in the short term to simply train the carpenter in the company’s specific admin processes, that approach isn’t an investment in their employee.

2. Contribute to long-term career goals. Let’s say our construction company works with an architecture firm that’s made some staffing cuts. In organizing the additional work their other employees must take on, the firm should double down on ensuring their draftsmen and junior architects get the training and experience they need to pass the Architect Registration Exam and become certified architects.

While many new responsibilities and their related training contribute to career goals like these, they become an asset to the worker when managers take the lead and make these long-term career benefits explicit and company-sponsored.

3. Select and build quality training. With portable and employee-valued training goals set, the mode and method of instruction should be the focus. In particular, anyone in the corporate world has a sixth sense for distinguishing poorly designed and executed training from quality training. This is particularly true of virtual training, which too often strays into the realm of tedium, jargon and irrelevance, particularly for mandatory and routine trainings.

For larger organizations training groups of employees, there are now technical and training design resources available that can make virtual training more effective and tolerable. Headless learning management systems (LMSs) allow for custom training environments designed specifically for the training being delivered. While creating a custom headless LMS from scratch may fulfill a narrow slice of upskilling and reskilling cases, being familiar with these technologies can help when selecting purchased resources.

Right now, employees are particularly tuned in to their own cost/benefit analysis, so creating solutions to getting everything done with a lower headcount in the form of “quiet hiring” requires employers to demonstrate their willingness to invest in current employees. Otherwise, a heavy-handed attempt at quiet hiring can add to the burnout pressures that lead to other challenges.

There’s also a more macro trend of employers investing less (at least in terms of human capital) in their employees. Duke behavioral economist Dan Ariely has identified this trend as well as its detrimental impact on motivation, which is in turn a key driver of business success. For firms willing to zig where others are zagging, investing in employees through quality training could offer the competitive edge needed to attract the top talent willing to go above and beyond in the first place.