3/3/12

Why Do People Get Fired?

Taking a dump on someone's desk is one way to part with your company.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed due to lay-offs, company bankruptcies and budget cuts, it only seemed natural to look at the the most common reasons the rest of us lose our jobs.

What are the top reasons people get fired?

To get at the answer I carefully mixed the hazed memories of my own experience and observation with some very dubious internet research. And, to be honest, the results were hardly shocking. I mean, some of this stuff is so obvious it's incredible people do it and get fired for it, but there it is.


Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the Jackal's findings on the top reasons people get fired:


Not Showing Up On Time or at All

Let's start with a classic, absenteeism, one of the top reasons people get fired. It's like killing one tiny bird with like twelve stones. In not showing up you manage to not follow direction, show that you're unreliable, you have zero responsibility, you don't care about your contract, you're not really interested in the job, you're unproductive, you probably have a drinking problem and you have zero respect for your superiors. So, if you miss several days without explanation and don't get fired - hold on to that job with every fiber of your non-presence at it.


Poor Performance
Just like skipping work, doing it poorly will also get you fired. This includes a host of various subversive activity, including being lazy, doing everything your way with bad results, ignoring or completely misunderstanding your boss's requests, taking forever to complete even the most basic tasks while constantly complaining, and throwing out important pieces of paper that clutter your desk because you wanted a cleaner work-space. 

Now, granted, many completely inept people inhabit today's corporate world, but in theory if you can't do the tasks you are hired to do your job is at risk. Of course, this raises another interesting point. Any manager who hires you for a position in which you are utterly useless, then the manager, whose job is to manage, also performs poorly. This is why managers sometimes find it hard to first a) believe a person they hired utterly sucks at the job and b) fire him or her. (This doesn't mean it won't happen, in case you got your hopes up.)

Lying on a Resume

Why won't it happen sometimes? Well, a hiring manager cannot be blamed entirely if you misrepresent yourself during the hiring process. While people are rarely completely honest when interviewing, telling your boss you got an MBA at Harvard (when it was really an online BS at DeVry) and you speak 3 languages (when one of them is broken English and the other two are Latin and Aramaic, and you're only conversational in them), is a dangerous game for the foolhardy. The bigger the lies, the larger the chance you will be caught. As a result, this is a sure path to getting fired.

Unethical Behavior

This is an interesting double-edged sword. On the surface, lying, cheating, stealing, swindling, conniving, and committing felonies are questionable behaviors that destroy your credibility as an employee and potentially legally endanger the company at large. In general, unethical behavior, especially if the company has been recently sued over it, is a big reason for getting fired. 

On the other hand, the modern corporation doesn't have a problem with unethical behavior per se, as long as it isn't caught, and if so, then as long as it doesn't officially know about it, isn't jeopardized by it legally and it receives profit from it. However, if a scandal erupts, it will terminate the unethical employee and disavow all knowledge of his or her completely reprehensible behavior, which is and always was at odds with the company's values.

Drinking and Doing Drugs

This one is also surprisingly obvious. If your pets are named Johnnie Walker and Angel Dust, and your idea of making it through the post-lunch afternoon slump is doing a few keys of blow in the bathroom, washed down with a miniature bottle of Grey Goose then (at least you have some class and) you're pretty much screwed. Like driving, doing work while under influence generally ends badly. It reduces your productivity, impedes your performance, gives you a shitty attitude and makes you easy to fire.

Hating the World Around You

It goes without saying that having a bad attitude can cause frictions with the wrong kind of people that can bubble over and result in a nasty termination that will provide entertainment to your former co-workers for weeks to come. While your manager isn't likely to have a problem if you're an asshole to someone he or she hates, mistreating your co-workers or mouthing off to your boss equate to basically asking to be let go.

This can also take more nuanced forms, like calling attention to your boss's or the company's hypocrisies, or overtly criticizing a general lack of fairness in the office. First, many bosses are insecure, having only their questionable MBAs to fall back on, with little actual leadership experience or charisma. They don't take kindly to criticism.

Second, when you take a job at a corporation, you implicitly agree to some degree of corporate inequality and injustice. (Of course, knowing where to draw the line is what makes the difference between a whistle-blower and a dick).

Finally, nobody likes a Negative Nancy. Work can get stressful, but if you cannot manage your attitude you might find yourself getting fired.

Looking for Jobs on the Internet

This seems like a fairly obvious one and I know of at least one person who got canned for this. In a certain sense, it almost seemed like irony. But in another sense, I've always had a problem with this. Granted, employers want you to work while at work, but let's assume your work is done. Doesn't your company want you to grow as an employee and move on to bigger and better things eventually? I mean, what is inherently wrong with looking for jobs? Changing jobs is a fact of life. And, as a manager, if you think this means your employee is unhappy, then perhaps it's wise to investigate what the problem is, instead of firing his ass, and justifying his rebellion in the first place.

Conducting Personal Business at Work

I remember at one time, my co-worker in the cubicle next to me was Facebooking. The temp at the front was checking something on Youtube. Another employee was on the phone with someone who helps him run his other business. The guy in the office next door was booking a flight on AA.com. A department director was buying something online at Wal-Mart. My own boss? When she was not telling us that texting during work was unacceptable, she was either texting or doing her homework.

We all take breaks. Unless this behavior interferes with your work and is done in small doses, it shouldn't be an issue. The office is not some dome sealed off from civilization (though it can sure feel like it). We are people who have normal lives we carry with us everywhere we go, regardless of where we go. Also, a break from work can be healthy and help you concentrate. But, you can get fired for this, especially if it interferes with your job and if you make it glaringly obvious.

Spreading Rumors About the Company

Rumors, truths, and other stuff that you share about your company with third-parties endangers your job. That's why you sign those terrifying confidentiality agreements when you get hired. Why can you get fired for this? Well, it's like selling secrets to the Russians during the Cold War. Corporations are in a constant state of war with one another, and revealing their secrets or publicly undermining their self-built image undermines the place that employs you. You will get fired. Full disclosure: the place I always currently work at is awesome.



These are the top reasons people get fired. What do they have in common? To varying degrees, the above actions all subvert the daily machinery of a modern corporation. And, as in a physical body, when something is not right, the body will try to expel it. In the corporate world getting rid of you is an attempt to cleanse the atmosphere and remove from the giant machinery a faulty part that doesn't work.

In the midst of all of this, it's easy to forget that sometimes, getting fired isn't always a bad thing, at least according to this CBSNews.com article. You may end up on top. Still, if you do go, do it honorably instead of facing a lawsuit. If you're still unclear, there's this witty and generally entertaining summary of everything I've offered provided by Forbes.com. The writer emphasizes common sense, of which there is a shortage in this day and age.

Finally, remember: if you're a great employee, who performs well, boosts morale, presents himself well, and knows how to play the game of office politics, then the corporation is likely to turn a blind eye to your small indiscretions. The corporation wants to stay in business and make profit and you, well, you're only human.

Sometimes getting fired is your only real contribution to the company's success.

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