Last year, my friend Jakob got a job he really likes in a medium-sized IT company. His boss is a great guy, his co-workers are competent and fun and his clients are all terribly nice people.
There’s only one fly in the ointment: Jakob’s boss’ boss (one of the VPs) is… less nice. He tends to summon all his employees to meetings and chew them out collectively and loudly for whatever problems he sees. He’s abrasive and unpleasant, always complains and never acknowledges his people for the good work they do. His emails to his underlings are a case study in rudeness. And, of course, he’s known for summarily firing people who cross him in any way.
Now, while Jakob likes his job, he doesn’t need it. He’s independently wealthy and so skilled he can always go out and get another job, and therefore has zero fear of being fired. Where other people in the company feel they must watch their tongue for fear of the consequences, he feels free to say and do exactly what he thinks is right.
And here’s the thing: When Jakob stands up to this VP and tells him that he won’t stand for his unpleasant approach and exactly why his abrasive style creates problems for the company, he listens. Nobody has ever told any VP at the company these things before, and for the first time the company has an employee that is totally unafraid of doing so.
The result: This particular VP is slowly changing his ways. And he certainly pulls none of his usual attacks on Jakob, who he knows simply won’t stand for it.
The risk of being fired is the biggest axe a company or a manager holdes over employees’ heads. It’s a mostly unstated, but well-known fact of working life that if you as an employee get too far out of line, you’ll be fired. Or terminated/axed/given the chop – don’t you just love those terms, with their unsubtle flavor of death?
And of course we have tacitly accepted that being fired is a terrible thing and should be avoided at all cost, which is why many of us will accept bad conditions at work and otherwise go to extraordinary lengths to keep our jobs.
Do this, or else…
People who live in fear of being fired tend to:
- Take crap from management
- Follow unethical or immoral orders
- Stand for bullying or harassment
- Go along to get along
- Mask their real personalities
- Hide their real opinions
- Accept too low or unfair salaries
- Kiss butt
- Avoid complaining about any problems they see
Wanna bet how many people at Enron had a sense that something was wrong long before the company was exposed, but kept it to themselves out of fear of losing their jobs?
So I say it’s time we take the stigma out of being fired. If you can rid youself of that threat (or at least reduce it greatly) then you grant yourself much wider lattitude at work. Trust me, our workplaces will be better and happier for it.
You say I’m fired like it’s a bad thing…
And when you really think about it, what’s so embarassing about being fired? Here are some of the most common reasons people are fired, and why that doesn’t reflect badly on the firee:
- Personality mismatch – So you didn’t fit in at that one company. Guess what, there are millions of others. There might just be one somewhere that is a good match for you. Besides, who says you were the problem?
- Skill mismatch – So you tried out a job, and you didn’t have the skills for it. Big deal. Again there are millions of other jobs.
- Refusing to go along – I say good for you. If that’s why you got fired, be proud.
- Downsizing – Thousands of people are downsized every day.
- Unreasonable – If you were fired for being pregnant or any other unreasonable excuse, then there’s certainly no reason to be ashamed.
The exception is people who’re fired for harassing or abusing others or people who are repeatedly fired over the same problems. These people need to take a closer look at themselves!
Make being fired less of a problem
Of course being fired can create problems, but you can deal constructively with many of them, and thus reduce or eliminate the consequences. Here are some typical problems of being fired and how to mitigate them.
This must be the biggest problem that results from being fired. How will you pay your bills, your mortgage and your kids’ college savings.
There are two ways to reduce the financial problems of being fired. You can increase your employability and make it easier for you to find a new job. This is a matter of keeping your personal and professional skills up to date and of cultivating a good network.
The second way is to keep your private expenses low, so that you’re not 100% dependent on that pay check every month. I love this approach myself, and wrote about it in a post called The Top 10 Advantages of Low-Rent Living.
Trouble explaining being fired to next employer
But how will I explain to my next potential employer that I was fired?
If you believe that being fired is embarassing and that it reflects badly on you, then this will come out in your CV and in your job interviews. But if you hold your head up high and explain exactly what happened and why you’re not ashamed, then this will help convey the impression that “Yeah, you were fired, so what!”
Some employers will care, some won’t – provided you explain it right.
Many people feel a deep shame at being fired and at being unemployed. Thus being fired from your last job is typically not something we mention in polite dinner conversation with strangers. But why not? Why must being fired or being unemployed be so darned embarassing? It doesn’t need to be! You decide for yourself whether you need to be ashamed or not! Don’t let others force shame upon you, if you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Loss of relationships
For many people, their closest relationships are with people at work and losing them can be painful. The best way to mitigate this is to have many positive relationships outside of work also. And of course increasing your employability lets you quickly find a new job and new relationships at work.
Reduce your fear of being fired and you increase your freedom and happiness at work. At the very least, you can stop being ashamed about something that happens to hundreds of thousands of people every year, is perfectly natural and which may not be your fault at all!
I’m not saying that companies should never fire people. Some people fit in, some people don’t, and companies need to say goodbye to those people who are not contributing or learning. In fact, for some people, being fired from a job turns out to be a great thing, that allows them to move on to a job where they become much happier.
The important thing is, that we as employees should put ourselves in a position where being fired is not a terrible thing. That way we rid ourselves of the fear of being fired and grant ourselves new freedoms at work.
Are you going to do that, or are you going to spend your work life going along with just about anything, simply to hang on to a job that isn’t good for you in the first place?
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