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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

This is Why People Get Fired

Updated: Feb 10

A man hiding his face with his palm

During my early career days, I remember this senior guy in our team who was really good at his job. He was regularly appreciated by his boss, colleagues, and manager for his expertise and dedication to his work. Everyone said he was the top performer.

But one day, out of the blue, he got involuntarily terminated from his job by his boss.

I was so confused.

He wasn't mean or anything, and he never caused any big problems with the rest of us.

So, why did the company let him go?

It was a mystery to me.

However, as I gained experience and climbed the career ladder, I started seeing things differently. Now that I work as a manager, I sometimes have to decide on WFRs (Workforce Reductions). I understand why he was let go from his job.

Even though he was good at work, he didn't align well with the company’s vision.

He didn't show any interest in participating in initiatives. He preferred to work independently, disregarding the directions given by his manager. It's like he was rowing his own boat while the rest of us were trying to sail a big ship together.

The layoff decisions are more complex than they seem to the outside world. The decision to terminate an employee is often fraught with emotion, uncertainty, and a myriad of considerations for the employer.

Conventional wisdom suggests that underperformers with no signs of improvement should be the first to go. However, the reality is far more nuanced.

As a leader, being part of multiple WFR decisions has allowed me to see what happens during these processes.

Myths About Why People Get Fired

Employees, especially Individual Contributors (ICs), have a lot of myths about the firing decisions made by their employers. Most of these misconceptions are based on hearsay and office rumors.

These myths cause harm by reducing motivation, unsettling the team members, and bringing in a sense of instability.

Here is a quick view of seven common myths among ICs and facts about them.

Myths Vs Facts of workforce reduction process

While high-performing team members contribute significantly, those with toxic behavior cost more in terms of workplace disruption and employee turnover.

I have first-hand experience working with such toxic, high-performing employees. Their manager tried to improve the situation through dialogues and mentoring. When the behavior did not change, they had to let go of the employee.

This challenges the traditional layoff myths that assume WFRs are based solely on performance metrics.

One of the most undervalued traits that play a huge role in the WFR process is the employee's alignment with the company's culture and values.

Some people might meet all performance criteria but need more buy-in to the company's vision. Such misalignment can be as detrimental as non-performance.

I recall a colleague who, despite being a stellar performer with a collaborative attitude, constantly challenged management decisions disruptively. The signs were clear —  he was a misfit in terms of cultural alignment.

Management had to let him go eventually. It was a necessary action for the team's cohesion.

Often, workers assume they are safe from getting fired if they work for a long time in an organization. They misjudge their tenure as their loyalty to the company.

However, there is no relation between the tenure and WFRs. What matters is consistent performance and teamwork. Irrespective of the years spent in the company, you can be part of the WFR list if you are not adding value.

Even your niche skills cannot be of help if the company's direction changes, which no longer needs your specialization.

Warning Signs of Impending Involuntary Termination

Being aware of the warning signs that could indicate an impending involuntary termination is crucial for employees to protect their job security.

Understanding why employees commonly get fired can help individuals identify these red flags and take proactive measures to address any potential issues.

Frequent absences or tardiness

If you are consistently late or frequently miss work without a valid reason, it becomes difficult for the team to manage their work and deliveries. Talk to your manager and ask for help before such activities lead to your job loss.

Poor job performance or consistently missing deadlines

If you continually fail to meet the expected standards of your job or regularly fail to complete tasks, then you are asking for trouble.

Violation of company policies or code of conduct

Suppose you engage in behavior that goes against the established rules and regulations of the company or fails to adhere to the expected ethical standards. In that case, it is grounds for immediate termination.

Negative attitude or lack of motivation

If you consistently display a pessimistic or unmotivated mindset, it can impact your overall performance and the team’s morale. No matter how talented you are, no manager will tolerate this behavior. It is better to look for help before such activities risk your employment.

Insubordination or refusal to follow instructions

If you consistently defy or resist authority, refusing to comply with instructions or directives from your superiors, you are creating trouble for yourself. Such insubordination activities can be grounds for immediate dismissal.

Poor interpersonal skills or inability to work well with others

If you struggle to communicate effectively or collaborate with your colleagues, it can lead to conflicts and make the team less productive. Such a lack of team spirit can be a reason to end your employment.

Failure to meet sales targets

If you are in a sales or target-oriented role, consistently failing to achieve the set targets or goals in sales can be a warning sign of impending layoff. Your boss can decide to let go of you.

Lack of initiative

If you lack proactivity or are resistant to additional responsibilities, you may be in danger of getting fired. Position yourself above others and safeguard your job by regularly participating in company-wide initiatives.

Consistently making costly mistakes

If you repeatedly make significant mistakes or errors resulting in financial losses or negative consequences for the employer, you are not fit for the role. Your boss will be forced to give your position to someone else. In such cases, proactively looking for a more suitable position can be a good idea.

Breach of confidentiality or misuse of company resources

It is not a good idea to violate the employer's trust by disclosing confidential information or misusing company resources for personal gain. Such activities violate company policy. It can risk your current and future job prospects too.

Excelling at Work: Impress Your Manager and Perform Well

To excel at work, consistently deliver high-quality results, meet deadlines, respect your peers, and exceed expectations.

Gaining your manager's trust and respect involves quality work and effective communication. Keep them updated on your projects, seek feedback, and clarify doubts. Show dedication by taking the initiative, going beyond your tasks, and identifying areas for improvement.

Always aim for personal growth by staying updated with industry trends and seeking continuous learning opportunities. Ask your manager for guidance to enhance your skills and career trajectory further.

Navigating Interview Questions About Being Fired

Discussing a past job termination during an interview can be daunting, but you can handle it adeptly with preparation.

  1. Own Your Narrative: Accept responsibility without casting blame. Discuss the lessons learned and how they've shaped your professional journey.

  2. Show Growth: Highlight how you've used feedback for self-improvement and professional development.

  3. Turn Negatives into Positives: Did the termination lead you to further training or new skill acquisition? Share these silver linings to demonstrate resilience and adaptability.

  4. Preparation is Key: Anticipate potential questions and rehearse your answers. This ensures clarity and boosts your confidence.

  5. Honesty Matters: Be truthful. Employers value candidates who acknowledge mistakes and show genuine growth and maturity.

Addressing Poor Work Performance: Striving for Improvement

Best practices for leaders about workforce reduction

I’ve heard stories of wrongful dismissal, in which people were let go without reason.

Layoff significantly affects the team, the impacted person, and their family. The aftermath of firing an employee can be sad and confusing for everyone.

That's why I value communication, empathy, and proactive problem-solving to prevent them from escalating.

While addressing workplace negativity is essential, ensuring the involuntary termination decision doesn't adversely impact other workers is equally crucial.

Most leaders refrain from discussing the WFRs. They don't feel comfortable facing the awkward questions. But, when people don't receive information through the appropriate channels, they often rely on rumors and gossip.

Here are some actionable insights for leaders on how to handle the layoffs constructively.

1. Performance Evaluation

I recently heard an employee in my friend's company was laid off without warning. That's unfair to the impacted person. Firing an employee without warning is as bad as wrongful dismissal.

Employers must assess when to fire an employee. It's not just about picking the best day to fire someone. It's about being reasonable and understanding.

I regularly review the numbers and intangible metrics like collaboration, attitude, and alignment with company values with my team. This ensures engineers avoid getting caught by surprise if they are let go due to misalignment with expectations.

2. Open Communication

I believe in open and continuous dialogue. The ultimate goal is — everyone should feel free to share their feelings and worries.

Addressing workplace negativity early has helped me avoid the need for termination.

Sometimes, there might be valid reasons for firing an employee. For example —  if they continue to perform poorly or be a 'my way or highway' person even after guidance.

But before that, I look for signs it's time to fire an employee. If someone is always unhappy or causing problems, it's a sign.

3. Consider Reassignment

Before opting for termination due to cultural misfit or performance issues, consider if the employee might be better suited for another role. Instead of firing an employee without warning, try to find alternate opportunities inside the company.

I have taken similar actions on a couple of occasions with great success.

As a leader, you have control over when to fire an employee. You must try all options to make them productive until you get definite signs it's time to fire an employee.

4. Seek Feedback

Post-termination, seek feedback from the team. This not only ensures transparency but also helps in building trust. Keeping the process transparent and seeking feedback will prevent remaining members from falling prey to rumor mills.

5. Transparent Processes

Ensure your firing process considerations are transparent, consistent, and aligned with employee termination guidelines.

Two months back, my close friend got laid off. His employer did not have the decency to give a valid reason for firing an employee.

This incident led me to experience the aftermath of firing an employee closely. The sudden, unanticipated job loss devasted my friend. He is still in shock and taking his time to come to terms.

Some of these actions are hard to implement. However, they are highly required to build a high-performing team that remains engaged and motivated through challenging times and WFR cycles.

Take Away

Layoffs are more than the mere act of removing underperformers or addressing workplace nuisances. It is a necessary evil.

Leaders must be willing to release certain employees when necessary to create a successful team that shares the company's goals and supports its growth.

However, we need to understand— terminating an employee is never easy. It challenges our biases, forces us to confront uncomfortable truths, and tests our leadership mettle.

And, if you are an Individual Contributor, you must learn what makes you invaluable. Make a conscious effort to align with your company's vision and culture code. Avoid behaviors not aligned with the organizational values.


What are the reasons you get fired?

Some common reasons include poor performance or consistently failing to meet job expectations, violating company policies or codes of conduct, misconduct or unethical behavior, excessive absenteeism or tardiness, insubordination or refusal to follow instructions, and conflicts with coworkers or superiors. Other reasons may include dishonesty, theft, fraud, breach of confidentiality, or even a company-wide downsizing or restructuring that leads to job loss.

What is the reason for getting fired at work?

Some common reasons include inadequate performance or not meeting job expectations, violating company policies or code of conduct, frequent absences or tardiness, misconduct or unethical behavior, insubordination or refusing to follow instructions, conflicts with colleagues or superiors, and dishonesty or theft. Maintaining professionalism, adhering to company rules, and fulfilling job responsibilities are important to avoid getting fired.

Is it common to be fired?

Yes, it is common for people to be fired from their jobs. There are various reasons why the employer may fire employees. It can be due to employees’ unsatisfactory job performance, misalignment with company culture, or unethical behavior. Sometimes, a company can fire employees when it is going through a tough time and needs to make changes. This happens because the company needs to focus on a different priority, and some projects are not as important anymore. So, the people working on those projects have to be let go.

Do good employees get fired?

Yes, even good employees can sometimes get fired. While it may seem counterintuitive, there are various reasons why this can happen. For example, a company may undergo restructuring or downsizing, leading to job cuts. Additionally, a good worker may make a mistake or violate company policies, which could result in termination. It's important to remember that being a good employee is not a guarantee of job security, as there are often factors beyond an individual's control that can influence employment status.

What to do after getting fired?

After getting fired, it's important to take some time to process your emotions and reflect on the situation. Feeling upset or disappointed is natural, but avoid dwelling on negative thoughts. Instead, focus on the future and start taking steps to bounce back. Update your resume, network with contacts, and search for new job opportunities. Consider seeking support from friends, family, or a career counselor to help navigate this transition.

What's the best way to answer interview questions about being fired?

In interviews, being honest and taking responsibility for your actions is important. Avoid placing blame on others or making excuses. Explain what you learned from the experience and how you have grown since then. Focus on the positive steps you have taken to improve yourself and your skills. Remember to remain confident and professional throughout the interview.

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