By Kelly Eggers
Nobody wants to get fired. Most people avoid it by generally doing good work and keeping complaints about their jobs to themselves or close family.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. There are many things that can get you fired beyond the obvious; you don't have to burn down the office to earn a pink slip.
"If you have created a situation for yourself where there's some level of dissatisfaction with your performance, any organization with figure out where there is an option or a point of entry where they can separate you from them," said Roy Cohen, a New York City career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. "Assuming you're in an employment-at-will environment, you don't ever have to be told why you're being fired."
Most professional employees are "employees-at-will," which means that they can be fired for any reason – or none at all. Employment-at-will laws vary from state to state, but if you're not in a union or don't have a contract, they likely apply to you.
It may not be fair to get fired because you choose not to shower, think you're smarter than your boss or have issues admitting when you're wrong, but it can happen. Here are ten ways to get thrown off your job.
1. Get Conveniently Sick
It's okay to take sick days when you need them, but if you take too many at the wrong times, it could mean more free time to convalesce.
"If you want to get fired, repeatedly call in sick on Mondays," said Randy Merrell, vice president of operations at Elite Network, a San Francisco-based search firm. "Muscle up and get yourself in there. Hangovers are no excuse."
The same goes for vacation days, said Cohen. Ditching the company for a few days of sun and surf in the middle of a busy season reflects poorly on your dedication to the well-being of the business.
"An administrator in my client's department had a key role in planning a major event, and the admin called in sick for three days the week before the event," said Cohen. A check of her records showed that she had a pattern of calling in sick around major events. "All of the work gets dropped on others' shoulders. Her sick days might have been legit, but they were legit too frequently," he said. That, when combined with her sloppy work and incomplete projects, got her cut from the roster.
2. Lie on Your Job Application
Everyone beefs up their resume, and assumes that once they have the job, it's no longer important what they did to get it. Not so fast. If your job performance lags, your resume may be reviewed again. An inconsistency or poorly timed embellishment could be used to get rid of you.
"If they're dissatisfied with you and then they find out that you lied, that's an easy ticket for them," said Cohen.
For example, Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of New York-based Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, recalls a staff member at a former employer who noted on his resume that he had his CPA when he did not. He had taken all the coursework, but did not take the exam.
"He had the job, was doing a good job, but was fired on the spot when his boss found out he had lied on his resume. The job didn't require a CPA, but the boss checked to see if he had it anyway," said Hurwitz. "Even though it wasn't a requirement, it reflected on his character."
3. Be Disgusting
If you aren't diligent with your hygiene, people probably aren't going to go out of their way to keep you around.
"I have a number of clients who are managers that have employees who were unkempt," said Cohen. "When it came time for downsizing, they were at the top of the list."
You might think that hygiene habits should be a personal decision left to each staff member's own discretion, but Cohen said that the reach of bad body odor goes beyond the cubicle around you. "It's engaging in anti-social behavior," he said. "Not bathing, being unkempt... You have to be very careful, especially if you're in a client-interfacing role."
4. Stay Anonymous
As the old adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you always keep your head down, never remind your boss of your accomplishments, and aren't a familiar face to the higher-ups, you aren't going to be remembered for what you're worth when headcount is being shaved.
"It's not enough to just work hard, stay late, and be intelligent," said Linda Farley, founder of Farley Training, a San Antonio-based management coaching firm. "It shows you're not a team player. If you don't speak up in meetings and share your ideas, you'll be the one who doesn't have ideas," instead of the one who works late and meets deadlines.
"People need to know you as a person before they can trust you as a worker," she said.
5. Never Compromise
An ego is arguably a necessity in the business world. But a big head that's consistently getting in the way of efficiency and teamwork is a head that will roll.
"If you're not forceful to the proper degree in promoting your own ideas, you're not going to get anything accomplished," said Hurwitz, but you have to be able to do it in the proper way.
Those who always need to do things their way, "come across as single-minded and critical of others' ideas," said Cohen. "If your ideas are smarter than everyone else's, they'll rise to the surface and be appreciated -- unless you don't listen to anyone else, ever."
6. Be Ungrateful
With unemployment hovering around 9%, try to be thankful for what you have, instead of whining about what you think you deserve. A lack of humility can earn you a pink slip.
"If you want out, ask for a raise before a round of job cuts, and get angry when they don't give it to you," said Cohen. "It shows poor judgment."
Another way to get the ax, said Cohen, is telling your boss that the work they're providing you with is beneath you.
In one word, complain. "That's how you get your name at the top of the list," said Cohen.
7. Don't Respect the Chain of Command
It's likely that the current chain of command in the office has long been in place, and for good reason. Except in the most extreme of circumstances, experts recommend respecting it.
"When you're emotionally intelligent, aware of your surroundings and know who the players are, you have a sense of what you should say when, and when you should keep your mouth shut," said Farley. "You know when you should go over someone's head, and when you should follow the chain of command."
No matter how much you hate your boss or how dumb you think he is, it's usually career suicide to reveal those sentiments to a higher-up.
8. Spend Time With the Complainers, Non-Performers and Gossips
When company information is leaked or major deadlines are missed, someone will likely be fired. Even if you weren't involved, you don't want your name associated with those of the usual suspects.
"Even if you're not a non-performer or a complainer yourself, if you're associated with them, people will start thinking of you in that way," said Farley of Farley Training.
There's a "birds of a feather" mentality to this one -- if you're in a clique with your most toxic colleagues, it's easy for your boss to liken you to them. "If you are associated with the gossip, it's going to be assumed you are spreading rumors too," said Hurwitz, of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.
9. Never Take Responsibility When Things Go Wrong
Take a page out of former Rep. Anthony Weiner's book on this one. If you do something stupid, don't lie about it. The truth will come out -- and you'll get a lot of negative attention if you're forced to admit you tried to cover up.
"It's not the crime, it's the cover-up," said Hurwitz. "If you're the source of bad news about you and if you admit to your mistakes and you don't repeat them, that's a positive. You'll get credit for it."
But if you blame failed technology, time crunches, or the errors of your colleagues when things go awry and you're to blame, you're expendable.
10. Take Credit for Other People's Work
No one likes a freeloader. If you are the worker who never presents an original thought at work, or you take credit for others' accomplishments, you're likely to find yourself out the door.
"One guy stole commissions from co-workers when everyone was out on Christmas break," said Merrell at Elite Network. Commissions at the company were given to the person who did the legwork and sold the services to the client, said Merrell, not by the person who answered the phone when the client called to conclude the sale. "The company policy was that you gave commission credit to the correct person, even when they were out," said Merrell. "I took great pleasure in firing this guy."
Write to Kelly Eggers
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