Getting Fired: When It’s Not You, It’s the Situation

Although most career advice is written as if succeeding in a career is just a matter of finding the right fit, doing your job well, and being engaged, it ain’t, unfortunately, completely true. Even if you’re a stellar performer, there are situations in which your performance matters less than other considerations.

Good employees can be fired for many reasons.

And those other considerations can get you fired.

It Can Happen Because You’re Too Good…

In fact, as Forbes recently pointed out, sometimes people are fired because they are outstandingly good at their job.

Perhaps you hit high sales numbers or are extremely productive in other ways. What if your boss has already told her managers that those numbers can’t be hit? What if your boss herself wasn’t as productive before being promoted to management? Both scenarios make her look bad.

The reality may be, employees who make their bosses look bad — or like they can’t forecast, institute good business leadership, or train effectively — may be targeted to be let go, no matter how much they contribute.

…Because You Set Realistic Work-Life Balance Limits…

In today’s increasingly 24/7 climate, people who set realistic work limits can become targets as well. In some corporate cultures, people are simply expected either to work a high number of hours per week or to be constantly available for questions and conferences.

Planning for family time or even vacations may be suspect in some cultures, and not really tolerated by either supervisors or coworkers. If you try to set them, you’re on the outs. It’s a lack of cultural fit.

…Because Your Boss Sees You as Competition…

If you are highly experienced at your job, your boss may straightforwardly see you as competition. This is especially true if your boss is not seasoned, or not particularly good. His fear of being overshadowed may be all too real.

The fact is, companies do replace bosses. One way to make this less likely, from the boss’s perspective, is to get rid of any in-house, accessible candidate who could do the job.

…or Because You Asked Questions

You may also be targeted for being let go because you asked questions that were uncomfortable. Not all businesses have a good plan for going forward. Did you question the wisdom of a plan? Or the realistic achievability of a goal? Or a method beloved of someone higher up?

Many organizations have an unofficial third rail that can’t be touched. People who touch it can be sacked.

What to Do

If you think you’re being targeted unjustly to be fired, what should you do?

You won’t necessarily know you’re being targeted until you receive a negative performance appraisal. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to pick on something that is not really reflective of your good work if your manager really wants to fire you. They can make it seem as if some aspect of your work is not up to par.

First, document your work. Make note of deadlines, productivity measures, and e-mail response times. If any supplier or client compliments your work, keep a copy.

Second, if your manager does make reasonable requests that you adjust your performance, do it, of course.

Third, if you’ve raised uncomfortable questions, stop doing it. Get on board with whatever program is going if you want to ensure your job stability.

Fourth, realize when it’s time to look for another position. If your boss is threatened or you’re in a 24/7 culture and don’t want to work that way, the best option is likely to put your talents to work somewhere else.

Despite a widespread cultural assumption that good performance is rewarded with promotions and job stability, some situations can lead to your being fired even if you’re very good at your job. It’s wise to know these situations and work to counteract them if possible. If not possible, another job is a reasonable alternative.