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Surprise Firings Can Mean Bad Management

May 17, 2009

I was reading this post by Ask a Manager and it made me want to write about something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I was let go out of the blue once.  I am 90% sure that I was let go because of overstaffing, but they told me that I had said things that but people “on edge”.  They couldn’t list any examples (they said I didn’t deserve to know) and they said that it wasn’t anything off-color.  In contrast, senior staff frequently made really off-color jokes and looked at porn at work, so I never had the impression that I should watch what I said.

At another workplace, my boss told me that the division wasn’t doing well and they had to eliminate the position.  Then I came back from vacation, and I heard that someone had been hired while I was on vacation.

Now as an employee, I feel very unsure going into a job.  Do I say inappropriate things?  Did I do something awful at the last job?  It’s hard say.  I know for sure that I didn’t commit any gross misconduct at those jobs.  If the first place was for real with their concerns, wouldn’t it have made way more sense to say “improve your communication” and given me a chance to improve?  As Ask a Manager says, firing should never be a surprise (unless you’re caught stealing or something) and it’s usually a reflection of bad management.

In the end, I decided that if I take another job, I have to ask about previous terminations, if they had employment policies, when was the last performance evaluation, etc.  Would it surprise you to know that neither of those jobs had so much as an employee handbook?  Some may say that’s unrealistic, especially in this economy, but a little investment in extra time during the job search can mean a world of difference down the line.

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