In a culture in which one’s identity is usually defined by what one does, being fired is always a
traumatic experience. If I no longer am a chemist, then who am I? If I no longer work for
DuPont, then what am I? Losing one’s job, for whatever reason, carries with it the stigma of
failure. It is considered one of the major causes of stress that we humans can experience.
Invariably the typical emotions connected with grief are experienced-shock, denial, loneliness,
depression and, finally, anger.
Unjust and Just Reasons for Firing
The firings that are generally most easily understood by all parties are instances in which an
employee knowingly violates the law or an organization’s written policy. Immediate dismissal
without due process usually follows theft of the employer’s property, physical violence against
another employee, arson, the willful destruction of equipment and the operation of dangerous
machinery while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. In most cases where an
employee willfully violates those rules established as cause for dismissal, the employee has no
one to blame but himself or herself.
Other violations of written company policy may be less obvious, and due process should be
granted. Habitual tardiness may be cause for dismissal. But is some consideration given for a
public-transportation system that is unreliable? The harassment of another employee, be it
sexual, racial or based on age or some form of disability, is generally considered cause for
dismissal. But in cases where harassment is not clearly defined, there must be due process,
and the employee should be put on notice regarding any repetition of the wrongful act.
The matter of blame becomes more cloudy when one is fired for poor performance. It has been
said that almost every firing due to poor performance represents a failure of management.
This is certainly true for employees who truly want to do well, and most of us do. Did
management fail at the point of hiring? Was the job description accurate? Were the
performance standards reasonable? Was there a failure in the interviewing and selection
process? Was the employee adequately trained? Were there any impediments to the
employee’s performance (poor equipment, distractions by others, too hot, too noisy, etc.)?
Was good performance rewarded negatively? That is, is the best or fastest employee given the
most assignments or asked to complete the work of a slower employee? Was there a periodic
performance evaluation that was done honestly and professionally? Was the employee given
realistic, measurable and attainable work goals on which to be evaluated? Was coaching
provided to correct areas of substandard performance? Was there a system of warnings that
alerted the next level of management of performance problems? Failures of any of the above
are really failures of management.
In too many organizations supervisors and managers themselves are either poorly trained or
incompetent. Time and time again managers and supervisors do not give employees honest
evaluations of their completed work. Under such circumstances it should not be surprising that
employees are shocked and angry when they are fired. They may not recognize the problem of
poor management, but they do sense that something is unfair.
The Sacred Responsibility of Managers
Anyone who manages or supervises another has a sacred responsibility to his or her
employees. When one considers the devastating effect firing has on most people, it should be
apparent that the position of management carries with it a heavy responsibility. Top
management should insist that all levels of supervisors be well trained and highly
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