Millions of people are unemployed. Some have given up looking for work altogether. Many more are underemployed, working shorter hours in a job that may not fit their education, training, and experience.
So many of these people who lost their jobs are the victims of a poor economy or a struggling company or both. They are capable and hardworking, and their unemployment is not due to their lack of effort or desire.
Some people, however, lose their jobs due to factors they could control. I recently polled a number of leaders and asked them to tell me the top reason or reasons people lost jobs in their organizations. I asked them not to include those whose jobs were eliminated due to economic or financial reasons of the company. I was able to group their responses into ten categories. Although my poll is not scientifically validated, I think it is nevertheless instructive. Below are ten responses, listed in order of frequency, and realizing that there is some overlap in the categories.
- Failure to keep current in their field. “Rapid change” has almost become cliché. One leader said he had to dismiss some people who were acting like it was still 2007. In other words, if you haven’t kept current or updated your skill set in the past five years, you are incredibly behind your coworkers. Other leaders said they expect their employees to reinvent themselves regularly.
- Poor relational skills. Those deficiencies include an inability to work well with others, poor self-awareness, and a self-centered attitude. I note the latter issue separately below because it was mentioned frequently. One leader told me that he let go of two of his smartest employees because their attitudes were toxic to the organization.
- Moral failure. I expected this response to be near the top and it was. Some of the most promising workers have been fired for actions that could only be described as stupid.
- Failure to carry out assignments. Some of the leaders expressed amazement at the number of people who failed to carry out an assignment and offered no explanation why they failed to do so. “One former leader on my team,” a CEO told me, “ignored my assignment for months without explanation. I guess he thought that the task would just go away.”
- Failure to take initiative. Some of those who responded to me were leaders in mid-size to large organizations. Their direct reports were brought into the organization with the expectation that they would be highly motivated workers. But when they failed to take initiative, their value to the organization diminished. “I need people who can come up with ideas and strategies on their own,” one leader said. “I don’t need to be giving them assignments with specific instructions every time.”
- Negative talk. Some people lost their jobs because they were the sources or carriers of rumors. Some were incessant complainers. And even others were simply negative people. Their dispositions and conversations made the workplace unpleasant and discouraging for others.
- Laziness. “Most lazy workers do not realize that everyone in the organization knows they are lazy,” a midlevel leader told me. “You can’t hide poor work hours and poor work ethic from others. I have to deal with lazy people in my division before that attitude permeates the entire division.”
- Attitude of entitlement. We did go through an era in America’s employment history where adequate work and sufficient tenure guaranteed some employees a lifetime job, benefits, and retirement. That era exists no more. Those who still have an attitude of entitlement may soon find themselves on the sidelines of employment.
- Failure to demonstrate productivity. Workers in organizations should regularly ask if they are being treated fairly for the work they do. If not, they should pursue other options. Workers can likewise be certain that now, more than ever, they are being evaluated in the same manner. Are they productive? Do they truly “earn their keep?”
- Self-centered attitude. More and more workers are evaluated by their attitude as well as their direct work. Are they team players? Or do they always and obviously act in their own self-interest? Do they demonstrate humility? Or do they demonstrate hubris?
The workplace is changing. In many ways, all of us are more free agents than career workers. We have to demonstrate our worth each day. Those who do so will have many options before them. But those who don’t may find themselves in the ranks of the unemployed.
What do you think of this list? What would you add, delete, or rank differently?