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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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?”
  10. 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?

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Comments

  1. John F. Montgomery says

    I regretfully can identify with more than one of those factors. For years I could not understand why others were promoted above me. A few years ago, I received the wake-up call of being let go. My boss had shared with me bluntly several times about my poor work habits and poor attitude. I refused to hear him and kept the victim mentality.Two years ago, a good friend sat down with me and told me that I was not a victim, but a poor worker. I was mad at first, but it finally sank in. By the grace of God, I was offered another job. I know go to work with joy. I seek to serve rather than to be served. It is amazing how my whole perspective has changed. Two months ago, I was shocked to receive a promotion and raise. Even in this weak economy, I am more optimistic than ever.

  2. Beverly Allen says

    I rarely make a comment but I think we need to remember that though these statements may sometimes be the case, we should not judge someone who has lost a job. Many people, not just a few, who are hardworking and faithful still lose jobs based on decisions of others for which they have no control. Losing a job is heartbreaking. As Christians, we often judge and withdraw instead of showing the love and compassion that Christ would show. This is an extremely sensitive subject for ministers who not only lose their jobs but at the same time ministries, relationships, spiritual support and financial security all at once. My husband, a minister, recently lost his job after 12 faithful years in the same church. He has been searching for a ministry position for 9 months. We are trusting God to provide daily for our needs and He is always faithful. We know that he will lead us to the place He has for us. Being “out of work” has not been the most painful part of this ordeal. Grieving without the support of Christian friends has been the hardest thing we’ve done. As Christian’s let’s look for opportunities to support and encourage, rather than judge.

  3. Maritza Perez says

    Thank you for this enlighting article.
    But losing my job had nothing to do with any of them. I was a teacher who had 2 1/2 year of Satisfactory rating until the principal wanted me out not because of productivity or anything besides what you mentioned above. She destroyed my career with lies, fabrications etc in order to put a friend of hers in my slot.
    Sometimes, losing a job may not have anthing to do with us at all.
    Tiza

    • Jane Brownley says

      I so agree. They do this to nurses too – lies, fabrication, encouraging ganging up. You can be an excellent worker but if your boss feels professionally threatened by you or someone has taken something out of context it can mean that there can be attempts to try and destroy your life.

  4. Rudder says

    The Author believes that the Boss is Infalible in Moral Character, and the Employees are of Low Moral Fibre.

    To make one a CFB (Counterfeit Boss), the moral character of others has to be maligned by the Real Boss.

    Though Christians : especially the Protestants don’t believe in “Feet-Catching”, some of them do have such an attitude which is Typical of those adhering to Oriental Faiths.

    Organizations tend to centre around one person. Why should there be five thousand fold difference between the salary of lowest employees, and the highest CEO?

    One prominent CEO prioritized God over Family, and Family over work in her interview.
    However, she displayed the Hipocracy, and arrogance of the Typical High Pay Packet CEO by compelling all the employees to work at “Office Only” – though it is the IT (Information Technology) Field.

    She can hire hundred nannies to care for her new born babies.

    What about ladies with “Budget” pay packages?

    What about men with “Budget” Pay Packages who need to support their families, themselves, and skill development to retain their jobs?

  5. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for pointing out that many good people lose their jobs due to “a poor economy or a struggling company or both”. I would like to add the following to that statement. For over 200 years, the primary reason why people lose their jobs is that companies lower their bottom-line costs in hopes of delivering short- and long-term financial gains for their shareholders. Taking a closer look, you will find that in 2012, 10 companies alone accounted for over 100,000 job cuts! I doubt that they used the above list when making their decisions.

    When a list like this is posted online, people tend to view the headline, skip the forward and go right to the list. Unfortunately, this can give the appearance that these points apply directly to all of the unemployed. When I interview people about this subject, the items in this list come up frequently, so, with labels like these pasted on them like a Scarlet Letters, the unemployed are forced to move forward and attempt to prove themselves in a non-unemployed-friendly environment.

    With all due respect to your list, I’d like to provide a brief list of my own of why people really lose their jobs:
    1. So companies can provide short- and long-term financial gains for their shareholders
    2. Because company’s merged creating redundancies throughout departments
    3. Because companies outsource various functions leaving complete departments on the street
    4. Because companies decide to discontinue a product or service
    5. Because reporters are forced to start taking their own photos, leaving the photographers without work (recent Chicago Sun Time move)

    Thanks for letting me add my comments. @inkler1

  6. Emma Spence says

    I am experiencing a situation where England is full of small businesses because it is an island, a lot of the jobs applied for in London are small, medium level businesses, to keep afloat in the recession they have had to cut back on staff, they are then understaffed and have their remaining staff doing more – when they come to employ a new person, they want that person to be able to do two or three roles efficiently. Very often the people doing the hiring are not realistic about their expectation and what they expect the role to achieve, being a smaller company they usually have a very flat structure and the management of the departments is very poor because they are overworked and under staffed. A lot of these vacant roles have had a high turn over of staff, one usually experiences that they are one of three or four employed in the role over the past year the company may have tweeked the roles slightly but the problem of being understaffed and the role being unrealistic remains the same Very often also the director and/or manager have very little understanding of the tasks given in the role and their expectations are unrealistic, or they know it is an over tasked role for the level and salary they are looking for but do not want to spend the time or money changing it – some times it is an issue of ego, where the higher ups don’t want to admit to a staffing and structural problem, of course in the long run it costs the company a lot of money and may seem ludicrous that this exists. These roles are what I call black hole roles within companies – They are a major waste of time and a humiliating, psychologically threatening and financially ruining experience for the employee who whole heartedly and genuinely took the role on board. – If you come across a role like this you are often overworked, underpaid and then pushed out, it does not matter how fast, efficient or skilled you are there is simply too much demand and human error will naturally cause you to fall short somewhere. – Historically I feel a lot of London jobs have a high turn over after all it is the capital and even in a time of plenty there are lots of people in London looking for work, during a recession climate such as this, this idea that an employee is even more disposable and to be able to blame the staff and not the role and department or company structure seems to be increasingly common. – There fore this creates a culture of skilled and willing people being in and out of work, a life style that consists of signing on and off benefits and/or gradually increased debts, this happens to graduates and low to medium level skilled workers and of course ethnic minority groups and women, who are employed in these roles to raise the company profile and have less power over their employment decision. This practice also takes place mainly through people who apply for roles to companies through agencies/recruitment consultancies and mainly private sector companies – which is a large majority of the employment band especially since we have experienced public sector cut backs. I think since we are going down the road of privatisation, companies and recruitment consultancies need to be more closely monitored for their employment conduct and more laws to protect the employee needs to be put in place. This can also happen in larger companies but is rare as they usually have better structures in place but of course it is not usually ethnic minorities, who get those jobs and who are usually greatly under represented with in those companies in England.

  7. MJ says

    I am a hard worker, take initiative, be productive and yet i lose jobs, why let us look at my job loss
    Lost one job after 4 years as the new manager wanted his nephew in place
    Lost one job company went bankrupt
    Lost one job due to lack of new business
    Lost one job as the manager did not want a female in that position.
    Lost one job as I was told that there was lack of work,
    so how do i not lose jobs please tell me

  8. MJ says

    I am a hard worker, take initiative, be productive and yet i lose jobs, why let us look at my job loss
    Lost one job after 4 years as the new manager wanted his nephew in place
    Lost one job company went bankrupt
    Lost one job due to lack of new business
    Lost one job as the manager did not want a female in that position.
    Lost one job as I was told that there was lack of work,
    so how do i not lose jobs please tell me

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