Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why do Bright Employees Get Fired?

I first shared this list about 3 years ago when a colleague told me the story of a bright mid-career professional who was terminated for saying too much to a client.

No one, including her immediate supervisor, stood up for her. Why? They all felt she had it coming. Everyone felt it was just a matter of time before this bright employee imploded her own career.  It turns out the fired employee had told a client about some of the logistics issues her company was having delivering services. She actually encouraged the client to find a different provider, since her own company "couldn't seem to get anything done". The client called the CEO and the employee was fired.  This really bright employee had crossed the line and jeopardized her own career.

It turns out that bright employees get fired all the time.  Sometimes for making dumb mistakes.  Here is my list of why bright employees get fired. After 13 years in the career management field, I think I might have seen all these before.

1. Someone else who is better connected wants their job.
2. They don't know when to stop talking and say the wrong thing to the wrong person.
3. They are too cocky to learn anything new. They have all the answers.
4. They are in the wrong job and under performing.
5. They refuse certain assignments they think are beneath them.
6. They show no respect for the corporate culture or chain of responsibility.
7. They mix work and play and have Facebook running on their desktop all the time.
8. They whine about everything from salary, to assignments, to co-workers
9. They have offended so many people, no one is looking out for them.
10. They wait too long to get a mentor.


Jackie Cameron said...

Very interesting thoughts Marcia

Here in the UK it is really difficult to fire someone "at will" - employment law provides only 5 reasons for firing someone and even then the processes need to be followed to avoid a claim for unfair dismissal. So it is hard for me to comment on why bright employees get fired. But I have heard of a couple of cases where good employees have their career stalled by their manager who feels that they might show up that they themselves are not up to the good job.

As for the employee in your post her colleagues did not stand up for her when it all went wrong? Could they not have helped her tone down earlier before it got to that stage? Maybe they did and that is why they felt "she had it coming" but I wonder

marz said...

Wow. That was very negative about bright employees getting fired. I was nearly offended because it really casts bright people in a bad light, as if all bright people think they are better than everyone else. I chose not to be offended, as it's an editorial and you're certainly entitled to your opinion!

I was a bright employee. I was fired (sorry - "let go") in January along with 7 other people due to attrition from the previous year's client losses (clients were lost because they went out of business!!) which totaled $2+ million dollars in lost company revenue. They simply couldn't afford us any more.

I suppose that "firings due to a bad economy" didn't figure into your top 10? Since this is probably happening all over, and many business are having to make the tough decision to let go of really good people, I would have thought that maybe, perhaps, some mention of that might have made it on your list.

I agree with most of your other list, the "why bad employees stay employed." :-)

Jedi4Pets said...

Bright employees also get fired because they were not told the truth about the job by HR before they were hired. They end up bored, underutilized and frustrated. Their attempts to change that situation either are misunderstood as being "pushy" or "know it alls" by co-workers and supervisors, thus alienating potential mentors. Eventually, they are either fired or find other work.

Marcia Robinson said...

Hi Jackie,

Sounds like life is much simpler when there are so few reasons why someone can be terminated.

You are right about co-workers helping others "tone down". Unfortunately some people really do not heed advice - especially if they think they know everything.

I think it is why so many companies get early career professionals into mentoring programs.


Marcia Robinson said...

Hi Marz,

You make good points.

This list was not about bright people who get laid off because of bad economic times.

Really, it is more to demonstrate that regardless of how bright an employee is, there are factors that could retard their career progress.

Come again.


Rick said...

Two other reasons why bright people get fired:

(1) Their bosses perceive them as threats to their own job security.
(2) Pure and simple "personality clash" with the boss, just like a relationship that starts off well, then fizzles out after only months.

Nice post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jedi4Pets. Too many HR departments don't fully disclose the "real" situation behind the job. They say they want to hire bright people, but then leave barriers in the way.

Marcia Robinson said...


Personality clashes definitely make a difference!

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Anonymous said...

Bright employees may get fired for being too outspoken. Especially when working conditions are unrealistic, etc. Good companies who keep employees demonstrate honesty, integrity and good and open communication.

When you see high turn-over and firing of good employees, look carefully at the management. There is a direct coorelation with high turnover and poor management.

Folarin said...

Interesting post. I'm an HR consultant working in Nigeria and even after nearly 30 years in the field, I'm still amazed at the frequency with which bright people get fired, often within their first six months on the job.

Unfortunately, the causes of such summary exits are as varied as the individuals involved, so while I agree with all your reasons, I could also probably name a thousand more.

My personal favorite is the flawed interview process. Too often, interviewers simply don't do a good job of matching candidates to the role and organizational context or culture of the hiring organization. Once that happens, there's an unavoidable disaster lurking somewhere, and the actual trigger is really irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Just by looking at the "sarcastic" light you cast over bright employees in your writing, I can very certainly say that you are one of the snakes the book "Snakes in suits" warns us about, nothing more to say on my side, just stop writing deceitful articles to mislead opinions as you are probably used to at work, stay back you snake!!!