What gets us fired!

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on January 30, 2020

Here are factors that can make us redundant and irrelevant

Often you read about health ailments but are not so concerned until somebody close to you is afflicted. That is when you rush to get check-ups done and change your lifestyle.

My attitude towards my career was quite similar to these faraway health scares until I recently saw a spate of lay-offs rocking my circle. In the list were my schoolmates, collegemates, neighbour, former colleagues. For the first time, lay-offs almost came home and became too close for comfort.

The biggest frustration was that in spite of being in the recruitment industry for close to two decades, I couldn’t help a single person get a job.

Let’s get to the news of some recent lay-offs. When we read about Oyo, Future Group, Walmart, Quickr, WeWork, Cognizant downsizing, we blamed the companies for lousy business management. However, if you reflect, in all these companies, the majority of employees have kept their jobs, many will still get a good increment and a few may even get promoted.

Can we say the people who got laid off were plain unlucky, and in the wrong place at the wrong time? That’s just a philosophical way of looking at things.

Deep down, there are underlying factors. Let’s ask ourselves what gets us fired. After all, we were courted, interviewed and selected for our jobs with a lot of promise. The same colleagues who appreciated us and took us out for lunch turned cold and said it’s time to part ways.

How can we decipher this beyond describing it as bad luck or karma? Let’s reflect on a few parameters that make us irrelevant and redundant.

Staying relevant

We must have now got bored of the word “upskill”. However, we can’t run away from it any further.

In any organisation, staying skill-relevant has become more important. In the rapidly changing world where employers are looking more to the future than the past, it is important to give them the hope and confidence that you are the future. In a technology world where skills are getting transient, learning is like breathing.

Some of us who got laid off from the IT companies have been deemed as people who did not learn or cannot learn. We do not know how these employers assessed us. But let’s say for a moment that these organisations were fair, then it begs the question; how important is learning to learn?

One of my colleagues used to head the quality function and felt that it was becoming a back-office function. She asked to be moved to a business role. She had to learn the skills of sales and customer relationship management. There was the risk of a slow start and obvious failure. However, she made it work and now she is moving to a new employer, to a larger business head role at a premium.

Learning and staying relevant is not just about learning new technology, it’s about letting go of your past identity and developing into roles that employers want to nourish.

Cost of indiscipline

“You can keep coming late or be sloppy in meeting your deadlines as long as your performance is top class,” our boss thundered in a team meeting. We smiled at each other, knowing that he was hinting at a couple of our team members who were always late for review meetings and report submissions.

Then there came a quarter when the boss was under fire for our team’s poor performance. He had to shed some weight to show better unit economics. He chose the two who were constant defaulters on processes, and chronic latecomers for meetings. We all felt it was harsh; but none of us would have traded those places as we ticked the box of discipline.

Bad behaviours

Consistent bad behaviours are poor cousins of indiscipline. Most employers are sensitive to language, temperament outages from their employees.

For example, usage of cuss words and applying pressure was considered a given thing in an FMCG major. Then the Sales head moved from that promoter-driven culture to a pharmaceutical MNC to run their OTC business.

Soon, he was asked to leave as the CEO had a string of complaints from women employees and their distributors about his unacceptable language and late-night calls. Leaders and employees who constantly treat their team poorly are on the waiting list of “to be fired”.

Hard work

Whether you are a fresher just out of college or a CEO, it is difficult to ignore hard work. Efforts are not about working 70 hours a week like a wreck; it’s about taking responsibility and finishing tasks in time.

I observed my colleague who was given charge of an organisation restructuring. She was handed a list of 40 odd people who had to be laid off.

Over the next month of her planning, she keenly observed their working patterns. She struck off three people from that dreaded list as she came up with data points about how these people were the ones putting efforts and ensuring the stability of the processes. She insisted that their work ethic was difficult to ignore and we needed to accommodate such reliable colleagues.


This is a fuzzy topic in an organisation context. Building relationships is not about being the boss’s favourite but nurturing horizontal and vertical connections within the organisation ecosystem. Often, we get immersed with our own team so much that we don’t build a network outside of our team, our bosses, customers or even competitors. Nobody bothers to guide us on these.

Relationship-building is a skill that everyone should be trained on as it trumps skills, performance, and is the best insurance during bad times.

During the last recession, we went through a global acquisition. Most of the senior leaders were getting laid off. Many of us who were given safe returns to India in specially created roles owed that to our relationship with the CEO. Some of us who were nonchalant claimed that we were talented, but it was difficult to deny the underlying reason — our relationship with him.

The common adage at corporates is that you grow or keep your job because of performance. However, performance is subjective and is contextual to many internal and external situations.

Certainly, by now, you know that all of us can get fired for reasons beyond our control. However, can we be aware of what can get us fired? Perhaps, it will help us avoid the mental scar we don’t need.

As Bernard Shaw once said, “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.”

What I have prescribed is the parachute.



Kamal Karanth is co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm

Published on January 30, 2020

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