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What does it mean when you get fired?

Most people assume you’ve done something to deserve being terminated. There is an assumption of guilt.

As a psychologist with over 20 years of experience, I have worked with many clients who have been fired from their jobs. Many feel ashamed and embarrassed. Many are also confused by what has happened.

When a person has been fired, most people assume he or she must have done something to deserve it. There is an assumption of guilt that goes with being fired.

The person that was terminated is ostracized by former work friends and colleagues.

People back away from the guilty party. No one comes forward to offer comfort. The person that was fired is ostracized by former friends and colleagues at the office. It is as though they never existed. There is no going away party, the phone does not ring, and emails are not sent.

A more appropriate response, which seldom occurs, would be for friends and colleagues to come forward to ask, “Are you okay?” or “Can I do anything for you?”

If the relationship has been intimate enough, the question, “What happened?” might also be appropriate.

This is exactly what happens when you have been in a car accident. Your friends and colleagues hear about the accident and contact you. They ask, “Are you okay?”

Then they ask, “What happened?” and wait to hear the story.

They are compassionate when you share that you were hit from behind, or ran through a stop sign, or didn’t see the other car until it was too late. They offer support, whatever story you tell.

Compassion is not forthcoming.

When a person is fired, however, people jump to the conclusion that the person let go was at fault. It doesn’t occur to them that the boss may have thrown the employee under the bus for political reasons, including saving their own job, unless they have been close to the situation.

This behaviour can be shocking when you are the party that has been terminated. Until it happened to you, you never considered that the person that was fired may have not been responsible and may have been the wronged party. Or at least that there were two sides to the story.

Being terminated means there was a conflict with the boss.

What being fired means, in my experience, is that there was a conflict between the boss — the person who held the power — and the employee. The act of firing simply means that the employer executed his or her authority and let the employee go before the employee demonstrated his or her own power and found another job.

When I work with clients in my office that have been fired, I ask whether they were naive to have not seen the termination coming. Most say they knew they were in conflict with their boss, but that they had expected they would have come out on top because they were right, and often because they were well-liked by senior management and thought senior management would protect them.

Both these facts may be true, but senior management must always back the decisions made by the person’s immediate supervisor, even when they believe these decisions to be wrong. This is because senior management can never be seen to undermine the supervisor’s decisions. Firing an employee may lead to the employee’s boss being terminated himself, down the road, but if your boss decides to let you go, senior management will not step in to stop it.

Be politically savvy before you take on the boss.

So, if you decide to take on the boss, have your eyes wide open about how things can turn out for you. In 1983, John Cougar Mellencamp released a Top 20 hit called “Authority Song.” The refrain for the song goes:

I fight authority, authority always wins.
I fight authority, authority always wins.

I do not want to suggest you should not fight for what is right to keep your job. But it can be naive to believe you can take on the powers in an organization and not be negatively affected.

You may perceive you have no choice.

There may be times when you believe you have no choice. If you are in such a situation, you might want to make peace with the possibility of being fired. There are worse things that could happen to you.

Alternately, if what you are fighting for is something you believe you could lose your job over, you might choose to hold your tongue and look for other work.

After they have been fired, I ask my clients whether they were happy in their jobs. The answer almost always comes back, “No.”

I ask my clients whether, in six months time, they will be pleased they are not in their former jobs anymore? The answer is always, “Absolutely.”

Learn from the experience and move on.

If you have been terminated from your job, you will benefit if you look at the situation you were in and identify the role you played in being let go. Once you have extracted this learning, hold onto you understanding of the role you played so you don’t repeat it — and move on.

Read more about What to do when you’ve just been fired and Why can’t I find a job?

— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

If you would like support, contact me to schedule an appointment or a free 15 minute consultation.

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