It’s really hard to fire someone (so you’re probably not going to be fired)

2:23 PM James 0 Comments

The only people I know who’ve been fired, really legit fired, in the engineering world:
  1. A guy who literally choked his cubicle-mate
  2. Another guy who threatened to kill a coworker, and sexually harassed another
  3. A woman who basically talked herself into a job that she didn’t know how to do, and got found out a couple weeks in
  4. That’s it.

I know lots of people who’ve been laid off, including about two-thirds of my old R&D department coworkers at The Old Place, after a product recall slashed the company budget. There didn’t seem to be a single reason why they were laid off. They basically fell into these categories:
  1. Incompetent
  2. Old (sorry, that’s not politically correct - unproductive and close to retirement)
  3. Socially awkward
  4. A pain in someone’s ass
  5. Just clueless about interacting in a corporate environment.

The main things I learned about the fear or being fired or laid off are:
  1. If you’re not one of the above, you most likely will never get fired or laid off
  2. You shouldn’t be scared of this
  3. What you should be scared of, is staying at your job too long, and become stagnant, so that eventually you are one of those people who get fired or laid off.

There’s a guy I know at work who’s incompetent, a bad communicator, defensive, and slow. He’s NOT getting fired, amazingly. I know because I have it on good authority that his boss (a very patient man) is giving him time to improve. I’ve known this poor performer for the majority of my time at Rocket Inc, and I don’t have any reason to think he will improve. But, he’s survived this long, and he may continue to do so. And this is at Rocket Inc, a place that’s not known for coddling its workforce. (Edit: I'm happy to share that said guy has actually improved a lot in the last couple months!)

If you read this and your response is “awesome, I can most likely just coast at work forever,” then I pity you, but I don’t respect you as a professional. You should be trying your best at your job, because you shouldn’t be wasting your life taking up space in an office! Find what you’re good at or what you love, and save yourself and everybody else the trouble of dealing with you and your lack of competence and/or passion.

If you read this and your response is “phew, I’ve been sacrificing my well-being because I was afraid of being fired or laid off, but now I don’t have to do that,” that’s more of the response I was going for. Life shouldn’t be lived in fear. You shouldn’t let someone hold that kind of threat over you.

I used to have a boss who constantly berated, insulted, cursed, and bullied me. It was the worst. I would call in sick to work to avoid dealing with him. I was medicated for extreme hypertension (my blood pressure was 160/90, which any doctor will tell you is horrible for a young man). But I just dealt with it because I was scared of being fired.

I felt like I was literally at the breaking point, so I talked to HR and told them I was going to resign because of my bully of a boss. They told me they’d actually received complaints about him (but of course didn’t remove him!), and offered to mediate a meeting with us. Or, they said, “we can give you some training and support so you can have the conversation with him yourself, up to you.”
I figured I should talk with him myself, since bullies usually respect you more when you stand up to them. So I set up a meeting with him.

I was so nervous about this. Would I lose my job? Would my boss actually try to hit me with those pointy fingers he always waved in my face? I was shaking, but I told myself that any outcome would be better than how I currently felt. The meeting began, and before he could start his toxic routine, I took control of the conversation. I told him he would not be talking to me like that anymore, or threatening me. If he wanted to fire me, do it! Otherwise, stop being a bully. I actually called him that, to his face. It felt scary… but good. And the sick thing? He told me, “you know, I’ve been wondering when you were going to say that!” He went on to tell me that he respected me a lot for standing up to him, but that I should really be thankful for his abuse, because how else would I learn what it’s like to deal with an asshole at work? (So… he admitted to being an asshole, on purpose, to help me deal with hypothetical future assholes… OK, there’s no much wrong with that.)

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but seriously, if this helps anyone in that category, I’m extremely happy to be of service.


  1. Don’t be concerned with getting fired.
  2. Do be concerned if you legitimately suck at your job, or if people make you feel that way. Do you really want to work there? There’s almost always a job that’s a better fit for you out there. Just go out and find it.