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How can you tell you are going to get fired?

I have been told that animals can sense impending doom, and will behave strangely right before a significant natural event - such as a tornado, earthquake, tsunami, or Uncle Ed showing up with his latest investment scheme you shouldn't miss out on. Humans don't possess that extra sense, which is why we need warning sirens, Doppler radar, National Geographic specials, and why I now am the 12% owner of Ed Willoughby's Snake Training Academy and Casino.

In all seriousness, in these times, you need a little extra preparation if things aren't going so well at your job. Or, even if it seems that things are going well, but the company is experiencing something completely not your fault that causes you to lose your job. I can only speak for myself and my organization, and all these warning signs I'm offering are from personal experience.

Recently, due to a re-organization of the paperwork and our filing cabinets and a massive cleaning out campaign, I ran across lots of personnel records and various paperwork I had saved over the years (lawsuits ***cough***). I found that in 15 years, and 9 separate businesses owned (all concurrently at some point in time, some lasted longer than others), I have now fired just over 1,000 people. Since I'm the one writing, I'll go ahead and say that makes me an expert, but you can decide for yourself if this is useful information or not. I'll just pass on what I have found to be the easiest ways to get fired, the most common signs that the axe is about to fall, and the best tips I know to hang on by your fingernails until either things improve and your position becomes more secure, or to at least buy yourself some time so you can find another source of income.

No one likes to be caught off guard with a sudden lost of income and security. I hate doing that to someone. It still amazes me how many people are surprised when it happens, because there are so many warning signs leading up to the event, I am always a little puzzled when someone reacts with shock and outrage. So, if this helps at all, here are a few tips.

You know there is a difference between a firing, a layoff, a job loss due to downsizing, a seasonal cutback, a job elimination, and various other forms of separation from your place of employment. For the purposes of this article, I'll just stick to the getting fired part.

To get that part out of the way, our complete statistics show about 1,300 employee names that are currently "inactive", meaning they've separated from our employment for some reason. About 100 quit, for various reasons ranging from not liking the job, getting a better offer elsewhere, moving, etc. Around 100 were separated for reasons that were neither a firing nor a quitting - such as lost their eligibility to hold the job (lost drivers license for a moving violation, jailed, refused to take drug test, etc.); died/injured outside of work, job was eliminated, etc. But over 1,000, closer to 1,100, were fired.

The top 5 reasons I fired them were:

  1. Stealing (a staggering 60% or more)
  2. Insubordination
  3. Negligence/accident
  4. Work ethic (tardiness, excessive abscences)
  5. Incompetence (less than 5%)

What that says to me is that your ability to do your job is the least of your worries, and your ability to hold onto your job most likely has little to do with your ability to do your job. Of course, working in the automotive field as 6 of our 9 businesses were, is somewhat self-filtering. People would at least have an inkling of what it would take to work in an auto shop before they'd even apply, so the ability to do the job is probably already there. If they don't already have the qualifications, they may at least have the desire, and a position may be open that can be trained for, so it will be known in short order if the person can actually perform the physical requirements of the job itself.

Let's briefly cover some thoughts that you can use to avoid being fired.

  1. Thieves always get caught.
  2. You're not so special. Yeah, you. No you aren't. Shut up. No one wants to hear it. There's the door.
  3. Sometimes, whether it's your fault or not, heads gotta roll, and it might be you. Whether you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether you just failed to follow instructions at a critical time, costing the business money may cost you your job.
  4. You're not so special. Are not. Are not. There are no special rules just for you. Get over yourself.
  5. If this job you are pursuing is truly your dream, I would suggest getting more training, tech school, take some night classes, something, then try again.

Now, for some warning signs that you might be turning in your uniforms and updating your resume. All of the things below are things I've done before I fire someone.

Not being kept in the loop

Did everyone else get a form to fill out asking for their measurements for this year's new uniforms and you didn't? If the company is paying for something that all employees get, and your boss is thinking you aren't going to last, the boss may drag out the process of spending money on you thinking this will be a waste of money.

You might also be kept out of the loop in other ways. Maybe everyone else already filled out their vacation request forms for the next year and you weren't asked to fill one out. You weren't asked, because the boss doesn't care what vacation days you want ... you'll be out before you can go on vacation anyway. Or, not being asked to sign up for some training session - again, the boss thinking why spend money on training you if you aren't going to be useful here much longer. You'll start to feel a separation from employment before the separation actually happens - it will be a separation of information, and it starts subtle, but adds up fast.

Core duties go to your superior with no explanation

There's no subtle way to do this, which is why it always amazes me when an employee of mine who has been through this process finds it hard to understand why they are fired. Let's say there is a basic requirement to your job - such as, you are in charge of opening the store every day and counting the money. The boss asks for you to turn in your key and not work the cash drawer any longer, and says she/he will do this instead.

Bosses don't like extra work, that's why they hired YOU. When you see your job duties erode, not for you to take on other duties, but just being taken away from you and given back to your boss, especially when you know Miss I Hate Mornings now has to get to work a half hour earlier because she's opening and not you, clue in that this is a sign of the end.

Loss of privileges

Should be easy to spot but then again don't get paranoid if this is the only sign. It may just be the company is tightening their belt and making it through a rough time if the privileges are being removed company wide, but if it's just YOU who was told you can't use the water to wash your own personal vehicle and YOU weren't invited to the company Christmas party when everyone else was, consider the possibility it's about to get worse.

No one cares if you screw up

I have told you a million times to tell your girlfriend to stop calling in the middle of the day and tying up the customer phone line. I have told her myself. I have told you to use your personal time like your breaks and lunch to take care of your personal business and stop doing it during the time I am paying you, and suddenly I have stopped caring. Now when she calls, I just tell you that you have a phone call, even if it was 20 freaking times today. And I don't seem to say anything to you about it even though every other day, including yesterday when I told you if I had to put a customer on hold one more time to answer a call from your girlfriend again you were fired, yet today I seem oddly unconcerned with it all.

Bonus for you! Happy day, the boss just changed the rules just for me and I can talk on the phone all I want! No really honey, talk all you want, take all the time you need. Because what I am doing right now is filling out the paperwork I need with the documentation of your firing, so I don't give a flip what you do today, because tomorrow you are someone else's problem. And you can talk to your girlfriend all you want, in person, all the time if you want, because you won't be here and I won't be paying you. So folks, this is a biggie. If suddenly something that you did wrong used to elicit fire-breathing wrath and now barely gets a blink, you're on your way out. Which brings me to ...

Actual threats of being fired

Again, I would think this sort of thing would not be a surprise, but strangely it is. I know there are places people work where the boss is the jokey ha-ha type, he makes light of everything, and says phrases like "I'll kill you if you do that again" or "You're fired if you do that again", and everyone thinks it is hilarious. If you work in a place like that, I can understand you may not always know where you stand, and might be tempted to think a threat is just a joke.

For the reasons #2 and 4 in my list of fire-able offences, they were always, without exception, proceeded by "Do that again and you're fired." Stop thinking you're so special and you can just flaunt your disregard of the rules, if you have actually been threatened with losing your job, you have pushed someone to the point where they are ready, willing and able to replace you.

You have a messy personal life

You know who you are. And you think it's not obvious, you think you have it under control, but I assure you, it is affecting your work. Whether or not you believe it is, it is. Yes, it is. The effects of personal stress just can't be covered up, no matter how strong you think you are. If you have a seriously messy personal life, clean it up. Straighten yourself out first and then straighten out your relationships, your personal finances, your legal problems, whatever it is that is causing damage to your attention to your work. What you are going through personally will be seriously compounded by losing your job and your income, so get a hold of yourself now, whatever that entails. Be a man and fix it, and keep it out of the workplace.

  1. You're drinking too much and/or on drugs
  2. Your relationship with your spouse is destructive to yourself, him/her, your children, or all of the above
  3. You can not manage your finances, or you are married to someone who can not manage finances
  4. You or someone close to you has committed a crime that is consuming your mental energy, financial resources, and emotional well-being

While the people at your job may care about you, and certainly (in most cases) don't wish anything bad to happen to you, it is a place of business and business is expected to be conducted here. With your full attention while you are on the clock. If you are unable to provide your full attention, quality work, and a willing attitude, you will be replaced, perhaps with our regrets but out of a necessity to continue our work. Sorry to be so ... errr ... capitalist about it all, but the bank doesn't give us a break on our mortgage because Joan is having a hard time this month with George in the slammer again and all of us having to take turns having her cry on our shoulders that we're neglecting our customers. Or Peggy is sad because Junior is on drugs again and Peggy has to call him every 15 minutes to be sure he isn't dead and ties up a phone line so we take care of less customers this month.

The electric bill is still the same, the place still has to run, so it may have to run without you. So if you have a messy personal life, no matter how in control you believe yourself to be, it's going to get you fired.

And finally ...

You are talking about getting another job

No matter where you work, it's hard to avoid the “us” vs. “them” mentality of labor vs. management. Employees might feel tempted to boast about how desirable they are as an employee, how their skills will be welcome anywhere, how they can do better in a minute if they tried. How if Mr. Important tells them one more time to clean the coffee station when he knows it wasn't you that spilled the creamer, you're going to walk.

Hey, you know what? Employers take that sort of thing very seriously. We don't get where we are by having a great sense of humor and doing a fine John Wayne impression, we have a sense of protection for our hard work and watching out for our earnings. If we hear someone saying he's leaving, we've got our eyes out for several different things. Is he going to try to steal customers on the way out? Steal something else like equipment, files, passwords, phone lists, money? Is he poisoning our current customers and employees against us? Bad attitudes are like viruses, they spread. Our spidey-senses will root this out and eliminate you before you can make off with any of our hard-earned gains, and you can test your theory about how greatly desired you are in the next five minutes.

In conclusion

Businesses do not fire good employees. Business do whatever they need to do to keep them. Sometimes it can't be helped, in the cases where employees leave because they have a better opportunity than I can provide, or they are moving, or something else significant changes for them, or I sell/close a store. But I have a very easy time separating myself, my business, and my future from people who are damaging to what belongs to me. You might believe you are a good employee, and truthfully whatever is going on at your business may not be any fault of your own. I'd just suggest keep your eyes open for these warning signs and while not launching the U.S.S. Paranoia, at least don't be caught off guard if you start to notice some strange things changing at your job.

—Beth

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