Reader Question: When a Coworker is Unexpectedly Fired

Perspectives
Nov 2, 2012
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6 Min Read

A reader asks:

My coworker just got fired. One day he was here, and the next he was gone. I didn’t see any signs that this was coming, and no one I’ve talked to knows why it happened. I’m anxious about my own job security now, and wondering if I could be fired out of the blue someday too. Is this something I should ask my manager about? I’m really rattled by it.

Before you panic, keep in mind that just because the firing came as a surprise to you, it probably didn't come as a surprise to your coworker. It’s rare for someone to be fired without any warning (except in particularly egregious cases, like embezzling or, say, punching someone). In most cases, a fired employee has had numerous conversations with their manager about the problem and what needs to change. And if the employer is at all responsible, the employee has also been explicitly told they could lose their job if the problems aren’t fixed.

Remember, too, that no matter what you hear from a coworker who was fired, there’s probably another side to the story. And people rarely share information that makes them look bad. People who are fired often find it easier to tell coworkers that it happened because the boss is a jerk, rather than acknowledge that they were struggling in the job. (After all, how often do you hear a colleague say, “I’m really having trouble working up to par here”?) Plus, the person’s manager isn’t going to be broadcasting the person's struggles (hopefully), so you're unlikely to hear that side.

If you do hear from your coworker that the firing was unwarranted, look back on your own experience with your manager. In your experience, has your manager seemed reasonable and fair?  Or like a tyrant who seems like she’d fire people without cause or warning? Generally, your own experience is going to be your most reliable guide.

And last, if you’re feeling uneasy, you can always ask your manager for feedback. Ask how you’re doing overall and what you could do better. This is a good idea to do periodically anyway, and in a situation like this, it will probably end up putting you at ease.

Do you have a question for Alison that you'd like to see answered on a future blog post?  Send them to alison@askamanager.org

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