Sometimes we deserve to be fired

Should major failures lead to dismissal? I think so.

Career Opportunities podcast logoSometimes we deserve to be fired
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Sometimes we deserve to be fired


I will ask you to forgive me in advance if this column rambles a bit, as I am still coming to grips with the topic, even as I write. Firing someone, and being fired, is always an emotional event. Still, I believe that today we have forgotten that there are times when we deserve to be fired, especially when we show that we cannot complete even the most fundamental tasks of the position. Instead, we allow ourselves or people in our departments to continue in a role long after proven incapable of doing the job. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Insanity (is) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While failure is a part of every job, shouldn’t complete failure be a clear indicator that someone else needs to be given a chance?

Let m e be clear that when I say failure, I am not talking about the average, everyday failures we all experience. This isn’t about the lost contract or client, the failed project, the marketing misstep. This is about complete failure, like not being able to accept or accurately count the votes in your precinct, county or state or being unable to produce accurate paychecks for your workers like the LA County Schools recent problem. These are failures of both the highest and lowest degrees. These people are unable to fulfill even the most basic tenets of their job and this, unfortunately, has the most dramatic effect on their clients and customers.

For myself, if I was to experience such a complete failure, and I can tell you that I have experienced them over my 25 year career, I would expect to be fired. I would expect my management to look to someone more capable, or barring that, simply someone else. In my world, this is usually manifested by a client never calling again. It happens to all of us, especially as the years mount. It is simply a matter of odds in some cases. The more work you do, the more chances for a complete failure. That said, I also know that that failure is mine alone.

Many people, when faced with a complete failure, immediately to try to blame it on others or on the surrounding circumstances. While the failure might indeed have been precipitated by an outside force, as the sign on Harry Truman’s desk read, “The buck stops here.” It is often a clear sign of complete failure when people don’t understand this fact. If you have failed, then you need to accept that fact and also accept the consequences that arise from that failure.

Looking from the outside — as a constituent, customer or client — I feel even more strongly about the need to fire people. When I see someone fail repeatedly, it makes me wonder if anyone is paying attention. It calls into doubt the abilities of their managers and executives and may even point to deep dysfunction within a company or governmental department. Failure to acknowledge failure simply compounds the damage already done. It erodes our faith in the company and allows one person to have a dramatic effect far beyond the original failure.

What do you think? Are people too often given a pass when they fail dramatically? Are there times when people deserve to be fired for their failures? Would you resign from a job, or take a demotion if you failed in some basic and fundamental way? Would you feel ill served if your company decided to fire you after such a failure? I’d love to know what you think. Please add your comments to the web site, send email to or call the reader/listener line at 818-804-5049.

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