The Stigma Of Being Fired


You’ve been fired. Why is it that the word, “fired” hits like nothing else. It’s like being on the receiving end of a baseball right between the eyes. It can knock you back or knock you out. The word itself is only 5 letters long but if you’re the one who has been fired, it cuts us to the core; the more we valued or loved our job from which we got fired, the more intense the pain.

Getting fired is so much worse than getting laid off or quitting isn’t it? I mean if we quit, we were in full control of the situation and it was us that made the decision to walk away. We had time to think about whether we’d quit or not, we chose the timing and we had alternatives ready to put into place so the leaving wasn’t so bad; things were on our terms.

Being laid off isn’t as positive as quitting, because we are out of work when we’d rather be working and joining the ranks of job searchers wasn’t in our plans. However, a layoff is beyond our control, the employer made a decision to downsize; there was a shortage of work, the company relocated etc. In any event, we wanted to work and by all accounts were doing a good job but the situation was in the hands of those in higher authority than us, and they decided to reduce the workforce. Whether we were the only one let go or there were others let go, our performance isn’t necessarily an issue, it could be the economy, a change in the owner’s finances or lifestyle, a political move or the company just shut down.

Getting fired however; that’s a whole different thing. There’s the stigma that comes attached to it which we feel compelled to explain to anyone – and everyone – that we tell we were fired. We want to scream, “It wasn’t my fault! Listen! Just listen to me and hear me out and you’ll see I’m not such a bad employee (translation I’m not a bad person). It’s exhausting isn’t it? We tell our spouse, our kids, then our parents, then the closest of friends and we hope everyone will understand and not think the worse of us. We can only tell our side of the story but we want everyone we tell to believe us entirely when we say we had a mean boss that was out to get us, or we really were doing a good job and don’t know why they fired us.

Deep down inside though, we wonder if we are really being believed. Would we automatically believe our closest friends and still think the very best of them if they told us they were fired? Might we wonder about how much of the situation was indeed their fault? Maybe that strong attitude they have got them into trouble or now you wonder about their actual skills and abilities…just a little anyhow. So now you wonder; what are they thinking about me?

We get angry too. We’re out of work, have lost an income, feel shamed with this label of being fired, and the people we worked for weren’t the best. Maybe they cut corners, did shady deals, favoured some staff over others (and we obviously weren’t in favour!), didn’t even know the business as well as we did, or they used us for our knowledge then cut us loose when they had got everything they could from us; we were just used and abused. Maybe too we were fired because we couldn’t or wouldn’t bend the rules or take advantage of our customers.

When you’re fired, it’s frustrating too because we have to move on and get a job, but we can’t vent in a job interview and tell the interviewer how we are really feeling. No, we have to take the high road and speak well of the employer who sacked us for fear of coming across as someone to stay away from and not hire.

It makes getting any kind of employment insurance harder to get if we can get any at all after being fired too. It all just seems so unfair and things are stacked against us! Hey, what YOUR feeling is normal; sad as that is to say, you’re feeling what most people feel when fired. Although small consolation, know that more and more people these days get terminated so the stigma attached to it isn’t as bad as it used to be.

Before you go job searching, make sure you are prepared to answer the interview question, “So why did you leave your last job?” or the, “What would your previous employer say about you?” question. You will have to master the ability to address both these questions without anger and bitterness surfacing which will hurt your chances.

Maybe one strategy is to get an entry-level job beneath or outside your career goal, just so THAT job becomes your LAST job in terms of answering these questions in an interview. You could also bite the bullet and contact the employer who fired you and ask that if contacted they provide only your start and end date and give no reference beyond that positive or negative. If you had good performance appraisals you could use these as proof you did well in the last job – so take yours home now if you’re still working and don’t keep them in the office.

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