It is YOUR Fault You Were Laid Off

It is YOUR Fault You Were Laid Off

Uh Uh.  No way.  Hell no.  It wasn’t my fault, it was the economy, or my boss, or the workload, or ____________ (fill in the blank).

Did any of those things run through your head?  If so, here’s a reality check.   It was your fault.  You could have taken steps to reduce your odds of being laid off.  Before you get too defensive, bear with me for a little bit.

Revision Note:  This type of post is very exciting to me because the conversation continued in comments and depth was added to the discussion – even to the point of changing my post.  After exchanging comments with readers and thinking about this a little bit more, I revised the posts’ wording for clarification (note the x’d off words) and want to add this post was written under a couple of assumptions that have a great deal of bearing on the content:

1)  You want to keep your job.

2)  You work for an ethical company and boss.


Common Excuses

I was reading this post by Robyn from Who’s the Boss? blog.  She very tactfully lays out questions for you to ask yourself to determine if you are at risk for a layoff.  Turn those questions into statements and you find out why getting laid off was your fault  if there are things you can do to improve your chances of surviving a lay off.

  • It wasn’t my fault – it was the economy.  Really?  Were you a key player?  Were you adding value to the firm?  Were you providing solutions and creative thinking?  Did the future vision of the firm include you as a cornerstone employee?  What extra something did you provide that set you apart from other employees?
  • It wasn’t my fault – they just don’t need a typewriter repair person anymore (replace with any obsolete skill set).  Well, no kidding!  Were you keeping up with current technology? Were you taking classes to transition to meet the company’s latest needs?  Or were you sitting on your butt with tunnel vision unaware of how the world was changing around you?
  • It wasn’t my fault – that guy has always had it out for me.  Huh.  Did he have it out for everyone?  If not, then why you?  What did you do to rub him the wrong way or put him on the defense?  Were you actively cultivating a solid relationship with your coworkers?  Were you participating in the social functions?  Asking others out to lunch?  Did you try to discuss the conflict with the person to find a solution?  Did you give him an opening to air his grievances?

By the way, subtlety such as sitting next to someone in a meeting is not giving him an opening to air greivances.  An opening would be going to lunch or coffee and saying something along the lines of “I feel like there may be some tension between us.  I value our working relationship or your expertise and guidance or insert what is appropriate for your situation and am hoping we can work through this.  I would appreciate any insight you have into things that I do that could use improvement or may be irritating you.”

Brutal Honesty

I realize that for those of you that have been laid off, this post may be just a bit too truthful – just a bit too raw or direct or harsh.  But here’s the truth under most circumstances:

Rarely, if ever, is a person selected for a layoff due to workload or economic reasons. Workload or the economy is rarely the reason why one person was selected to be let go over another person.  Yes, a company may need to make some cuts – but why they choose one person over another  is almost always because they are not performing, there’s a personality conflict, or they are pigeon holed and that niche isn’t needed any more.

All of these are within your control, and – here’s the kicker – you need to position yourself to survive a lay off before a lay off is pending.  Conveniently, the same characteristics that will help you survive a lay off are also the ones that will increase your promotion potential and your overall career success – so no matter what your company’s circumstances – you’d be best served by paying attention to Robyn’s questions.

By the way, I was laid off in May.  I’ve been there.  I get it.  And, at the end of the day, it was my fault.

1)  It was my fault for not actively cultivating relationships with the few powers-that-be that weren’t my supporters.  I used the convenient excuse of “not being a brown-noser” but corporate politics exist and you need to learn the skills necessary to swim in those waters.

2)  It was my fault I didn’t find and cultivate a talent or skill that provided unique value to the organization.  Oh, I had plenty of unique skills and talents, I just hadn’t done a very good job convincing the powers-that-be of their value.

There were plenty of other ways it was my fault and it really serves no purpose for me to outline them all here, because I did not actively position my self to survive a layoff, and to be honest am very glad of the separation with my old employer; however, ultimately the mistakes I made (primarily allowing personality conflicts to linger) are not the same ones you made (or are making).  However, we can both move forward with the same strategy:

  1. Take a hard look at yourself.
  2. Eliminate excuses – don’t allow yourself to think of reasons why anything or anyone else is at fault.  You are not a victim and can’t allow yourself to think of yourself as one.
  3. Identify what you are doing wrong, what’s putting you on the front lines of people to cut – they don’t have to be fatal flaws, but areas with room for improvement count too.
  4. Figure out what you can do to put things back on the right track. move yourself from the fringe to the core of valued employees.
  5. Develop metrics – how will you know you’re improving?  Were you assigned to lead a team?  Did someone invite you to lunch or a meeting?  It will vary depending on your situation, but identify your end goal and tangible ways you’ll know you’re making progress.
  6. Do it!
  7. Check in periodically (monthly at a minimum) and hold yourself accountable for taking proactive steps to changing.
  8. Be open to changing your goals or tactics – course correct.
  9. Consider hiring an executive coach.  If they are good, they are invaluable!  Ask for references and talk to the people they’ve coached.
  10. Pretend you are the boss – why would you keep one employee over another?  Are you exhibiting the traits that you would look for in others if you were in charge of selecting?

What did I miss?  Can you think of any reason why I’m wrong?  Why it may NOT be your fault if you’re laid off?

31 Responses to It is YOUR Fault You Were Laid Off

  1. Well, I was told to build a team overseas to cut costs. Then I went on maternity leave, for 6 short weeks. Upon returning, after a few weeks, they said they had hit hard times and were letting me go. I know full well they had someone overseas fill in while I was out, and decided to outsource my job. You’re glossing over a lot of crappy corporate behavior.

    • Good point. I can see where in a larger organization, if there is a disconnect between the people you work with that can see the value you bring and the people making the cutting decisions, how this would happen. Was there anything you could have done to bring something to the table that someone else wasn’t able to? Some X factor that was unique to you?

  2. I agree with Bwsf that you are not taking into account a lot of BAD corporate behavior. I had worked for my last employer for 10 YEARS. I take two weeks off to be with my mother as she lay dying in the hospital, I come back and 3 weeks later they lay me off “due to financial concerns”. So, for those of us that give 110% every day for 10 years and then this is what happens, I think you need to take other factors into account.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your mom, then to have it followed with losing your job that’s a double whammy!

      I was with my company for 13 years and the excuse given was the economy and financial concerns too. Barring the disconnect mentioned in my response to BWSF, I still believe that it is our responsibility to bring something to the table that sets us apart from the crowd and that makes us invaluable regardless of position. But I am torn because as I type this, I also feel that good leaders and managers set up their teams and departments and companies to run smoothly without them by giving autonomy to their staff and empowering people to make decisions. So, if you do that too well then you are dispensable. Catch 22. What do you think allows these type of decisions and bad behaviors to occur in larger corporate settings? Any thoughts on how to reduce the occurrence?

  3. I could not disagree more. Blaming the employee for getting laid off is just another way you’re enabling corporations to get away with screwing the people who work for them.

    I was laid off from a small company after being promised I would be able to create and run the department I was hired to handle. A few months later, the owner of the company hired an old friend of his from the restaurant business who had never worked in Internet marketing, but she was placed over me as my supervisor. I hired and trained over 100 writers with the style manual I created, successfully churning out hundreds of articles and blog posts for our clients. I specced out and commissioned the creation of a project management interface for our entire writing team. I had to explain to my supervisor – multiple times – what the difference was between a forum and a blog. I had to teach her how to use WordPress.

    And yet, I was laid off. They said it was due to financial reasons, but the woman they put in my job (which, by the way, is illegal to do if someone is laid off) told me that my former supervisor bragged about how she got rid of me because she never liked me. Not that I hadn’t gone to luncheons and events and whatnot. She didn’t like that I knew more than she did. (And there was a pesky thing about discrimination that I never sued for.) So I was let go. (The woman who replaced me got fired when the supervisor decided she didn’t like her anymore either, especially when she pointed out it was illegal to put someone in the same position as someone who was laid off; we are now good friends.)

    It ended up being for the best for me. I’m far better off as the head of my own copywriting company. But it was not my fault I was laid off, unless you’d fault me for knowing what the hell I was doing.

    • You are right Christina. I wrote this post under the premise that the bosses and decision makers are ethical. Your situation seems to be a blatant contradiction to that assumption. And anyone is better off for not having to work under someone that is unethical.

      To take it a bit further, it sounds as though there were some personality issues (as there were with me and my boss) in your situation. Could you have intentionally tried to overcome them? Possibly. But ultimately, there is a decision to be made and a line to be drawn in the sand about what employment conditions you are willing to put up with. I do not want to work in a situation where I have to beggar my values or subjugate my self confidence to anyone in order to retain my job. There is a modicum of civility and getting along with the team that is required and expected, but that is not what it sounds like it would have taken in your situation in which case I would celebrate the freedom of not having to work there any more!

      And actually, that is how I feel about my personal situation. If I could do things differently I wouldn’t – except maybe I would have left on my own decision earlier. I am better off for not working there and happy with the freedom and opportunities that have come because of my separation.

      Thank you very much for commenting and especially for disagreeing! I really value the depth that comes and more thorough discussion we get to when people disagree and we can all consider other ways to look at an issue. Thank you!!

    • Baloney. Showing up on time, doing your job, doing it well; these are all any employer has any right to expect. All this talk about “being creative,” adding this that or the other thing to the company’s profits et cetera ad nauseum is just a load of CRAP. Dismissal, being fired, is one thing. But being laid off is NOT and NEVER IS the worker’s fault, regardless of the semantic tricks of articles such as this one.

      • You are right – showing up on time and doing your job well is all an employer has a right to EXPECT from an employee. However, all an employee then has a right to expect from an employer is to be employed as long as it is useful and convenient for the employer to do so. However, if an employee hopes to survive lay offs, then it is in their best interest to pay attention to more than just doing their job well and showing up every day. Should you be comfortable with being at the mercy of external forces, then by all means continue to believe that all that matters is showing up and doing the job you were hired to do. But if you want to take control of your destiny and influence your job security then taking a harder look at what MORE you can do is in your best interest. And of course, this is all just my humble opinion.

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  4. Daria – I enjoy your postings, however, I think that you are glossing over many complex factors that influence how business functions in the United States. It is a complex model, influenced by social & political mores. In America, we do have a different model regarding employment than in Europe. In Europe, the family as a social unit is protected by the European Union in ways that are not even dreamed of here. I am old enough to remember when there was no family leave at all in the US. If you became ill with cancer, or one of your family members became ill with serious Lyme disease, or were shot in NYC in a crime & lost time from work, or if you became pregnant, there was no legislated time off for you to recover or to assist your family. Racial, sexual and age discrimination really do exist; there are many research studies which show these factors play into the conscious and unconscious factors of social functioning. It is well-documented in social science & psychological research that corporate decisions are not all based on common sense. In reality, there still exists in huge gap between women’s salaries and men’s salaries.
    I have not read the research literature on the social science & psychology of laying off, so I can;t cite my sources, but I think that in an article like this, there should be some mention of the forces behind the decisions to lay off.

    • Thank you Kathy for bringing more depth to the conversation. There are definitely circumstances that are not addressed by my post. A large portion of them being under the umbrella of unethical decisions. My post assumes an ethical boss and a company that is going to remain in business after trimming a few staff. A couple of examples I can think of where it isn’t your fault would be a boss that’s hitting on you and you rebuff his or her advances and in retaliation she or he lets you go – or any other form of discrimination that does exist regardless of how far we’ve come. Another would be a small business that simply can’t afford to bridge a gap while you are on medical leave. Family medical leave only applies to companies over 50 for just that reason. Supposing you’re a receptionist for a 4 person firm, they may not be able to manage without you during a 6 month leave of absence – not an unethical decision, just an economic one.

      No, my post doesn’t address those situations. It really is intended for a “normal” corporate situation where you have direct exposure to the decision makers, the decision makers are ethical and you have an opportunity to make yourself stand out.

      • Most workers don’t have an “opportunity to stand out.” Most workers are nowhere near the decision makers, the big bosses. And – let this sink in, real deep… if you can – most workers, the great majority, are good and loyal workers, who do their jobs, do them well, and earn every penny that they get, and probably deserve more. This business of creating excuses to blame the workers is GARBAGE. Also, layoff is not dismissal; the latter is for a real cause, such as insubordination. Layoffs are NEVER the worker’s fault. Never, not ever.

        • I chose an inflammatory title on purpose to get your attention. It seems as though it worked.

          A more accurate title would have been – 10 ways to avoid being laid off.

          They are ultimately flip sides to the same concept which is that our current employment market is taking its toll on a lot of people and with a 9.2% unemployment rate, it is not easy for many to find a replacement position. If you are interested in taking some control and adding a tad bit more job security, then I suggest the items mentioned in my post. Each job opening is becoming more and more competitive and that means that each job held is in more and more jeopardy. Why? It’s a concept of “trading up”. Right now is an ideal time for employers to increase their talent pool. Yes, an employee may have worked here for 5 years, may show up everyday and may do their job just fine. But guess what? There is someone out there looking for a job with double the experience and additional skills that person doesn’t have – that would add more value perhaps even at a pay cut than the current employee. Why should your company keep you instead of replacing you with that other person? The answer is that in most cases the employer is too busy to even think about it, likes the employee and doesn’t want to have to let them go, and frankly the idea of the status quo is known and people don’t want to change typically. But add a personality conflict, or a slacking on work product, or whatever to the mix and keeping the status quo is no longer enough to stop your boss from “trading up”.

  5. This is true self- analysis of the most valuable kind. Most people cannot withstand nor do they seek internal honesty. Hats off to you!

    • Thank you Mim! I am always excited when people disagree with something I write – it means I’ve hit on a true topic and have started a dialogue which is ultimately the best way to learn from each other (I think).

  6. This is very thought-provoking, and one of the things I like most about it is that by taking FULL responsibility, you also assume control.

    A loved one was in an accident recently. Well-meaning people counseled him to sue a corporation that who may have been partially responsible.

    Instead, this person decided to take not dwell on where to place blame but on healing and moving on. I really admired that.

    • Thanks Lori! Ultimately the only thing we can control in our lives is ourselves and that includes how we allow ourselves to feel and react to things. We CAN control ourselves and through our actions our environment, but when we sit back and expect things to go our way just because we are good people it doesn’t always work out that way.

      Moving on and looking forward and toward the positive is something I firmly believe in – kudos to your friend for having enough faith in themselves and liking themself well enough not to want to dwell in blame and anger any longer than necessary.

  7. I definitely agree with your talking points, however I disagree with “Rarely, if ever, is a person selected for a layoff due to workload or economic reasons.”

    I can’t tell you how many companies I’ve worked for when that alone has been the case. At one point, 1/4 of our corporate office was laid off. Not from under-performance but because our positions were cut entirely. Economy shouldn’t be downplayed.

  8. I live near high tension lines and I get cancer, that’s my fault too but it’s too simplistic. If I let stress get to me and my autoimmune system is weakened so I pick up a germ that’s my fault too but again too simplistic.
    I need to look at my role in things at work and how I can make myself very valuable. I think that’s an excellent point. However, when 10,000 people are laid off at once it’s not about me.

    • Very good points Cherry! I’ve adjusted the wording some to reflect more of that concept – that you can control making yourself more valuable. That was ultimately my point, and I hope the rewording makes for a better message. :)

  9. PS – I have also come to believe that we (people) think we control a lot more than we really do. Gives us a sense of safety. If it’s my responsibility that I was laid off then I can act differently in my next job and never be laid off again. Ain’t necessarily so.

  10. I actually lived this post! While it was simple in some ways that is exactly what I loved about it! I was told my job was being eliminated last Friday and I was offered a “Reclassified Job” in a lower position, at a significantly lower rate of pay and at 30 hours a week. I was infuriated to be presented with the job reclassification after spending a year trying to get them to allow me to do my job. The insult on top of the injury came that the owners called a special meeting with me and drove into town in their brand new Corvette To tell me that they aren’t making enough profits! WTH?

    Your points of becoming indispensable are on task. But corporate greed is definitely a factor in workplace positioning. There are so many facets to involved in a layoff. I’ve learned it wasn’t about me and my performance — I was not who they wanted in this position and I am going to be okay!

    If you’d like to read about my written response to my employer read my post and feel free to share it

  11. Hi Daria. I like that you reworded the post. I have been laid off and when I first read the post, I could not find the “gumption” to comment. I knew where you were coming from, but I agree more with the post now. Jobs dissolve for many reasons, including loss of contracts, etc. Everyone will not have the opportunity to be in the core circle, for being there, takes effort and sometimes compromise. Sometimes the compromises are not right for the individual and their families. I recently was faced with a potential loss of job, but thankfully survived it but it was my work ethics that saved me and not that of being in the core. BTW, I found value in the book “Who moved my cheese” (“”) that my manager had me read when I was in the first “lay-off” “down-sizing of jobs to India” with my company a few years ago.

    • I have that book! I haven’t actually read it yet, but it is on my shelf. And as I’ve mulled this over I can definitely see cases when corporate decides to axe entire divisions and the employees would have no ability to impact those type of broad brush lay offs either.

  12. You are absolutely right. People get blindsided at work because they aren’t paying attention to what’s really going on around them, don’t treat their jobs like entrepreneurs which means managing them like you would your own business, failing to understand that everyday at work is a competition so if we don’t keep up we’ll get left behind, deluding ourselves that we’re essential, and simply being career sloppy. It’s our responsiblity to navigate the career waters. Watch out for the rocks below. Terrific post, ~Dawn

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