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15 ways to not get fired from your dream job

This week a famous pitcher who clearly should have known better, lost his very high paying job at ESPN. It reminded me how many kids fresh out of college undid all of those years in school by getting fired for doing something similar.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen kids bust their hump to get a job at a named company only to lose it a few days later, or even before they officially start. This applies to more than just tech jobs. So if you are a parent and don’t want your kids to boomerang home unemployable or are a manager and don’t want to have to fire one (or explain how it happened on your watch), I’d suggest sitting your soon-to-be-hired kid or recently hired new employee down and giving them some personal perspective. You see we really don’t understand consequences until we are nearly 30-years-old. A 2012 Yale study says, the best way to keep kids from doing really stupid things is get them to understand the consequences of the things they do.

Here are the 15 simple things kids should know before starting a new job in order to not get fired.

1. Know the zero tolerance rules in the company. I’ve even seen experienced executives forget this one. Zero tolerance rules are rules that get you fired immediately, there is no review, no second chance, you break one they walk you out.

For instance, many companies have don’t date subordinate rules. A third-line manager started dating one of his low-level employees and when it got serious asked another third-line manager he thought was a friend to allow a transfer so he wasn’t breaking this rule, both he and the woman he was dating were fired shortly thereafter.   Here is a story of a guy who loved the job but clearly didn’t understand that zero tolerance rules were unbendable, and lost his dream job. You may think the rule is silly, but explain that to your parents when you have to move back home unemployed.

2. Substance abuse rules are not suggestions. You not only can get fired, you can be rejected during the hiring process as well. Recently, a young man who has a young bride and child was pitched into a really good job that had a drug test. He kept using and showed up with a vial of clean pee not realizing these things are monitored. He then tried to drink lots of water and delay the test, they immediately caught on and he is now literally working at an hourly job where he shovels fertilizer. Minimum wage and no benefits. You get caught using, in most companies, you are gone and you’ll be red flagged for anyone else.

3. If you can’t hold your alcohol don’t drink. We had one young employee fresh out of college and we sent him on a plane trip. He got so drunk they escorted him off the plane. This immediately red-flagged him, ruining any chance of advancement for years. He was effectively on unlimited probation and the next mistake he made he was gone. There are lots of stories of folks who got fired for something they did while intoxicated, and god save you if you get arrested for drunk driving while on a business trip.

4. Don’t pursue a relationship with co-workers. This was actually the same guy. He was attracted to one of the women in the office and he sent her inappropriate emails. She flagged this as harassment and he was warned once, he did it again, and was terminated. These days you’d likely not get the first warning, particularly if you were already on probation for another infraction. Generally, it is just a bad idea to date in the office because, if you break up, it can make the working environment hell. But if you are turned down, the sexual harassment rules tend to be really nasty.

5. Don’t tell jokes. I know this seems severe but a lot of folks, particularly when they are young, haven’t learned what topics are acceptable. Jokes about managers can get back to them and off-color jokes can get you fired. We had a senior sales executive who, after being told of IBM’s zero tolerance policy on racial jokes, decided to test the policy. Two of the biggest security guys I’ve ever seen picked him up and carried him out of the building never to return.

We had a call center manager who, after being asked by a female employee, how to get a raise, responded in jest that she’d have to pleasure him (he was a tad more graphic). She didn’t report him, and actually thought it was funny (they were friends), but two woman sales reps who overheard him did report it. He was a well-regarded senior manager and he was demoted out of management and sent to a branch office, his career effectively over. A less well-connected employee would have been terminated.  

6. Don’t pad expenses. You are given a certain amount of trust when it comes to things like travel expenses and some folks think they can pad their income by padding their expenses. One of the greatest pleasures an auditor has, and I used to be one, is reviewing expense reports and catching folks who have abused this trust. The reason is that much of what we catch is boring process stuff that showcases exposures but doesn’t actually catch crimes.

Expense reports are a fountain of bad behavior and catching someone is not only fun, but it makes for great stories at the end of the day.   We had one idiot who would buy a ticket for a flight well in advance and another right before the flight. The first ticket was really cheap, the second really expensive. He would use the first ticket but expense and return for refund the second. He was easily caught and fired (systems flag expenses that fall out of cost ranges for review).  

Let’s expand this to say any theft from the firm will get you fired, and don’t think you won’t get caught. And some thefts will land you in jail.

7. If you are upset talk to your manager, talk to your parents, you can even talk to HR. You can’t talk to social media.   Back when I started, what folks used to get fired for was sending emails to every employee in the company talking about a co-worker or manager they were pissed at. These days it is more likely to be social media, likely because it is far harder to send email to every employee (it used to be an easy one-click option). In all cases this will get you fired. Few companies have any tolerance for employees who speak out publically about them period let alone negatively.

[ Related: How to craft an effective social media policy ]

8. Don’t have sex on company grounds. Boy you’d think this would be obvious, but I’ve even seen a CEO and a CFO fired for this. For some reason folks think it is exciting to have sex on company grounds. Realize there are security cameras all over the place now and that this generally falls into one of those categories of being fired on the spot. It may not even be a written rule, but you get caught doing anything sexual while on company property, you are gone.

9. Avoid being a prankster. Every office has one and every once in a while things go terribly wrong. There are some legendary pranks like taking one CEO’s Ferrari apart and then reassembling it in his office.   I’m still a little bit awed about that one; and if you are part of a team of top engineers in the company you might get away with it, if you are a first year employee and you even scratch said Ferrari you’ll likely be toast. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone being escorted off campus saying something to the effect of, “it was just a prank.”  

10. Don’t bet you are irreplaceable. A really common mistake I’ve seen particularly in younger employees is believing they are irreplaceable.   It is a bad mindset because you begin to think you can get away with anything and you will almost always find that you can’t.   If you continue to believe you can always be replaced, which is true, you are less likely to do something that will force you to be proven wrong.

11. Don’t lie to get time off.   There is a common question that flows through some of the advice networks and it goes something like, “I told my boss x to get time off and now he wants proof, what should I do?”   You should likely get your resume ready because you can get fired for that, but, almost as bad is you’ll lose his or her trust and generally that means you’ll be managed out of the company.  

12. Make sure you know what management thinks about the job you are doing. Here is another story about an early Facebook employee who thought he was doing a great job only to find his bosses thought he was dead weight. Think about how wealthy he’d be had he not been fired and he loved the job (mostly).   I know a lot of folks get through school with cheating and sliding, but get a great job anyway. However, in the ‘real world,’ there are lots of folks that likely either want your job or want you out of the way so if you aren’t contributing they’ll get you gone.

13. Don’t be abusive. Not only do people document abuse and report it, but often abuse escalates into violence. I also would add, do not tolerate it either. If someone is being abusive to you make sure you use appropriate channels to document and report it. The one violent incident that I was almost in the middle of myself was when an abusive husband showed up at work with a shotgun intending to kill the manager and the head of HR. (I was interviewing for that same HR job, needless to say I didn’t take it). Some folks learn bullying in school and some learn to tolerate it, neither is good long term, and the former could do more than get you fired.

14. Don’t speak for your company unless that is your job.  One of the quickest ways to get fired is to step into some PR mess with guns blazing thinking you are protecting the firm only to find that this is marketing and/or communications’ job and that they have no sense of humor. You might just get a warning, but if things get heated and you say the wrong thing, you can also get fired. Generally social media is really dangerous so use it with caution. There are lots of stories about people being fired for inappropriate posts.

15. If your head says “I probably shouldn’t say/do this” then don’t. Most of all of this comes down to someone acting before thinking and then regretting it after. You spent a lot of years working to get where you are, the simple act of thinking before acting could allow you to not show up on a list like this as an example of what not to do.

Now the issue for most young people coming into their first job is that the folks that are most likely to read or listen to this are the folks least likely to need it, and the folks who basically hear “blah, blah, blah” are the ones showing up in a future list like this. I would argue that the latter group aren’t mature enough to have a good job yet and that just reading through a list like this would be a good interview tool. If they tune you out, then maybe it would be better if they worked someplace else and become someone else’s problem.

It’s easy to get fired, so be smart and think first

It is surprisingly easy to get fired but, as a manager, the paperwork is a pain in the butt and having to do it reflects on your hiring/management skills badly. As a parent, your fired child may return as a dependent making all those sacrifices you made to put them through school largely wasted. Spending time to either make sure you don’t hire someone likely to make these mistakes, and/or making sure they actually don’t, could go a long way to both assuring your own career and peace of mind. Not to mention it also serves as a reminder to experienced executives who make these same errors with similar results.

One final thought, when I was younger, one of the ways I got convinced not to do something illegal was to actually visit a jail. Maybe part of every young person’s education should be to watch someone get fired. The embarrassment, loss of self-worth, and depression that follows can be incredibly painful and, observing it, may drive home the point that avoiding that outcome is a worthy goal.

Good luck!

IDG Insider

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