6 Common Mistakes That Can Get You Fired


You probably know that posting derogatory comments about your company or teammates on social media can get you fired. But under the terms of at-will employment, even a small oversight such as failing to keep your boss in the loop can result in an unplanned trip to the unemployment line.

For example, did you know that Apple CEO Tim Cook fired an executive for changing the schedules of Apple Store employees and “not fitting in with the company’s culture”?

With that as a backdrop, here are six surprisingly common mistakes that can get you fired:

Thinking Too Far Outside the Box

Software engineers and business analysts are supposed to be innovative problem-solvers, right? Actually, it depends. Peppering your boss with disruptive or far-out ideas can lead to dismissal.

“Know your boundaries,” advised Samantha Hurwitz, author and chief encouragement officer for Flipskills, a leadership-coaching firm based in Toronto. “Don’t suggest ideas that are too creative or risky if your boss is looking for incremental change… Otherwise, he may think that you don’t understand the organization’s goals or that you’re too much of a risk-taker.”

Lesson: Think outside the box—but stay aware of the box’s edges.

Throwing Your Teammates Under the Bus

Your pet project came in way over budget but it wasn’t your fault. Your instinct for self-preservation kicks in as you rush into your boss’s office and demand that he release the programmers who can’t write tight, error-free code. To your surprise, he gives you the axe instead.

Lesson: Never point fingers. Briefly outline the issues without laying blame or naming names, before quickly switching gears to offer solutions. As Henry Ford advised: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

Lack of ‘Offensive’ Communication

You think you’re a rock star because you spend 10 hours a day in your cubicle crunching code. Unfortunately, the director has no idea what you’re up to, and when the department’s budget is slashed, you’re the first one to go.

Lesson: “Don’t make your boss come to you,” Samantha Hurwitz said. “Take the initiative to volunteer information. Make sure everyone up the ladder is aware of your activities and accomplishments.”

Playing Devil’s Advocate

You tend to view your boss’s ideas with a critical eye and you’re quick to point out why his or her solutions won’t work. “Over time, your boss won’t want you around because he’ll come to view you as a blocker of change,” said Marc Hurwitz, author and chief insight officer of Flipskills.

Lesson: Leaders claim they like “having a devil’s advocate on the team,” Hurwitz added, “but research shows that they prefer supportive people who try to make their ideas work.”

Trust Violations

Network admins and security pros are well aware that leaking juicy tidbits of information gleaned from company emails can lead to termination. But what if you accidentally open a confidential executive memo or folder that you’re not authorized to view? Should you keep your mouth shut or come clean?

“Even if it’s an innocent mistake, you should tell your boss about it,” said Nicole Williams, CEO and founder of WORKS, a career-coaching firm based in New York City. “If the information in that memo gets out or your mistake is uncovered during an audit, you could be fired.”

Lesson: As the saying goes: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up that gets you.

Getting Too Chummy With Customers

So you’ve bonded with a few key stakeholders; sometimes you even talk business over lunch or drinks. Your close association leads to informal email exchanges, text messages and the sharing of inside jokes. But you might get the boot if a co-worker sees your messages and files a complaint.

Lesson: Engaging in casual communications that are overheard or viewed by others can be problematic. You never know who could be lurking around the corner, so always maintain a professional demeanor when you interact with clients, teammates or managers. And never send emails or text messages during Happy Hour.

11 Responses to “6 Common Mistakes That Can Get You Fired”

  1. Raikar

    Nice article to re-look at things , after working for many years we sometimes take things for granted! so these lessons can be useful to remind ourselves that we are still working for someone else and we got to be serious about it.

  2. Eileen

    Fantastic article! Its interesting that I have lost jobs because I have tried to communicate with supervisors and they don’t read reports or come to scheduled meetings. I work in healthcare and I have been chastised for providing customer service for sick, frail people, The article reminds us that some times it doesn’t matter what our intentions are, but how supervisors perceive our actions

  3. One of my old managers used to say, “perception is the basis of reality”. I played devils advocate and said, “hallucination is the basis of delusion”

  4. Justin Snyder

    The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what you do if a manager doesn’t want to see it truthfully. If a manager tries to say 2+2=5, should you “not rock the boat” and say “ok, it’s 5′? NO!!!! 2+2=4 NO MATTER WHAT PERCEPTION YOU OR THE MANAGER HAS!

    You cannot prevent every manager or company from firing you. However, if you stick to the TRUTH ANYWAY, you can know that you did right and move on to a company that will recognize right. You’ll never win all battles in life. SO JUST DO WHAT IS RIGHT ANYWAY!

    Why? Because if you cave in to your boss’s PERCEPTION that 2+2=5, you may get a promotion, but when the BRIDGE you are building falls, YOU’LL BE THE ONE TO BLAME AND GO TO PRISON! If you stick to what is RIGHT, then you may get fired, but when the bridge falls, YOUR BOSS will go to prison!

    Get the picture?

  5. Blake

    One lesson I learned long ago and forgot until recently is not to complain about your co-workers no matter how dishonest, crooked, or mean they are. Managers don’t like to deal with that kind of stuff, it’s like parents dealing with kids. I’m late in my career and made the mistake of telling my new manager about a co-worker who is bossy and thinks she’s in charge. He told her what I said (including the fact that I was the one who said it). Now I remember back when I worked in the Twin Cities and companies were cutting staff after the Y2K fiasco. The first people they let go are the ones having issues with other workers. Now I find myself in the process of the embellished disciplinary write-ups businesses use to fire people without having to pay unemployment. Also, like the article said, employment is “at will” on both sides. That lady is impossible to work with, but finding a job at my age is not easy.

  6. I totoally second this thought of bringing out your achievements in eyes of your supervisor. Moreover staying late in office hours does not mean you are hard worker , it might be viewed as you are struggling with coping up, and might be taking more time in your deliverables. Its all about what you deliver in how much time.

  7. Makayla

    I feel like the AZ job market is a dead end. I have not been impressed with many of the medical companies for quite a few years now. Companies are asking an employee to work two jobs for one salary and basically suck it up like it is a great place to work. Well got news for those thinking about moving to Arizona. Rethink your plans…try another state because this one is full of mediocre jobs for people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Yes, I too am playing the devil’s advocate whenever I can. Why not all levels of management in quite a few of these companies think they are cute so it comes right back at them. Oh well Life goes on……….

  8. Makayla

    I play the devil’s advocate every chance I can get. Why not seems like the way to go in AZ. Anyone and everyone who might be in management seems to think this is the way to properly treat their employees so I feel they need the same treatment back. I have watched the AZ job market get worse and worse for quite a few years. A word of advice for anyone thinking of moving here. Rethink it…..Sorry AZ but I feel this is a dead end state for employment one would actually love!!