How to Avoid Getting Fired

Hint: Employees who are better liked are often kept on, even if they're less competent at their work.

Businesspeople in office
(Image credit: Getty Images/Creatas RF)

"You're fired!" isn't just Donald Trump's catchphrase. It's a real fear among workers who worry that their jobs may be outsourced, automated, converted to temporary status or eliminated. There's no way to make yourself fire-proof, but these 11 strategies will make you pretty darn fire-resistant:

Tailor your job description to your strengths. Decades ago, I was let go from a job as a school psychologist because, as assigned, the job accentuated my weaknesses -- teamwork and empathy for teachers. If I had negotiated my job description to emphasize my strengths -- counseling students, conducting workshops for parents and planning programs for gifted students -- I probably wouldn't have been considered expendable.

Focus on your employer's priorities. Don't be distracted by responding to unimportant e-mails or marginal requests. Even if the request comes from your boss, ask, "Do you want me to defer [insert a central task] to do this instead?"

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Cultivate relationships. Workplaces aren't always meritocracies. Employees who are better liked are often kept on, even if they're less competent at their work.

Know your boss's MO. Does he or she like to be asked questions? Be kept apprised of what you're up to? Prefer broad strokes or copious detail? Want to hear your opinion or just the facts? Does he or she prefer to communicate by e-mail, phone or in person? Don't know? Better find out.

Solicit ongoing feedback. Get ratings from your boss, co-workers, customers and people you supervise. Ask them what they like and dislike about your work, and request an informal evaluation: excellent, good, fair or poor. If they prefer anonymity, tell them to leave their ratings on your desk when you're not around.

Pick your battles. Employees should be free to disagree with those in charge. But discretion demands that you know when to press your point and when to back off.

Practice damage control. Take a lesson from public-relations pros: Apologize for a mistake immediately and forthrightly, but without protracted self-flagellation. Reassure everyone that you'll take measures to right the wrong, then move on. Soon it will be old news.

Neutralize your enemies. Take them out to lunch and try to find common interests. If that doesn't work, inoculate yourself against an enemy's virulence by letting people know that the two of you have issues that can't be resolved.

Promote yourself. Assume that your colleagues are marketing themselves to higher-ups, either overtly or surreptitiously. You can't afford to remain a church mouse. Prepare a five-second "elevator speech" that you can use when someone asks how you're doing. For example, "I just completed the Wi-Fi project. I learned a lot, and we got it done on time and on budget." To make sure you get credit for your own ideas, send a draft to others besides your boss with a request for feedback, or bring up your suggestions at a meeting.

Work hard. Who's more likely to get the ax: the clock-watcher or the employee who puts in extra time?

Learn the right stuff. Read articles, attend workshops and cultivate mentors in your field. If you are let go, you'll have cutting-edge skills that future employers will value.

And if, in the end, you still wind up with a pink slip, it's probably for the best. There's almost certainly a better employer out there who will say, "You're hired!"

Marty Nemko
Contributing Columnist,