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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

4 Surprising Reasons You Lost Your Job, Despite Working Your Tail Off

Ask anyone in your former office, and he or she would say you were a hard worker. No question. You not only physically showed up for the job every day, but you were passionate about your work (some parts more than others), and you downloaded all the new tools and apps your company asked you to. But none of it seemed to matter the day you got called into HR and were slapped with a termination agreement package.

It burns, doesn’t it? All that hard effort, and where’s the payoff? Here’s a secret: It’s possible to work your butt off and still be seen as not worth keeping around in your company’s eyes. Here are some reasons you may have been let go, despite all that toil and sweat.

1. You Weren’t Working on the Right Things

Anyone can do long and late hours. I’ve known people who regularly put time in on weekends, who never take lunch. None of that means a thing if you weren’t focused on the things that mattered to your employer.

It sounds counterintuitive to say you need to tend to the issues at the top of your organization's agenda. Talk about stating the obvious. And yet, not everyone manages it. Most likely, you enjoy some parts of your job more than others. If you unknowingly or even unintentionally begin to neglect the tasks you aren’t crazy about, it’s going to be a problem.

If you’re not sure what this looks like, here’s an example: Joe was hired to conduct market research and help produce marketing materials. Joe loves and spends most of his time on the writing and graphic design part of his job, but he does very little with the actual market research project that’s of utmost importance to the higher-ups. The research is necessary for informing the company’s outreach efforts, and if it’s not being managed, then Joe’s designed materials are kind of pointless. And if Joe can’t validate why those materials are being produced, well, you can guess what happens.

Although it’s important to build on your natural interests and strengths, it’s imperative that you balance that with meeting your employer’s requirements, even if you don’t find them stimulating.

2. You Suffered From Stagnation

It’s an intense, complicated, and ever-changing world we live in. So if you fail to make an effort to keep pace, you risk becoming irrelevant. Be aware of—if not heavily invested in—current trends in your industry, new technology, and even internal changes within your organization.

Sometimes, though, even that won't suffice. It may not be enough to have a thirst for learning more if you find that you’re not retaining information quickly enough, or getting a grasp of recently implemented tools and systems in a reasonable amount of time. An acquaintance of mine recently fired a pleasant and hard-working intern because he kept making the exact same mistake. By the third time, his good attitude and hard work weren't enough to make him a valuable team player.

Staying current is challenging but necessary. Take a class if you need to, work with a career coach, and don’t underestimate the importance of asking questions.

3. You Didn’t Get Along With Your Co-workers

Your ability to produce results is obviously critical to your viability with an organization, but it’s certainly not the only thing that matters. The CEO of an organization I worked for right out of college once said, “Anyone can be replaced, even me.” She’s not wrong. Unless you possess a highly unique skill set, there are others who can do your job. They may not have your charisma or emotional intelligence, but they can do the work. This becomes an issue if you come across as cocky or abrasive rather than charming and thoughtful.

If you’re part of an industry that’s dependent on your ability to build rapport and communicate effectively with colleagues, then you’d better get along with your co-workers.

You don’t go to the office to make friends; you go to work to do your job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat everyone well. Building and maintaining professional relationships is a part of your 9-to-5, and in order to be successful, you’ve got to figure out how to work cordially with others and show respect for their ideas.

4. You Worked Past the Point of Productivity

In season three of Inside Amy Schumer, the episode titled “Cool With It” features Amy working herself into a coma to support her rapper boyfriend. Of course, the guy decides to check out of the relationship when he makes it big as a result of Amy’s efforts, while Amy is left in the cold, unrecognized and devalued.

While working diligently and producing solid results should ideally be recognized and rewarded by your boss and company, it’s not always the case. And, believe it or not, there is a fine line between hard work and obsessive work—the latter doesn’t usually help you get ahead. In fact, over-working could lead to careless mistakes, sloppy results, or just plain, old burnout.

Taking time away from the office—either during the workday (coffee break, walk around the block), or on weekends, or going on a vacation—is really important for your well-being.

Ever hear of cognitive exhaustion? It taxes your mental and physical strength and could eventually lead to decreased productivity no matter how many hours you’re glued to your computer. Could this be the reason your services were no longer needed?

If you recognize yourself in any of the above situations, that’s great—that’s clarity! Coming to terms about why you got let go means you can think about what you want to do differently in your next position. Learning Keynote or Photoshop is a class away. Talking to a mentor or coach about how to stay focused on tedious tasks is something you can do as early as tomorrow.

Addressing an inability to maintain healthy work relationships may require a larger investment, but it’s one worth making. As the most significant factor in your career, you are worth all the time, money, and energy required to be your best self.

But also keep in mind that, sometimes, being cut loose has nothing to do with what you were working on, how well you played with others, your comfort with current trends, or the quality of work you produced. It may be a simple matter of a company’s bottom line. It’s unfair and unfortunate, but it happens. If a company has decided that your role isn’t worth investing in, no amount of goal-exceeding is going to keep you on staff.

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Photo of upset man courtesy of Shutterstock.