How not to get your ass fired: Part 2

As you have no doubt cleverly deduced from the title, this is the second installment in my series, “Mama AnnMaria’s Advice on How Not to Get Your Ass Fired.”

In Part 1, I explained why employees who (in their view) never make mistakes end up getting their asses fired.

Today’s lesson is:

Understand that your boss doesn’t have to explain everything to you.

Let’s say that you believe that you are doing stellar work. Let’s further assume that the work you are doing is both something objectively difficult –  3-D modeling, software development, teaching probability theory – and that you believe to be important.

You are doing a great job and are highly skilled but they are not paying you the salary you believe you deserve

As I see it, there are four possibilities.

  1. The organization cannot afford to pay you more than you are getting.
  2. Your boss is a moron.
  3. They are hoping you will quit.
  4. The work you are doing is not of the quality or importance that you believe it is.

Let’s consider possibility number one. If that is the case and everything you assume about your performance is true, then the organization should be trying to make it up to you in other ways. I once worked for a non-profit where my boss couldn’t offer me a raise but cut my hours 25% and gave me the same pay. They might give you flexible hours, a nice office, a travel budget, an impressive-sounding title. None of those things are the same as cash but they at least show the organization is making an effort.

Let’s assume that they do none of that and you are treated like a peon. They even make you wear that Hotdog on a Stick uniform even though you don’t work at Hotdog on a Stick. There remain the last three possibilities.

Why would your boss want you to quit? In my experience, the two most common reasons are:

  • You are a pain in the ass
  • The work you are doing is not of the quality or importance that you believe it is.

There are things your boss may not tell you for very good reasons, say,  non-disclosure agreements.

It is possible that your work is not really all that important.

Yes, you have done a fabulous job creating the company website. However, the company is in merger negotiations after which the website will be taken down and all of the products listed under Acme Giant Corporation, Inc. You may be fabulous at teaching probability theory but the university is discontinuing its Statistics major due to lack of students enrolling in Northern Alaska On a Mountaintop University.

They also may not be telling you that they are hoping you will quit to avoid the unpleasantness of having to fire you.

Why on earth would anyone ever want to fire you, other than that your work isn’t as important as you think?


Another possibility, as much as this may cause you pain, is that your work isn’t as good as you think it is


Perhaps you suffer from the Big Fish in a Small Pond Syndrome. Maybe you know more about Windows 8 than any of your friends. Let us at least entertain the notion that you may have particularly stupid friends. Yes, you were the IT expert at your old job but there were only six people in that company and they were in the janitorial business. Now you work IT at Microsoft and they are not impressed that you know what a printer driver is.

You should be aware of the Performance: Pain in the Ass Theorem

To whit, there is no performance so great that it cannot be exceeded by the pain in the ass of putting up with you. (Note that even Steve Jobs got fired from Apple).

Since it is past 2 am in North Dakota, from which I returned at midnight on Friday, and I have not one, but two meetings in the morning, further explanation of this highly important theorem in the field of Not-Getting-Your-Ass-Fired will have to wait until another post.


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  1. I would add something here about asking for a pay rise. In private enterprise, people often only get incremental pay increases unless they sit down with their boss and say ‘I’m dissatisfied with my salary, and I don’t want to have to find a new job just to get a raise’.

    There are a lot of people who will bump along working incrementally better and getting paid incrementally more, so maybe that fits for a lot of people. But if you’re a bit of an upstart, or you are a bit more determined to exceed expectations, that isn’t enough. And often those are the very employees that a company needs to retain the most.

    I’ve heard that there is a gender bias to this behaviour; I identify with the classic male-attributed behaviour of ‘this is what I’m worth, pay it or I’m going’, which is perhaps colder and more egotistical, but it is the better rational negotiation strategy.

    Many of the women I know would never demand a pay rise, but would probably ask for one. If I ran a business, I would take that as the same statement as the demand, because the effect is probably the same.

    I also believe that these gentler souls are no less worthy of a decent salary, but they are much easier for a boss to turn down. Just pull an anxious face and say ‘well, I’m really sorry, but there’s just no budget this year; maybe if we get you some training we could look at it further down the line….’. By stating that you’re worth more than they’re paying and you’ll walk, you’ve pitched into the confrontation already, and they would have to fight you on the grounds you’ve stated. If you are the PITA mentioned in the article, sure, you’ll find out that you’re worth firing(!) but if you’re genuinely worth the money they will take it seriously.

    Pay is an issue on which your boss’s interests are not aligned with your own, unless you threaten to quit.

  2. I’ve done that also, Phil. The key is that when you do that, you really need to be ready to move on if they say, “No.” Sometimes there really is no budget and you need to move on. As far as they gender bias, you are exactly correct. In my experience, men generally also have a higher estimate of what they are worth in the marketplace. Maybe they are correct given the disparity in salaries if we define worth as what someone else is likely to pay you.

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