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So in the last month a few people have been terminated, 2 were old hires, 1 was a new hire. I've not heard any official reason why this is happening, just hearsay from colleagues.

I'm relatively new to the company and I'm worried that my job might be at risk since recent hires are often the first to be laid off. Don't get me wrong, I'm doing well and I've exceeded expectations in my performance reviews but if the company is forced to downsize someone has got to go.

I understand that these employees' personal circumstances could have been the reason for their termination. But since I haven't been told anything, as far as I know, it could be because of structural or financial changes that might affect the whole company. Furthermore, it was a few people within a short period of time which I have not seen happen before at my company. Is it appropriate to ask why these people were terminated?

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    You can ask, but don't expect anything but a sanitised response :) – Jane S Aug 28 '15 at 11:54
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    The better question is if they were fired or laid off. If they were laid off, then your question is answered. If they were fired, then you have no business knowing the specific reasons why. – David K Aug 28 '15 at 12:44
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    Welcome to the site, I've edited your post to make it a bit clearer. I wonder though why you say that it's unusual at this company for several people to be fired in a short period when you claim to be a recent hire? – Lilienthal Aug 28 '15 at 14:53
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    Just a thought, it may be more worthwhile to ask your manager if there are any areas in which he feels you can improve. This gets to what you really need to know, and frames it in a much more positive manner. – djohnson10 Aug 28 '15 at 15:18
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    Yep, I disagree with the advice that one should just put their nose to the grindstone and keep working. Now is the time to assess what is going on at the company. Unfortunately, you can't just ask management and expect a true answer. Some places will viciously terminate people "for cause" to save money, other places will lay-off low performers. – teego1967 Aug 28 '15 at 16:19
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A short answer: No, it is not appropriate to ask why a person was let go from the company. There are legal and common courtesy reasons for not discussing an employee's reason for no longer working there.

If they left on their own, and on good terms, you'd know. It wouldn't have been a secret. If they left on their own, and not on good terms, it's none of our business. If they didn't go voluntarily, for whatever reason, it's none of our business.

To clarify, it's none of our business why that person was let go. But, it is our business to find out whether we may be in the same situation as the others. It would be entirely appropriate to schedule time with your manager and ask the question like this: "I notice that some people are no longer here. I am concerned that the same thing could happen to me. Am I doing what you need me to do? Where can I improve?"

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    After one of my co-workers was fired I asked their boss "Do you have any tips on keeping my career here long and prosperous?" and we had an impromptu meeting where I learned the reason for the termination, but that wasn't as valuable as the advice I got during the rest of the meeting. – Rick Aug 28 '15 at 16:49
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    That happened to me a few months ago - when 3 people on my fairly small team all left within two weeks, with little to no warning, I got a bit worried and made it known I was a tiny bit worried, like there was some horrible change coming down the pipeline I wasn't privy to or something. Later that day, my boss's boss's boss pulled me aside to explain the totally legitimate and unrelated (both relocation-related) reasons two of them decided to leave, and that the third one had been fired for reasons he obviously didn't explain, but that I could guess. I felt much better. :D – neminem Aug 28 '15 at 21:13
  • The only occasion in my personal experience where it was "everybody's business" to know was when police (accompanied by a senior manager) entered an open-plan office during the working day, arrested an employee, and took away his work computer and other items as criminal evidence. The management made a short statement as to the allegations against him (which were a complete surprise to everybody else), and more of the details became public later in local news media reports of the trial. AFAIK, he's still in jail. But normally, if the person leaving doesn't want to tell you why, don't ask. – alephzero Aug 29 '15 at 1:31
  • @Rick He shouldn't have told you the reason for terminating them. That was a severe breach of confidentiality. – Philipp Aug 29 '15 at 8:32
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    Common courtesy is culture dependant I guess, as for me common courtesy would be for the boss to inform the team (of course the talk will be sanitised, but at least he should try). Why call it a team if team members have no right to ask about each other, let alone care? Not asking anything and burying your head in the sand is just proving that you care only about yourself and are not a team player IMHO. I do agree that your advice may be valid for the most impersonal companies though. – Shautieh Aug 29 '15 at 10:57
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When I fire someone, or lay someone off, I make a decision about what to tell the rest of the staff. With a firing, sometimes I am very open about the performance problems the person had and the steps I took to work on them with the employee - especially where others were aware the employee was struggling; other times I say less on the matter. With a layoff I am always clear on where the company stands but I may not go into details about who was chosen beyond "it was based on the skills mix the company needs going forward." I have enough experience to know that coworkers are going to be curious, and a little worried for themselves, so we would often have a short meeting that was focused on that aspect of this - how does this affect the remaining workers?

I can tell you this - if I've decided not to discuss why I fired someone, being asked why I fired someone would change nothing. Asking almost implies that I hadn't considered the possibility others are curious or worried, and of course I have considered it. As a result I would be a little offended. If you're young as well as a new hire, I would chalk it up to inexperience. If you're experienced enough to know better, it would lower my opinion of you that you're pressing for details on a decision of mine either out of personal curiosity or perhaps because you think I made a bad decision.

I recommend you ask questions about yourself not about the people who have left. Are there layoffs underway and are you at risk? Will you be picking up new duties to cover some of what the terminated people used to do? Is the focus of the company or department or team changing? Are the standards of good performance changing (perhaps because of a new manager) meaning you should adjust your behaviour? (Typically that gets announced, but you can ask if you like.) Questions about yourself are not as invasive or curiosity-based as questions about another person.

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    While you may be a good communicator, many managers are not. I've had numerous occasions where the manager was perfectly happy discuss such issues but it simply hadn't occurred to them to tell me. I think being offended at a polite question and allowing it to lower your opinion of someone is perhaps a little extreme for something that could be put down to them wanting to know if their job is secure. – Jon Story Aug 28 '15 at 23:48
  • +1 because I think what you are trying to do is the right thing for your team. Old team member will understand if you don't want to talk about a particular case because they know it's not your usual behaviour, but you shouldn't feel offended if young ones try to inquire about it because aside from inexperience, they may think that you never talk about fired co-workers upfront in general (and some managers prefer to wait for individual questions)... – Shautieh Aug 29 '15 at 11:05
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    @JonStory your point is valid but still, if you want to know if your job is secure, ask me if your job is secure. Asking me "why did you do that thing you did last week?" is a different question and (as the OP knows because this question was no doubt inspired by knowing it might not be taken well) might not be taken well. – Kate Gregory Aug 29 '15 at 12:00
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    Would you be at all offended by "Is there anything more you can tell me about Joe's departure?" Allowing for the possibility that a manager addressing a group of people may not have wanted to bore them with information most wouldn't care about, but that one might be more interested than others in the group, but also allowing for the possibility that the answer may very likely be "Not really, beyond what I've just said". – supercat Aug 29 '15 at 12:25
  • I wouldn't be offended, @supercat, but I would probably reply asking for a more detailed and specific question. I can't tell whether you want to know if Joe is angry, when his last date will be, how much severance pay I gave him, or what Joe did wrong to get fired. You would be amazed what people ask, btw. – Kate Gregory Aug 29 '15 at 12:45
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You don't want to know.

You won't get a real reason, as it could be a difficult issue (maybe legal, maybe unpleasant, maybe the MD just didn't like them, maybe the company is in trouble, nothing they would tell you about now). It may also be something you don't want to hear (maybe it was for asking why the last person was fired?)

If you are going to be canned for the same reason, you'll find out soon enough, if not, just focus on going forward, it's never worth it.

  • Can't agree more.Especially as a newer employee, the less you know about the circumstances around someone's involuntary departure from the company, the better off you are. They were here, now they're not. World keeps spinning, keep doing your job to the best of your ability. – alroc Aug 28 '15 at 13:45
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    If management thinks you need to know, they'll tell you. – keshlam Aug 28 '15 at 15:20
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    As Kent's answer indicated, it is actually important for the OP to assess if the same fate might await him (without explicitly asking why person X was fired). Asking why someone was fired and getting fired for THAT is a ridiculous scenario that only happens with absurdly capricious management. – teego1967 Aug 28 '15 at 16:09
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    @keshlam: Correction, if management wants you to know, they'll tell you. Just because management thinks you need to know doesn't mean they'll share it. Very often management only shares those things that of benefit to them or the company. – Joel Etherton Aug 28 '15 at 16:57
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    You really sound like mercenaries here! Why wouldn't I want to know if the co-worker who got fired seemed to work well and had no known problems with the hierarchy? I would ask, and if I would get fired because of it, then so be it. – Shautieh Aug 29 '15 at 10:43
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In my experience working in corporations, employees never get told the full and accurate picture of why someone was fired. Unlike the other answers which encourage you to ask your boss if there is anything you need to do to improve so that you feel more secure about your job, I would strongly advise you not to do that. If you do that then you reveal to your boss that you feel insecure. Your boss is very unlikely to say anything that will calm your worries. S/he will give you some meaningless, sanitized, standard response and before long may start dumping more work on you that s/he could not offload on to anyone else in the team, because he knows you are insecure so you will meekly do whatever it takes.

IMO, your best option is to not get too worried about your position, carry on as usual and start looking for other jobs with other companies. If a company fires several people in a short time from a project then something is either wrong with the company or with the managers/executives of the project. It is very rare to find that the employees who got fired were at fault in such a situation. In either case you should probably start looking for another job. You don't have to become frantic but it may be a good idea to set the wheels in motion, update your resume, start looking at job postings online etc.

Your boss and other higher ups are never your friends or even well-wishers. Never reveal your mind to any of them. No manager or execute deserves that level of trust.

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    I couldn't disagree more with this advice. It is not true that your boss cannot be a well-wisher to you. A good boss is like gold. It's true, and unfortunate, that not every boss is such a person, which is why a good one is worth a lot. – Kent A. Aug 28 '15 at 22:42
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    “Never reveal your mind to any of them.” Ideally, they shouldn’t even know your real name. – Paul D. Waite Aug 28 '15 at 23:50
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Being laid off is a bit different from being fired. Being fired generally means that someone did something wrong and they are being terminated from their position.

As far as being laid off, that is fairly common. It is hard to predict how a company lays people off but generally it is due to internal restructuring.

I would say figure out exactly what happened to them. Were they fired? Or were they laid off?

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I think it is very important that an official reason and statement is given by management whenever someone leaves.

Either that they wanted to leave, that their objective were not met, that their behavior was not satisfactory, that they did something that justified firing them, or that the shape of the company does not permit the expense of keeping them...

Learning by hearsay that someone left is very bad, and can only lead to tensions, suspicions and fear.

Now, the explanation does not need to be extremely detailed, but it should tell the other employees that the decision was not arbitrary, that they won't get fired the next minute, and that there usually are discussions, warning and signs before the decision is made.

If people disappear without a trace from a day to the next, the climate will not stay good very long.

To actually answer the question, yes you should try to know, but your manager should have told you at least a few things.

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    I worked at a company that would never release information about employees leaving for any reason. It got so bad that if I couldn't find someone, I'd have to ask one of their coworkers "Is X on vacation or is he gone?" I ended up befriending people in HR so I could get at least some indication about who was still working there or not (IT would not shut off email addresses, either, so nothing would bounce). – Voxwoman Aug 28 '15 at 20:12
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    Welcome to the Workplace, njzk2 -- appreciate your contribution, but I don't know that it actually answers the question. You're describing what companies should do, rather than if the coworker should ask. It's a tough situation for a company to be in, and by giving any reason at all puts them at risk for misrepresentation. – mcknz Aug 28 '15 at 20:18
  • @mcknz I try to explain the reason why seeking an answer is reasonnable and should be appropriate in companies that have a sane working environment. I could detail on how the employee should enquire (asking during a large meeting is probably not the way to go). – njzk2 Aug 28 '15 at 20:21
  • @mcknz giving any reason at all puts them at risk for misrepresentation I would argue that a/ not giving reason leaves room for speculations and rumours, which I find worse and b/ giving a reason gives an opportunity to partially control the representation in an at least not-too-negative way. (control is way too strong a word, but I can't find the nuance I search right now) – njzk2 Aug 28 '15 at 20:25
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    @mcknz now that i read my answer again, I understand your point. I emphasize a lot on what should have happened before the question was even raised. I'll try to develop on what the OP could do later. – njzk2 Aug 28 '15 at 20:29

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