Why do different industries have such a disparity in their attitudes towards firing people?

I work in Information Technology (IT) and being fired is routine and expected for almost everyone. The typical IT worker only lasts months to a few years in any given job but most of them land another one if they have real skills and stick with it. I am lucky because I landed a role in a very profitable and stable industry that I have done well in for 7 years with no end in sight but I am fully aware of the fact that I could be let go tomorrow if needs change and it is almost inevitable that I will be let go at some point through no fault of my own.

On the other hand, some industries treat firing as the equivalent of a murder trial that requires endless documentation for proven offenses and it is treated as a huge black mark that results in an almost pariah status. I know that some of it is related to unions and rules but that just brings up another set of questions.

Why is being fired, laid off, furloughed or whatever you want to call it considered routine in some industries and an extremely serious offense in others?

If the work is professional, well paid with high barriers to entry and where people tend to stay put, the assumption about being fired is (usually) that you have to have screwed pretty badly to be booted. If (for example) a doctor is fired there’s usually a pretty heavy duty backstory.

Fired, laid off, and furloughed are very, very different things, both strictly legally and in terms of general business “morals” or norms.

“Firing” is for cause: You’re a screw-up unable or unwilling to perform the job adequately. Any sensible business makes adequate documentation to defend themselves from lawsuit. Obviously a Mom & Pop diner firing a teen dishwasher for repeated no-shows is going to have less of a need for a paper trail than did, say, Murdoch over firing Robert Ailes after umptten years at the top.

“Furlough” is about being released because they need less total people in your area of expertise. And it contains the expectation that as needs increase, you’ll be asked back and if you come back, will pick up right where you left off career-wise. This is common in industries with strong seasonality or which are prone to boom and bust with the economic cycle. It’s also more common with larger corps vice SMBs, and more common with union than non-union shops.

“Layoff” is about being released because they need less total people in your area of expertise. And it contains NO expectation that as needs increase, you’ll be asked back.

Somehow IT got into the idea that projects are unique, and each project needs a fresh set of employees. With the degree of specific tech knowledge required it became easier to say “the project that’s ending is all in C on Unix; the project beginning is a web app in Python on Windows. So of course we need all new skills and therefore all new people.”

My recollection of the beginning of this trend in IT was as minis were storming the bastions of mainframe shops. The new machines got new workers. The old workers stayed on the old machines.

Then as the old machines were retired, they discovered they could jettison a 20 year employee with a pension and a long vacation plus separate sick leave days for a 5-year employee with a no-match 401K and a short set of personal days to split between vacation and sick leave. Ka-Ching!!!

The rest is history.
Bottom line: firing for cause is everywhere. Treating full-time potentially long-term employees as temps is spreading rapidly. But really got started, at least in the white collar world, in the IT community of the 1990s. So they’re farthest ahead on adopting this not-so-new fashion.

That is a good counterexample. I can see that about doctors but IT people are very well paid too. I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor that has numerous professional complaints against them but most jobs aren’t like that.

In the IT world, most people just get laid off or fired because someone got the bright idea just to offshore the work (that never works as well as promised) or they bring in new technology. I assume there are the equivalents in lots of other industries that are not highly regulated.

It’s kind of hard to get fired from government. You really have to screw up to lose your job.

I’m guessing there are many reasons for this. A major one is that you don’t want folks to panic every time the administration changes.

Civil service laws and regulations were enacted precisely to eliminate the idea that the entire body of government jobs were simply political largesse to be distributed by the chief executive (mayor, county manager, governor, president) of the day.

Certain high level officials (e.g. Federal cabinet members) are exempt from these restrictions. But generic workers (even many senior executives) in the bowels of government are explicitly fenced off from being subject to politician’s whims.

Neither of those are being fired. Jobs were eliminated and they were let go, something that happens in every field.

No, it doesn’t always work that way. I have been ‘laid off’ three different times for very well-known companies and they advertised for an equivalent job the same week. They never gave me a reason why I was let go even though I insisted they tell me. They won’t ever tell you but you can land in an even better one a few months later with better pay and everything else.

If you think it was because I was a failure, it may have been a little in those particular circumstances but I have also been a super-star in even better and much more well known companies. I always tried my best in every position I have had. That is the thing that confuses me. Some of the biggest mega-corps in the world think I am great but some piss-ant startups don’t like my outlook and are happy to get rid of me on a whim. It is mutual because I know they are run by assholes and destined for failure.

Some of it gets ridiculous. I run project management for a mega-corp but I am never listed as the project manager by design to protect me. They always have someone else that runs the the plans and takes responsibility even though I am the one that designs and executes it. The project manager gets paid more than I do but they almost always get fired at the end while I am spared because I am needed and they they are expendable.

I’ve been a software project manager for 20 years, and that has never happened to me or the people around me. I’ve been at big companies and startups, so I’m not sure if the difference is software vs IT. Does your company do contracting?

They are fired “in the end” because your plan was successfully executed? What?

I get there is turnover but your description here doesn’t seem to really jibe with reality unless these were contract jobs for the managers and you are calling being released at the end of the contract “getting fired”.

It doesn’t even have to be offshoring or new technology. The electronics industry is subject to booms and busts and when busts come, lots of people are let go. Every one from engineers and managers to factory workers. One of the things that is different from many other industries (or at least the way it used to be in other industries) is that there’s never any expectation by those laid off, or the ones laying them off, that they’ll be rehired, at least not in that part of the company. Perhaps they could find a position in another department, but it would be essentially a new hire in most respects.

I’ve had state employment workers ask me if I might be rehired, and that surprised me. I was so used to the way things worked in electronics that I forgot things worked differently in other industries. Of course that was before all the offshoring happened, so now other industries are probably more like electronics.

I work in IT for one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It is almost all contractors within IT including management but not all of us are the same. I am supposed to be one of the “permanent” ones with management responsibilities. Most of the rest of them are completely expendable and they get kicked out the door every day. Sometimes I help speed that process along. That is why I asked the question. I see reasonably good people being fired every day for no offense but, in other industries, it seems to take an Act of God to even give a simple discipline finding. I have helped people get fired simply because I said I didn’t like them very much and didn’t think they were doing a very good job. There was nothing else needed.

I’m confused…If you can get somebody fired on a whim, do you also train his replacement on a whim?
It costs time (=money) to train new people. Often, it takes a lot of time=money.

What were all these “reasonably good people” doing for your company?
Companies hire people who can produce something useful, i.e.-the company earns a profit.

I can understand why in some industries people get laid off immediately when their project ends.
This happens in IT, but also in, say, construction companies, and for the same reason…

But how can a company produce a profit-making stream of work, if they are so busy firing and retraining everybody?

If you’re a contractor you don’t get fired, to be fired you need to be internal.

Professionals are fired on a routine basis?? :dubious: I have never heard of this. This must be an exaggeration. Why would anyone want to work there?

I work in IT and firing is definitely not a routine thing in my area.People do move jobs all the time, but that’s them quitting, not being fired. Retrenchments are a thing too. Even allowing for our much more worker-friendly labour laws, I would not characterise the IT industry as fire-happy. Quite the opposite, there’s such a skills shortage you could get away with murder (like, say posting to the Dope during a workday :slight_smile: )

And really, even if you’re internal, you might have been hired for a specific time period or for a specific project and it wouldn’t be considered “being fired” when you no longer have your job as a lifeguard at the end of the summer or when you no longer have a job at the end of a political campaign.

It isn’t an exaggeration at all. Everywhere I have ever worked professionally has been like that. I use the term “fired” loosely because it is a distinction without a difference much of the time. It doesn’t really make much of a difference if companies get rid of their internal employees, replace them with contractors and then send them through a revolving door. The end result is the same. Part of my job is system administrator so I have to read the daily causality reports and terminate access. It is an eye opener when you see the number and types of people coming across.

People in IT want to work “there” and every other company just like it because the pay is good while you have a job and it is fairly prestigious. OTOH, it very frustrating when someone like me who has only been there for a few years is one of the most senior people because almost everyone you have worked with is gone either voluntarily or involuntarily and you know it will continue to happen. I happen to be one of the ones that benefits from instability right now but most people don’t. I am surprised other people haven’t had similar experiences.

Some people do, some people don’t. Pharma has a reputation for having a lot of money, but also one for having too much money. If there is anything about a system which works fine out of the box but which isn’t exactly as they’d like it, they want it changed and the response to “that will be costl” is “I don’t care, just do it”. With a lot of programs, that leads to a spiral of patches upon patches for the patches of the patches. Add how many Pharma companies have a “need to know” mindset which is in the ugly side of paranoid, and many of us would rather get paid less and sleep better.

I’ve consulted at a few places like that.

And the reasons they do that:

  1. It gives them a flexible work force that they can resize on demand.

  2. They don’t carry the liability for employees - almost everyone is a contractor, so they don’t have vacation sitting on their books, they aren’t carrying unemployment or workers comp.

  3. They don’t pay benefits - and the big one they avoid paying is bonuses and stock options.

  4. In IT, the superstar developers often prefer contracting - they can do interesting work, solve problems, then leave - and get paid much better. I run a small boutique consulting shop. One of my guys has a $172 an hour TO HIM bill rate. The lowest bill rate I have is a Business Analyst making $60 an hour. No one wants to pay $200 an hour for a consultant forever, but when you need “the guy” for three months - you’ll pay. Most of these guys wouldn’t dream of taking a regular W-2 job. They prefer consulting, shorter term gigs (not more than 18 months), and corp to corp.

  5. They let them go after two years because it reduces co-employment risk. This is where the IRS decides that they weren’t a consultant at all and makes you pay their taxes and back benefits. Having someone show up every day at a job for set hours for years, doing tasks you assign to them, on your equipment - and calling them a contractor and not giving them stock options is a no no.