Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Is Being Laid Off The Same Thing As Being Fired?

There is no shame anymore in being fired.   

It has happened to almost every executive I know.  Accounts get lost, business turns down, and there are mergers or other changes in management which often result in you being the person who finds yourself redundant.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.

The irony is that almost no one gets fired any more.  They get laid off.

I think that people who are terminated believe that being laid off is a much more acceptable term than being fired. It is somehow less harsh. But being laid off or fired are two sides of the same coin.

Once upon a time in advertising and other businesses, being fired carried a negative stigma.  It more than likely meant you were not performing well.  But starting in the 1980’s, as the holding companies started buying and merging agencies, many people became victims of this environment as multiple people could not have the same job. At one point in the late eighties, advertising unemployment was about 25%.  So there was no shame in being out of work.

Unfortunately, there are still a few people in the business who look down their noses at people who are out of work.  They should only realize that it a matter of time before they are laid off or fired.   

So be it.

Somehow companies would rather say that an employee being terminated is actually laid off.
But a lay off carries the connotation that if the situation changes or improves, the laid off candidate will be rehired.  Sadly this rarely happens. 

When I am interviewing candidates who are out of work, I always ask what caused that situation.  In over thirty years of recruiting, very few candidates have admitted that they screwed up.  Most tell me that there was a company cut back so they were laid off even if they were the only person to be let go. It is really easy to determine the truth. 

At any rate, these days in advertising, where clients pay fees which cover the employees who work on their business, clients have the ability to pick and choose the people who work on their account.  And, of course, if the client changes agencies, almost everyone who spent a majority of their time on a particular piece of business can expect to be laid off no matter how well they have contributed or performed.   I have written about high performing people who are let go rather than being rotated on to another piece of business – it is simply easier to terminate rather than manage the complicated process of moving someone on to another account.  

Being laid off is wishful thinking.  Being fired is more difficult. But they mean the same thing.


  1. For my dime, fired is easier to deal with, I’ve been fired for being a “bad fit” after being hired to be a”game changer.” Buyer’s remorse. Been laid off because agency leadership was cratering the business. In both cases, it was on me in case one, I knew the CEO was appalled at what game-changing really entailed. In the latter case, I was deluding myself that the boat could be saved. Either way, it was on me. Lessons learned can be painful. But worth it if you learn to honor your battle scars. As it turns out, both the people who pushed me out of their swamps came to ignominious ends. Lesson learned: work with honorable people. The rest will sort itself out.

    1. Part of growing up in business is knowing what you can and cannot do. I had an experience where I was hired at a terrible agency that claimed to want to "fix" the problem. When I figured out what the problem was, I knew that I was way over my head and left. It was on me, too.

  2. I once worked for Agency A, which merged with Agency B. The marriage rapidly unraveled for circumstances far above my pay grade, whereby Agency B summarily fired me without cause. Agency A attempted to hire me back, but I responded with "Thanks, but no thanks," and soon found a new home at a different shop. Within a year, both Agency A and Agency B had ceased to exist. In retrospect, being fired was the exact wake-up call my career needed.

    1. As I wrote this column, I realized that I knew several instances where people went back, mostly to disastrous results. You were smart to turn the offer down. I will be writing about that soon.

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