How Being Too Competent Can Get You Fired

Being the weakest performer in the company or performing a service that’s utterly dispensable is dangerous to your continued employment, especially in a weak job market. But working hard and being good at what you do is potentially dangerous as well, especially if your bosses are insecure, paranoid, and just not a good as you are. To people who think this way, having a bright future within the company makes you a threat. Your future endangers theirs.

Over at Five Cent Nickel, Jeffrey Steele explains the phenomenon, using the example of a talented employee named “Ned.” A colleague’s absence gave Ned a chance to shine… a little too brightly for his boss’s taste.

A colleague within his organization left on a sabbatical, and Ned was tabbed to cover both his own responsibilities and the sales functions of the departing co-worker. The following weeks proved pivotal.

Ned not only shouldered his own duties with his customary aplomb, but injected fresh new insights into the sales position. Under Ned’s stewardship, sales and revenues climbed to levels never before tallied by the firm.

That’s when Ned’s boss “got it.” Not only was Ned good, he was too good. Any more brilliance from him, and she might be leapfrogged on the corporate ladder by the very man whose job performance she graded.

When Ned’s next job review came around, he had reason to expect an even more glowing appraisal. Instead, his boss tore into him, ripping his decision-making skills and marginalizing his contributions to the company. And from all accounts she managed to pull it off with a straight face.

Maybe she thought he’d get mad and quit, but that didn’t happen. So she began hinting, first subtly and then more baldly, that Ned should look elsewhere for employment.

Ned finally was forced out, his boss kept her post and large paycheck, and the firm lost a vital contributor.

Steele’s advice to workers? Not to go out of your way to be mediocre, but to have enough savings on hand to get through brief or even extended periods of unemployment. Don’t assume that mere competence at your job is enough to guarantee your future financial security.

What a Threat Begets [Five Cent Nickel]