You are currently viewing In this economy, getting fired takes a lot of work.

In this economy, getting fired takes a lot of work.

To hold a job these days, a worker apparently needs one essential trait: a pulse.

Some jobs have always required little more than the ability to stay awake. In the tightest job market for half a century, those in higher positions can also get by simply following the movements.

“You’d have to be incredibly ugly” to get fired as a software engineer right now, says David Cancel, who employs about 700 people as chief executive of Boston-based marketing intelligence firm Drift. artificial. “Most companies, and we in some cases, keep people who wouldn’t be on the team in a looser market. The standards would be higher.

Although some economists are warning of a slowdown ahead, layoffs and layoffs in recent months have been at or near record highs, according to the Labor Department. Less than 1% of workers receive pink slips, about half the norm, with job security particularly nice in finance, education, healthcare and the public sector.

To those who put in less effort or just don’t measure up: your boss probably knows that. But there’s no guarantee you’ll find someone better anytime soon, so you’ll likely keep cashing that paycheck.

Just as companies like to brag about their aspirational corporate cultures — and have plenty of ways to track employee productivity — some would happily settle for mediocrity right now.

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When HR software company UKG recently surveyed around 2,000 managers, around two-thirds said they would rehire poor former employees, and 16% said they would take on anyone, regardless of his skill.

“It’s what I call bird-in-the-hand management,” says UKG vice-president David Gilbertson, who leads the company’s workforce research. “The companies I talk to are all worried about recruitment.”

Companies across a wide range of industries are committing to training or retraining the people they already have, adds Jim Link, director of human resources at the Society for Human Resource Management. Onboarding a new worker cost thousands of dollars before the pandemic, according to SHRM, and has since become more expensive as many people show up to offices part-time, if at all.

Employers are “looking at how to improve the skills and abilities of the employees on their staff, and they’re working hard to do that,” says Link.

This may mean teaching workers how to do their current job better or moving them to different positions, in the hope that they will be decent at something else.

Basically, managers are trying to become like Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots football coach who turned wide receiver Troy Brown into a solid defensive back, converted quarterback Julian Edelman into a pass catcher prolific and used linebacker Mike Vrabel to score touchdowns. in two Super Bowls.

Not that I’m advising you to slack off. The national unemployment rate touched 14.7% in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, before falling to 3.6% last month. Now, some companies that boomed during the recovery may have overshot their growth plans. This seems to have been the case in Carvana,

which announced last week that it would cut its workforce by 12%, eliminating around 2,500 positions.

Joshua Presnall says he was stunned to lose his job delivering cars for the Chattanooga, Tennessee, company after seeing its employee numbers quadruple in two years. However, he quickly regained his faith in the job market.

Mr. Presnall created an online spreadsheet where former laid-off colleagues could post their details and where recruiters could do the same. Within days, more than 200 recruiters had entered their details, many soliciting applications from former Carvana employees.

Mr. Presnall, 23, says he has lined up a dozen job interviews and hopes to land a role that will make full use of his marketing degree.

“Getting fired might have been the best thing that could have happened for my career,” he says.

To figure out how bad you can afford to be at your own job, ask yourself the following question, says Benjamin Friedrich, associate professor of strategy at Northwestern University: “How valuable is what you’re doing to people? business results? »

If you’re not very important, then your performance (or underperformance) isn’t likely to do much harm, and the irony is that you might be worth keeping to some degree. Dr. Friedrich says he hears of companies giving menial jobs to mediocre employees, instead of firing them.

The stakes are higher for people in bigger roles. Several HR specialists have told me that executives who show disappointing results can be in danger because their failures are more costly.

The willingness of companies to support below-average employees could lead the good ones to look elsewhere if they don’t feel rewarded enough.

Wall Street banks that paid out huge bonuses after last year’s big stock market gains may not be able to offer such big payouts this year as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 13 % so far in 2022.

Mark Ross, a former banking vice president turned finance career coach, says a lean year can set back the careers of hard-working people by reducing the number of promotions available. In an age when those who miss their act avoid harsh consequences, stars can miss out on the usual prompts.

In teams where there is little distinction between good and bad work, morale can erode over time.

“You’re showing your best employees the low end of what you’ll tolerate,” says Jessie Wisdom, co-founder of Humu, a company that helps companies motivate their teams. “If I’m working very hard, but I see that management doesn’t treat me any differently than someone who does the bare minimum, it’s very demotivating.

“Why should I do my best? »

Write to Callum Borchers at callum.borchers@wsj.com

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