Sadly, innate stupidity isn't a firing offense. It's the brilliant things stupid people do that get them canned.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently fired a city employee for playing solitaire on his computer at work during business hours. Bloomberg, who made a fortune by building the premier real-time financial newswire from scratch, is obviously a futzy traditionalist who believes workers should, you know, work.
"Be in tune with the corporate culture," says Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of Five O'clock Club, a career placement and coaching organization in New York. "You also have to be aware that computer technology keeps a record of everything you do. You don't want to have porn on your hard drive--believe me, that's not as uncommon as you'd think."
How stupid can you be? You've probably never put your mind to it. We have.
Improper use of the company's computer isn't the only big mistake you can make; there are other ways to get yourself fired that require less thought and talent.
In Michigan, a reporter and a photographer at a small newspaper got the boot for guzzling beer while doing a story on "beer pong." This is the end of journalism as we know it.
Still, mixing alcohol and work is a tried and true way to get a pink slip. Boozing at a company party and picking a fight with the boss is all but guaranteed to get you the gate, but just being drunk and obnoxious is a good start. This just in: Drinking on (or even around) the job isn't smart.
Many aspiring Einsteins don't realize that the office computer system keeps a copy of every e-mail sent. Ponder that awesome truth the next time you're about to crank up your Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Apple Computer to send a saucy note to the hottie in the next cubicle, or you're about to flame the boss for his latest manifestation of what you consider terminal idiocy. Moral: Don't assume your work e-mail account is private. (See "Kiss 'N Tell Via E-Mail" and "Flirting Without Disaster.")
Trashing the company's Web site or scrambling proprietary data is generally frowned upon by the Big Wigs, but it's not uncommon for grunts with a grievance to go digital after going ballistic. (See "How To Ruin Your Career In Ten Easy Steps.")
Why just miss deadlines when you can lie about it, too? That's a winning combination for those who want to be on the unemployment line.
Theft is another good way to get yourself fired. Your manager isn't a Sunday school teacher and won't take the time to teach you right and wrong. Your manager's task is much simpler: Protect the company's reputation from a low-life thief.
Talking about the company to outsiders without authorization can get you fired. You don't want to talk out of school to the press and an intemperate blog entry can get you kicked down the stairs, especially if your Web comments are unauthorized. It's best to leave press statements to the company press officer and, if it's not too difficult, think how your blog entry will be seen by outsiders. If loyalty is asking to much, at least think who signs your paycheck. (See "I Pledge Allegiance To My Company.")
Some philosopher-kings pull what seem like junior high pranks and get fired. Telling the boss that you've bought a rusty tire iron or contracted with the mob because you didn't get the pay raise you feel you deserve might be seen as a threat and therefore seriously unfunny. Selling your computer or other company equipment to keep you in cheese and crackers until pay day isn't sound fiscal management.
Bringing a pillow to work to make your afternoon naps more restful isn't considered entrepreneurial. Some people do this — no kidding. There are many ways to save money, but cutting back on soap, shampoo and trips to the Laundromat aren't recommended. (See "Dressing For The Job.")
Phoning in sick and then showing up in the afternoon to make deliveries for your home toy business won't be appreciated by your boss.
Carrying on in the supply room may seem daring in a junior high school sort of way, but your co-workers are likely to find it stupid and annoying. You can bet that your boss won't be cheering you on as work piles up on your desk.
Being a manager isn't easy. A good manger remains rational and shows balance when others fail on both scores. Some school administrators miss this basic point when they seize fingernail clippers or nail files as "weapons," put kids on probation for bringing dangerous drugs like aspirin to school or send little boys to the gulag for pulling girls' pigtails, otherwise known as "sexual harassment." In Reno, Nevada, a 14-year-old ninth grader had to get a court order to read W.H. Auden's "The More Loving One" during National Poetry Month. School administrators objected because the poem contained what school officials deemed inappropriate language--damn and hell.
If you're a manager faced with a terminally stupid employee, you must make it clear that certain behavior is unacceptable and chart a course to redemption. This generally requires a closed-door, no-holds-barred meeting where you lay things out chapter and verse. Put the warning in writing and document any future transgressions. You'll have to work with the personnel department to fire bad employees and that can be sticky. (See "How To Motivate Bad Employees" and "Firing A Worker.")
Having an idiot for a boss is no excuse, gentle worker. (See "How To Work For An Idiot.")
These basic techniques will work for privately held companies and major corporations such as Chevron, Microsoft, Intel, JP Morgan or Home Depot.
"Most good work habits are just common sense," says Bayer.
Or, as your grandmother used to say, "Don't stick beans up your nostrils."