23 Ways to Get Fired

Editor’s note: The following article has been adapted from the chapter “50 Ways To Get Fired” from author Andy Epstein’s book, The Corporate Creative, to be published by HOW Books in April 2010.

There are plenty of ways for designers in the corporate environment to succeed beyond the obvious practice of producing top-notch creative work. Professional behaviors and skills are every bit as important to your in-house success as being a good designer. I can recall times I’ve watched helplessly as excellent creatives crashed and burned because they didn't practice proper business and personal etiquette. Some were incapable of understanding the rules, some were dead set against following the rules and some just didn't care. Beyond that, though, is the fact that how you choose (or not) to conduct yourself in your relationships with your clients, peers and employers is more than just greasing the wheels of corporate politics—those behaviors are absolutely essential to the process of creating effectively designed materials for your companies.

Conversely there are times when corporate policies can compromise you and your team’s creativity, productivity, integrity and even humanity. Sometimes logic and simple decency buckle under the quest for efficiency (read standardization) or legal priorities of companies. It can feel as if you've walked through Alice’s looking glass and the very behaviors and practices that should be rewarded or condemned become inverted. At that point it’s best to push back and assert yourself, even if it means confrontation and possible dismissal. No job, no position, no title is worth giving up your ideals and beliefs. That being said, there are ways to stand up for what you believe in that are effective, and there are ways that are potentially self-destructive. Some ways will empower you to transform yourself, your colleagues and your work environment. Others will piss off your peers and upper management and get you fired—or even worse, leave you working in a hostile environment. The aim of this article is to offer strategies and tactics that will support you in the former and help you avoid the latter. To do that I’m serving up 15 ways to get fired—in the hopes that you’ll NOT try these at work. (However, if you’re truly miserable and want to get out, by all means, give them a try.) Then I’ll list 8 ways to break rules in order to succeed where your corporations might be unintentionally setting you up to fail.

    Piss off your clients.

    Here are ways to thoroughly alienate, aggravate and lose the trust of the people whom you’re supposed to be supporting.

  1. Avoid your clients. When they call, don’t answer the phone. Leave messages only when you know they're not there. Don’t respond to emails and don’t talk to them when you see them in the halls. Never ever have lunch with them.
  2. Be rude and abrupt in the few communications you do have with them. Don’t use proper salutations in your emails. Don’t say please or thank you. Keep your sentences short and grammatically incorrect and add numerous misspellings lest they think you care enough about them to use spell check. Never sign your emails or leave your contact info in a voicemail. Bonus tip: Eat and type on your keyboard while you’re on the phone.
  3. Interrupt your clients when they're giving you direction or feedback. Know they have nothing of value to offer. If they do get a word in, shoot them a disdainful and dismissive look.
  4. Miss deadlines. Need I say more on this point?
  5. Say no as much as possible. NEVER say yes—just sigh and, if they happen to be in the room with you, roll your eyes for added effect.
  6. Bad mouth your clients to others in your company. Complain about their lack of understanding of design and that they’re control freaks (which you, of course, are not).

    Piss off your fellow designers and managers.

    These are the others in your group whom you're supposed to support.

  8. Make it all about you. Take credit for as much as you can (and more). Never share credit with others. Bonus tip - Do not participate in any team building events, departmental social gatherings or new staff welcomes or leaving staff send-offs.
  9. Work on freelance projects on company time. If your manager can't keep you busy that's their problem. Never offer to take on a long-term project such as archiving all your stock images.
  10. Complain about your peers to your fellow designers, managers and staff in other departments.
  11. Never do any work that you can pass off to a more junior member of your team.
  12. Keep personal files on the company workstation—especially pirated music and movies.
  13. Hand off files that are a complete mess to your production artists. Use lo-res images, apply font styles in your layout programs and don't include dielines or correct dimensions, etc.
  14. Always, always make everyone else wrong and let everyone else know that you're right. This applies to your company, your co-workers, fellow designers, managers, upper management, and clients—and for added value, apply it to your family and friends too! Nothing you can do is more effective at angering people and making you a pariah (resulting in getting canned) than asserting your rightness and everyone else’s wrongness.

    Adopt bad design habits.

  16. Pay more attention to the brand than your audience. It’s all about the logo and the brand style guide. Who cares if the design resonates with your company’s customers or not.
  17. Don’t worry about whether the piece is printable or not—that’s the printer’s problem.

    Target illustration

    There are times when it’s appropriate to push the envelope and possibly risk getting yourself fired. If you challenge the status quo with a clear and positive rationale, you may affect needed change within your company and minimize the possibility of termination. Use your judgment, but chances are, that gnawing feeling in your gut that something is just not right will be your best guide on when and how to take a stand.



    Take a stance against inane and sometimes destructive HR policies.

  19. Fight with HR for the highest salaries you can get for your team. Often HR tries to find seemingly comparable positions that exist within the company to use as a measure for your group’s positions. There are none, though they'll go through contortions of logic to convince themselves that there are. Use whatever resources you have available to you—particularly professional organizations’ salary research—to make your case that a mid-level accountant's salary should not be used to benchmark a junior designer’s compensation. You have to be competitive within the industry, not your company, to attract the best talent.
  20. Refuse to use, or at least amend, your HR-mandated interview process when staffing up your team. The standard questions for determining good mid-level managers in Finance, HR, Compliance and Manufacturing have almost no relevance to the practice of design. Discuss the primary functions and skills of designers and other creatives on your team with your HR staffing specialist and compare them to the corporate interview process. Illustrate the disconnect and how that disconnect could jeopardize your ability in determining appropriate hires.

    Fight the bureaucratic beast.

  22. It is always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, no matter what the issue or need—period.
  23. If you have special space requirements, build a case for them and don't give up until you get what you want. The design process presents unique needs for collaboration and presentation, and because design results in the creation of physical pieces we often need additional space for reviewing and storing press proofs and comps.
  24. Look out for your team. Companies often restrict managers' options to reward their staffs for hard work. Compensatory days are a big source of conflict with creatives, who are frequently called upon to work late hours to meet deadlines, but their managers are not permitted to compensate them for those hours. I, and other managers I've spoken with, have provided offsite “research days” to their teams as a reasoned response.
  25. Use common sense. While compliance serves a very important purpose in the corporate world there are times when, given the unique expectations placed on your team, they can become an impediment. Don't ever put your company at risk legally or ethically, but if you're at a juncture where the success of a project means circumventing a well intentioned but low-level, risk averse policy, you might want to bend the rules.
  26. Rally behind your vendors. There is a rationale for restricting the vendors a corporate department can use—it just doesn't happen to work for creative teams. This problem arises because the myriad of outside service providers creative groups need to partner with don't neatly fit into Purchasing’s predefined categories. Enroll your clients as allies to support you in working with or circumventing Purchasing when these conflicts arise.
  27. Get them paid too. The single biggest cause of sour relationships with vendors is Accounts Payable. They throw up infuriating process and procedural roadblocks to getting your vendors paid in a timely manner. You need to be a thorn in their side to ensure that your outside partners are fairly and expeditiously paid for their services.

Having found myself involuntarily pushed into the ranks of the unemployed, I can honestly say that it was a sobering but liberating experience. I was fortunate in that I had planned ahead for just such a contingency. I urge you to do the same. With a bit of preparation, you can greatly increase your chances of finding new opportunities quickly and be positioned to choose the job that truly meets your needs and desires.

About the Author:

Andy Epstein started his career as a freelance designer and illustrator with clients as varied as Bacardi, Canon, Bantam Books and Merck. Jumping into the world of in-house in 1992, Andy created and grew in-house design teams for Commonwealth Toy and Gund. He later restructured and expanded the hundred-person creative team at Bristol-Myers-Squibb and consulted at Johnson & Johnson. After a three year stint at Designer Greetings leading an in-house design team responsible for the company’s product lines and Point Of Sales materials, Andy moved back into pharma heading up a 65+ managed services team at Merck.

Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative”, a book on in-house design, in partnership with F&W Publications in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, an association dedicated to providing support to in-house designers and design team managers. Most recently he was head of INitiative, the AIGA program dedicated to in-house outreach and support where he expanded on his efforts to empower in-house teams and raise their stature in the design and business communities.