When A Coworker Is Fired

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about losing a team member fired for stealing:  How does the team work through their grief and betrayal and keep team morale up?

A long-time co-worker was fired for stealing. How does the team work through their grief and betrayal and keep team morale up?

Signed, Betrayed

Dear Betrayed:

I’m so sorry to hear the news. I bet this team member was known to you for quite a while, which makes the shock all the more intense. There are often emotions that will come up in a situation like this. For example, some of you might feel guilty that you didn’t know more or do more. Maybe you had some “red flags” but were too busy to consider them or take action.

Just remember, it’s not your job to police another team member! When she/he stole things, she/he made that decision, not you! You’re not responsible so you can let go of any guilt and “should have done.” It’s okay. Take a breath and don’t worry. I’m sure you did your best!

Another common emotion is that you didn’t know it was going on and you feel shock and disbelief. Of course, this person was probably crafty and underhanded so you wouldn’t know what she/he was up to! He/she went out of the way to hide his/her actions, so don’t blame yourself for what happened. It’s normal to be shocked. But that will pass in time. I expect you all did your best to work together and get things done.

You might feel like your trust was violated; you feel betrayed! Yes, that’s valid and normal as well. If you worked with this person for many months or years, you thought you knew her/him well. In some ways you did! But this person had another agenda and was dishonest about it. She/he isn’t all bad, but had some bad behaviors and made some bad choices. In grief and loss, ask for support and be willing to express your emotions. Be open to each other’s needs. You can also look forward and renew your focus on the team and project goals. Consider how the team can reshuffle the work and move forward. Maybe you can use this time to resolve any other problems or unsolved conflicts–clean house and start fresh!

Take action by making new team rules so you can address future problems like this. Make a pact to build new and better relationships. It’s up to you to carry the load now and to move the work forward. And you can do exactly that! Best wishes! Author, The Teamwork Chronicles The Workplace Doctors WEGO is supporting each other to build teamwork and surmount obstacles!

Steven H. Carney, Guest Respondent