The Subtle Warning Signs Your Company May Be Trying to Fire You
Getting fired is rarely, if ever, a pleasant experience. Being suddenly separated from your employment is even more difficult because many times it can completely blindside you. Getting fired because of something obvious like a severe breach of policy, horrible conduct, or repeated mistakes does not happen as often as you may think, and it’s usually not a surprise for these individuals anyway once things get to this point.
The real surprise is reporting to work just like any normal day and having your manager ask to meet with you in their office, privately, out of the blue. Next thing you know they’re telling you it’s your last day and rattling off a list of “reasons why”, which are hardly ever valid because most times the real reason is something that could get them potentially sued.
Emotions begin to run hot, you may begin to tear up, you wonder what the heck you ever did wrong – especially when all the company may say is that you were “not a good fit”. You just had gotten your employee review only a couple months ago and were reviewed very positively… you never miss deadlines… what is going on!?
A million thoughts and worries quickly flash through your mind as you try to make sense of this strange situation and how you ended up here, only to be brought back to reality by security personnel asking you to be escorted back to your desk so you can pack up and be seen out. Unfortunately, this is the reality of how a lot of firings occur, especially in an environment where “at-will” employment is the norm.
Gaining the Upper Hand
But getting fired doesn’t have to be a surprise. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s actually fairly easy to tell when your company may be looking to get rid of you, but a lot of the warning signs are fairly subtle and quite hidden unless you know what to look out for.
I’ve learned these lessons the hard way through my own experiences (Yes, I’ve been fired before…) and by watching my co-workers who got fired unexpectedly. It always took everyone by surprise, but the more I watched and learned, I soon realized that the writing was on the walls every single time. Once you know what to look for, it becomes clear as day when your company is gearing up to give someone the boot out of the door.
I want to use this post to share those lessons with you so you can know what to look out for in your work. As with anything in life, being prepared for a situation is invaluable, so being prepared to potentially be fired can save you lots of financial and emotional strain should you ever find yourself in this precarious situation.
The Subtle Warning Signs Your Company May Be Trying to Fire You!
Your Boss Stops Talking To You
The saying that “silence is golden” is a great virtue to apply to many parts of life, but at work, it often spells disaster. Especially if your boss or manager is the one being silent. Communication is already encouraged at work for obvious awareness and transparency benefits, but the most important communication is that which occurs between you and your manager.
In almost every instance I’ve seen people get fired, a lack of manager/employee communication has been one of the most obvious “tells” the company may be trying to get rid of that person. This is especially concerning when your manager has previously communicated with you on a regular basis but now rarely talks to you. If you think it’s strange your boss hasn’t been talking to you about assignments, tasks, or other work-related activities… it is!
It doesn’t just include professional communication either. A decline or absence of personal communication is just as troubling and perhaps even more telling since your boss still likely has to communicate with you professionally to get stuff done. If your boss no longer says good morning or good night to you, or suddenly stops asking you how your day is going when they normally would, it could very well mean they may be getting ready to fire you.
Why the Silence?
Why do bosses stop talking to you when they may be getting ready to fire you? It varies from company to company, but it’s generally because the boss knows you are soon going to be gone soon and they no longer want to invest time into you. It’s a wasted effort on their end. For example, why mentor or give someone new assignments if they will be gone in a month or two? Management is going to mentor and assign work to the people who are staying on board. A shameful situation honestly, but sadly often the truth.
Some managers may feel guilty about the decision and they are trying to disconnect themselves from the situation. After all, we’re all people with livelihoods, family, children, and employment is so important to many of us. Having to remove that from someone is never easy, even more so if the decision came from above the manager’s level and they had no real say in the matter. Avoidance is a common defense mechanism against these types of events.
Now keep in mind this guideline should only be applied to more permanent changes in communication. People go through various ups and downs in life all the time. Managers can get in ruts, too, where they may be standoffish to their employees. However, if the lack of communication continues more than a few days (or whatever time frame seems odd based on your manager), that’s when you need to worry.
Regardless… any scenario when your manager is not communicating with you or you notice a decline in communication frequency or regularity is a BIG warning sign the company may be trying to let you go.
You Are Excluded From Meetings and Email Communication
This piggybacks on my previous point, but it’s worth mentioning to further drive the point home. It’s not uncommon for managers to stop inviting employees they are going to fire from meetings or exclude them from important emails they would normally receive. You shouldn’t view a decline in your emails or meeting invites as a good thing.
I’ve had some co-workers who thought this was a positive thing, absolutely thrilled they didn’t have to attend boring meetings anymore or be copied on every single email when most didn’t even apply to them. They thought they could finally just settle down at their desks with no more pesky emails or meetings!
The problem is that THIS IS worrisome… In most cases, your manager is not trying to make your life easier by pardoning you from meetings and email activity. They aren’t including you because you’ve become irrelevant at this point! They don’t need you at the meeting for your input or skills because they are likely going to get rid of you!
So keep an eye on the company’s activity and what your co-workers are doing. Have you suddenly started getting a whole lot less emails? Are there meetings you used to attend that you no longer are being invited to? Or are you seeing your co-workers go off to meetings that you feel you might need to be there too? These are all warning signs the company may be trying to fire you.
You Are Asked to Cross-Train or Transition Tasks to Another Employee
Oh my…. This one… There are a couple of underhanded tactics that I’ve seen companies pull when preparing to fire someone and this is definitely one of them. If you are ever asked to train or transition your tasks to another employee, it could mean the company is getting ready to fire you, all while you train and provide resources to others in the company for how to do YOUR job. It sounds like a fairly obvious trap when reading about it here, but most companies are very sneaky about the way they pull people in and get them to train others willingly without ever suspecting a thing.
Most commonly, the company will tell the employee they need to train someone else or transition their tasks because the company wants to promote the employee to a higher position. They’ll say, “We want to give you this bigger and better role because you’re such a great employee, but you have a full plate right now and we need you to transition some of your tasks to others so you can jump into the new role and not be overburdened!”
Alternatively, they may say they want to see your training/leadership capabilities because they are considering you for a management role where you’ll need those skills. Employees get so blinded by the compliments and thought of a big promotion that next thing they know they are training others how to do their job better than any paid trainer or consultant could ever do. Finally, after a few weeks of training others or transitioning tasks, the company lets you go! What a slap in the face! Terrible, but it happens!
Sometimes companies will word it as a company-wide initiative to have cross-trained employees so everyone can understand how the company operates and fill in for others when needed. That the company wants to have a diverse, well-rounded, and versatile workforce. This is also often a ploy. The truth is that the “jack of all trades” is not often desired in the current market where the specialist is the most desired because of their hard to find mastery in a subject.
Don’t Get Played by Your Company!
It’s not always a bad thing to cross-train or train others, but be very careful in the manner you do so. Will you be transitioning tasks that bring your workload from 40 hours a week to 30 or less? Does it seem odd you’re suddenly asked to train someone now? Is the promise of a promotion for training others seem too random in the current circumstances?
When preparing to fire someone, a company wishes nothing more than slowly reducing their workload while letting them do all the heavy lifting to train others how to do their job. Don’t withdraw completely and refuse to share any knowledge or help others (that will make things even worse), but be wary about the process and be mindful of the trap a company may be trying to put you in.
You Are Put on a Performance Improvement Plan
A performance improvement plan, often referred to as a PIP, is almost always a sure sign a company is getting ready to fire you. These are given to employees who are thought to not be meeting the company’s standards, regardless of what that may mean. They also often require the employee to outline and explain ways they will improve their performance while holding them accountable to do so over a determined time period.
Sometimes, the PIP will already spell out what the employee has to do, usually with tedious tasks such as documenting what you worked on every day, staying at the office an hour extra every day, or finishing certain tasks much quicker than normal. The employee has to then sign the document, which almost always says the company may terminate the employee if the conditions are not met. No good!
Unfortunately, the reasons an employee are put on a PIP are often vague or hard to define. It could be something as ambiguous as “not productive enough” or “too quiet in meetings”. Many companies will claim it’s a favor to you because they are trying to make you a better professional and trying to enable you to excel in their environment, but come on… you don’t need a signed piece of paper that says you may be terminated to mentor or enable someone to succeed.
It might as well be a Termination Letter…
In my perspective, a PIP is NEVER a good thing, and I’ve RARELY seen someone actually keep their position after being put on a PIP even when they HAD noticeably improved.
The real and unfortunate truth of the matter is that the PIP is often nothing more than a tool to build up a documented case that supports firing you. Even though employment is at-will in most cases, employers are very nervous about being sued when firing people. To safeguard themselves against lawsuits, it’s always in a company’s best interest to build up written documentation showing why they are going to fire an employee. If sued, they can provide documentation showing the employee was not following policy or not performing to the company’s standards, and many times these documents are signed by the employees themselves.
It’s the first step in building a record against an employee who previously had no bad marks, and it gives the company the safeguards they need to fire you without worry of repercussions. If you are put on a PIP, getting fired shortly after the PIP’s end date is very likely to follow.
Your Boss Tries to Make Your Work Environment Miserable
This is another underhanded tactic on the list that unfortunately is also surprisingly common, but it takes a slightly different approach.
Firing someone is generally not desirable to the company. Not only do they lose any investment they put into the employee (the cost of hiring someone is actually quite higher than most people think), but there is the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit or an unemployment claim against the company.
The lawsuit can obviously cost the company hundreds of thousands, but unemployment claims hurt too. In most states, when someone files unemployment, it counts as a strike against the employer that let you go and will usually raise the company’s unemployment tax rate they need to pay each year. This hike in taxes can cost the company thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Firing someone is also just an unpleasant experience in general. What the company really would like is if you… just quit. If the employee quits, they can’t sue, they can’t file unemployment, they leave because of their own choice. That is what this underhanded tactic hopes to achieve. The company really wants to fire the person, but let’s try to get them to quit first instead.
Being Forced to Quit
A variety of tactics are commonly used. It may be changing your work schedule to one that they know is inconvenient for you. It could be that they start giving you work that is extremely tedious and seemingly pointless. They might change your work location to a less desirable location, such as putting you in an open plan office if they know you’re a shy person, or isolating you in a corner office far away from others if they know you are normally a very social person.
A company might begin to heavily micro-manage your work, nitpicking your every action or requiring you to document daily every single task you worked on. They might cut some of your hours, or inversely require you to work unnecessary overtime, whatever bothers you more. Regardless of the tactics used, the goal is always to make the employee hate coming into work every day in the sole hope they will quit the job first before the company actually needs to fire them.
If you find yourself in this situation, do yourself the favor of beginning to look for new work as soon as possible. It’s likely your company will only ramp up their tactics to make your work environment miserable if you attempt to stick it out, and it usually only ends with either you leaving or the company firing you. Do yourself the favor to find something better so you don’t need to deal with their antics while also avoiding having to explain why you were fired in future job interviews. It’s always easier to find work when employed, so capitalize on the opportunity!
Sensing the Signs of Getting Fired
Getting fired is unfortunate, but it definitely helps when you know it may be coming. Use these guidelines in your own work to get a better sense of your job stability and prepare appropriately should you feel your time with the company is limited. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle by perhaps strategically using PTO, vacation time, company provided benefits, or other nice perks you might lose out on if you are fired without a chance to use them.
You can also seek out a new job while still employed leading to benefits such as not having gaps in employment or income, commanding a stronger negotiating position in interviews, and not having to potentially disclose you were fired from your previous job in future interviews. Some people may even be able to craftily engineer a planned separation with the company getting a nice severance package in the process.
Don’t be blindsided by getting fired. Keep an eye and ear open using the tips above and soon you’ll see that the signs of potentially getting fired are clear to you too.
– Mr. Happy Work