Am I Getting Fired? Signs, Portents and Paranoia

by Laura Labovich on May 19, 2017

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Have you recently been feeling like something is amiss in the office? Is it just not like it used to be? Do you worry that your job could be next on the chopping block? Wish you knew for sure? You are not alone.

Fortunately, common indicators of a termination are not particularly obscure; in fact, they’re generally pretty obvious.

Unfortunately, some things that appear to be “a sure sign” that you’re getting fired could also be simple day-to-day events that you may be misinterpreting.

Let’s take a moment to see how they differ.

Warning Signs

Sometimes warning signs are obvious and sometimes they are convoluted and require further evaluation.

  • Decrease in workload
  • You’re pulled off projects, or not invited to join them
  • Management change
  • Corporate direction change
  • Your boss avoids you
  • Your coworkers seem to tiptoe around you
  • Your boss becomes hypercritical of your work
  • You are put on an intensive PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) with unrealistic goals to nudge you towards quitting
  • Suddenly everything needs to be in writing
  • You are left out of important meetings

Paranoia

Paranoia, on the other hand, is generated by past experiences along with our mind seeking similarities or discovering parallels. It’s a self-protection mechanism we inherited from our ancestors. We compare old experiences to new experiences to keep ourselves from harm.

While any of these could look potentially bad for you, there may be excellent, and non-threatening, reasons for these to happen:

What you fear: a misguided manager/boss manipulates people based on their fear-of-firing; it’s the same for all employees as a control method.

Why it could be nothing: it’s probably not you—this sort of person is probably fearful of losing people and his or her own job if that happens. With managers like these, their personal paranoia becomes everybody’s problem.

What you fear: everything needs to be in writing.

Why it could be nothing: this is not always a problem; some bosses just prefer to communicate mostly by memo or e-mail.

What you fear: you’re taken off projects.

Why it could be nothing: perhaps you are having your plate so you are available for a bigger, more demanding project. In this situation, simply ask your boss.

What you fear: your workload is decreasing.

Why it could be nothing: your manager thinks you’re spread too thin and needs you to consolidate your efforts and focus on priority projects.

What you fear: you are put on a performance improvement plan (PIP) with reasonable goals.

Why it could be nothing: they value you and hope to see you improve, succeed and, ultimately, retained by the firm.

Manage Your Fears

A wise man once said that “People don’t quit jobs—they quit bad managers,” and that may be your problem. Often, these fears may lead you to embark on an unnecessary job search.

So first, ask yourself: do I really need to leave this company? Or might this just be a misunderstanding on my part?

You probably have friends, associates, tenure, stock options, an established 401K, credibility with management, and a really great medical plan. Why give that up?

Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t always a straight line from bottom to top, and detours and jagged lines left and right and up and down are much more commonplace today than ever. Sideways promotions, interdepartmental transfers and the like enable you to view the company from an entirely new vantage point, with a new boss, team, and varied projects. Equally important, it gives you a chance to recall what you loved about the company in the first place.

Legitimate Concerns

But, let’s imagine for a moment that you see some actual indicators from the list of warning signs above. If you haven’t been keeping a personal log detailing your accomplishments and how you’ve added value to the company, now would be an excellent time to start.

Often, our contributions go unnoticed, and it’s up to you to provide a detailed list such as, “I stayed overnight to babysit the flakey server, rebooting it five times to keep our service online until the replacement unit arrived.”

It might be as simple as being the person who arrives first in the office to brew the morning coffee before the rest of the staff arrive…don’t judge your accomplishments: nothing is too small for this “accomplishment file.”

When it comes right down to it, you don’t want to be floundering and struggling to remember some fact about something extraordinary that might save your job, especially while you are defending it. If you write these down routinely and review them regularly, they will stay fresh in your mind. And, these accomplishments are confidence builders, too. (And useful, as well, especially if you do have to embark on a job search).

Time to Move On

The imminent threat, or perceived threat, of firing, can make it downright unpleasant to go to work. Sometimes you simply reach the end of the career path with a particular company. Or you just feel like someone is freezing you out, and it’s become intolerable. If there’s nowhere to go, confidentially refresh your résumé and start subtly looking for a replacement position.

It’s always easier to find a job when you have a job, so take control of the situation. Have some prospects lined up by researching companies about which you are interested. Consult with a headhunter to build or maintain a relationship. Look into your state rules for qualifying for unemployment insurance. But try not to flee prematurely; you may find yourself still looking for a job in 6 months because you didn’t prepare accordingly.

The Takeaway

Surprisingly, is not until after someone loses their job that they realize just how unhappy they were in it. This is especially so if they take the time to find a replacement position that truly suits them. The contrast between what they were doing and what they are now enjoying doing can come as a stunning epiphany.

Don’t just sit there, waiting for the axe to fall; if you have a legitimate concern that you might be let go, prepare for it now. Remember: if you fail to plan, you will be planning to fail.

But, that’s not you——you’re too smart for that!

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