“I had to let half of the team go. They didn’t have the right skills and attitude for the strategic new direction the company is heading.” — anonymous leader
The leader I was talking with wasn’t happy about this situation. They had inherited a team that was no longer performing well. The company was in the middle of a significant transformation into a new space and business model.
While some employees could be coached to adapt and stay with the company, others weren’t so lucky — for various reasons. If you manage a team, then you have probably been in a similar situation. It isn’t always possible to turn things around with employees who aren’t meeting expectations.
Why do bosses fire people? Some reasons are quite obvious. But, others are a bit more subtle.
Violating company policies
Breaking the law
Less obvious reasons:
Employees aren’t adaptable
They have a poor attitude
They create too much conflict
They disrupt other employees
Their boss sees them as a threat
Below are some clues that you may be on your manager’s secret termination list. Read through them to see if anything looks familiar. Score yourself — or a friend — on a scale of 1 to 5 for each question.
5 - the issue is severe and happens frequently
4 - the issue is bad and happens too often
3 - it isn’t that bad and happens only a few times
2 - it’s under control and rarely happens
1 - it never happens, or it doesn’t apply to you
1. How negative was your performance review?
Many companies wrapped up their annual performance evaluations in February. By now, I would imagine that you’ve received your review for the past year.
How did you do? If it was overwhelmingly positive, you should have nothing to worry about. However, if it wasn’t…
One bad review doesn’t usually mean that you’re going to lose your job. But, if there has been a trend of negative reviews and you’re having other issues at work (e.g., on projects or with your manager and coworkers), then your job might be at risk.
2. How often are you left out of important meetings?
Occasionally, people forget to invite you to an important meeting. It’s not great, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen very often.
However, if you are frequently left out of meetings you think you should be attending, that’s a problem. If it’s been happening with increasing frequency, that’s bad. It indicates that something has changed in how your value and contributions are perceived.
3. How often are you left off of important messages?
Similarly, if you’re being left off important email threads or not looped into critical Slack chats, that’s not good. You’re no longer viewed as essential to the conversations and decision-making process.
This can happen when you conflict with coworkers. People sometimes play little power games and try to sideline you. But, if your manager is the one leaving you off emails and messages, that’s a sign that your job is in trouble.
4. Does your manager reschedule your 1-on-1s?
How often does your manager reschedule, cancel, or miss your 1-on-1 meetings? Some bosses are consistently terrible at sticking with a meeting schedule with their employees.
However, if your manager somehow manages to meet with other people but not you, that’s bad. There’s some reason that you’re the only one being ignored.
5. Does someone else get the plum projects?
Of course, managers try to give the most talented employees the biggest and best projects. But, they shouldn’t play favorites, and they should give everyone a chance to prove themselves.
However, if you never seem to be assigned the best projects, that’s a sign that your manager doesn’t trust you to deliver. Depending on what else is happening, your job may not be at risk, but you’re obviously not on the promotion path either.
6. Have you stopped receiving perks?
If you used to receive special treatment and nice perks, but it’s been slowing down or has stopped, something has changed. Pay attention to how your colleagues are being treated.
At one startup I joined, the perks slowly dried up and eventually vanished. But, it was happening to all of us. I wasn’t being singled out to be fired. The company was failing, and we all were going to lose our jobs.
7. Are you left out of planning meetings?
Have you noticed that you’re no longer being invited to planning meetings? Well, you may not be invited to the meetings to determine the future of products, the organization, or the company because you no longer have a future with the company.
I remember seeing this happen at one company. It was pretty clear who had been put on a layoff list. Those individuals were suddenly uninvited from meetings where confidential information was shared and strategic plans were being made.
8. Has your boss set unreasonable expectations?
If you’ve been put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with an unreasonable bar for acceptable performance, they are trying to force you out. This can happen even without a PIP in place.
Sometimes a boss doesn’t want to fire you or doesn’t want to put in all of the work to justify your termination. So, they focus on making your life so miserable that you quit on your own.
9. How often does your boss publicly criticize you?
This is something that only a terrible boss would do, but it does happen. I’m sure you’ve witnessed it.
But, if you’re the one being called out by your manager in meetings and frequently criticized in front of others, that’s a sign that your job is at risk. They may be trying to make your performance issues publicly known to help support the case for your termination.
10. Are coworkers acting uncomfortable around you?
People start to distance themselves when they can tell that someone is on the outs with the boss. Sometimes they are guessing that your job is in trouble. Other times, information is leaked, people gossip, and others already know that you’re going to be fired.
It’s one thing if a coworker or two behaves strangely around you. Everyone has bad days or weeks. You never know what others are dealing with in their lives.
However, if several of your coworkers are acting funny, avoiding you, or seem to be whispering behind your back, they probably know something you don’t.
How did you score?
10-19: Your job is probably safe for now.
20-29: Time for damage control to save your job.
30-39: Update your resume and start interviewing.
40-50: You may have already been fired.
The reality is that a high score on any of the questions is a bad thing. It doesn’t take much for a negative situation to spill over and impact your performance and work relationships.
For example, if your boss sets you up for failure with unreasonable expectations, your performance will suffer, and your next review will be negative. If that continues, you’ll be on your way out.
What can you do?
If you fear that you’re at risk for termination, the most important question is:
“Do you want to stay?”
If you’re in a hostile work environment, your performance is suffering, and your work relationships are deteriorating, you may have already decided that you want to quit. But, it’s better to quit than to be fired.
If you’ve watched senior leaders and executives, you may have noticed that they are rarely fired. Experienced people recognize the warning signs long before an actual termination is planned.
They can read the writing on the wall. So, they often negotiate a severance package and plan a gracious exit. Or, before things reach that point, they move on to greener pastures where they have a chance of being more successful.
If you do want to stay, you shouldn’t adopt a “wait and see” strategy. You can’t hope that things will blow over and everything will magically get better. If you’re noticing these issues, your boss is noticing them too.
Is there anything worse than waiting for the imaginary axe to fall? Instead, be proactive and face things head-on.
You probably know why some of these things are happening if you’re at fault (e.g., your last project was a failure, you’re not collaborating well with others, you lose your temper in meetings).
Or, maybe you’ve done nothing wrong, and you just have a terrible boss who behaves like a jerk. That happens more often than we’d hope.
Regardless, create a strategy and a plan to address the situation and turn things around. Have an honest conversation with your manager and put the “dead moose” on the table, as we used to say at eBay. Start managing your manager.
Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer to be in control and take action instead of waiting for things to happen to me.
I’d rather create my own performance improvement plan instead of waiting for my boss and HR to hit me with a surprise PIP.
I’d rather quit and walk out under my own terms instead of waiting passively to be fired.
Layoffs and terminations are part of our working lives. They happen, whether we want them to or not. But, you can be proactive and stay in control no matter what happens, and that has a positive impact on your confidence and the future of your career.
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This week’s professional development challenge
⭐ Post on Your Personal Blog
When you craft a well-structured story or article with the intent to inform, educate, or persuade others, you deepen your comprehension of that topic. As more people discover your writing, more people will perceive you as an expert.
Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who runs a professional online community. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice that can help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.