Losing your job is a traumatic experience–and when it happens unexpectedly, it can be even worse. You didn’t know it was coming, so you didn’t have any time to turn things around.
But the reality is that there are often subtle (and not-so-subtle) signs that all is not right at work, says Tonya Lain, regional vice president with staffing giant Adecco Staffing USA. If you know where to look, there are often clues that it’s time to take action if you want to save your job. While these clues don’t necessarily mean your job is in jeopardy, they are often indicators that things are not as good as they can be, she says.
Are you speaking less and less with your boss? Is he a bit chillier when you run into him in the kitchen, or does she not make eye contact when you pass in the hall? They’re subtle indicators, but they may be telling, says Stephanie Daniel, senior vice president with Keystone Associates, a Boston-based human resources consulting firm.
“Humans, no matter how polished and experienced they are, if they are uncomfortable with a situation, will start to subtly shun it,” she says. So if your boss is thinking about or planning on firing you, he or she is not likely to be as chummy as usual. Some of her clients have told her that, in hindsight, they couldn’t really put their finger on what changed with their supervisors, but that something had changed.
This one seems kind of obvious, but if your performance has been slowly slipping you might not have noticed. Still, if you’re not meeting your deadlines, commitments, sales quotas, or other performance measures, you may be making yourself expendable, even if your boss says everything is ok, Lain says. She finds that if people are underperforming, they may look at blaming others rather than taking responsibility. If you’re continuously struggling, it’s time to take a look at why that’s so.
Suddenly, all of your colleagues are working later and taking on new projects and you’re not. That’s usually not a sign that all is well, says Lain. Neither is being left out of key projects or meetings.
“If you’re included in different activities, whether it’s a meeting, a project, a new focus group, or you’re being asked for your opinions, that’s a good sign you’ll still be around,” Daniel says. “When you stop getting asked to participate in projects you’re clearly qualified to take on or projects that impact your line of business and your team, that’s a red flag.
It’s not unusual for companies to put someone in place to be trained by the person they’ll ultimately replace, says Bob Hadick, president of Russ Hadick and Associates, Inc., a Dayton, Ohio, recruitment firm. If you suddenly have a worker other than an apprentice or protégé working closely with you to learn the ropes, you might be training your replacement, he says.
Hadick says that supervisors who are making plans to fire an employee usually ask for more detail about how the employee spends their time. Your boss may want more detailed time sheets or a closer account of your weekly accomplishments.
“If I’m ever thinking about getting rid of an employee, I get more detailed and in-depth about what they’re doing and what process they’re working on,” says Hadick.
If your company is being taken over by another firm, or if you’re getting a new boss, it’s not necessarily a warning sign, but the risks of being replaced often do go up a bit in those situations, Daniel says. Sometimes, the acquiring company will keep their own people, or a new boss may bring in familiar faces. Keeping an eye on office dynamics and speaking with your supervisor can give you important clues.
So, what do you do if you suspect you’re about to lose your job? The experts recommend a few key actions.
Sit down with your manager
Meet with your supervisor and discuss what you need to do to meet performance expectations. Having an honest conversation with your boss can give you important insight and also shows him or her that you care about keeping your job, Daniel says.
Be clear about your role and accomplishments
No one likes a braggart, but you should be prepared to discuss what you have done for the company and your team, Lain says. Make sure that new supervisors know that you spearheaded last year’s successful campaign, or that you were the brains behind a new product that took off.
Start looking for a new job
Sometimes, the news isn’t good, and it’s time to look for a new job. Getting the news earlier by being clued in to signs and reaching out to your supervisor can give you a jump on the job search and help you find a more secure role, Hadick says.