I watched a family member get the clamps put on her this year by her boss, who very clearly, wanted to show her the door. But, instead of managing it humanely (or sanely), this manager did what plenty of not-so-stellar companies do: They turn up the burner under the person’s rear end with the hopes she’ll just up and quit.
It was so obvious what was happening that it would’ve been comedic—had it not been happening to one of my dear ones. I watched it all unfold from the sidelines—which was just heartbreaking to see—especially since I could do little. Ultimately, my family member quit, gaining her sanity and a much better boss in the process.
But it was not good.
Conversely, I’ve counseled professionals who come in panicking over “signs” of impending doom. Yet, when we evaluate the situation carefully, we realize the things they’re stewing about aren’t likely blaring signs at all—at least not signs that the end is near for the employee.
So how do you determine if your job may be in jeopardy, or if you’re maybe being a bit paranoid? While I’m always a proponent of trusting your gut in situations like this, here are a few signs (and non-signs) to consider.
With my loved one’s situation, the ramp-up of putting everything in writing was nearly ridiculous. And it wasn’t just that the boss suddenly began hyper-documenting everything, she also began cc’ing the universe on correspondence (including their client, when doing so was unnecessary and arguably damaging to the relationship).
Few things scream, “I’m setting up a case for HR” louder than sudden acceleration of email documentation. If you’re dealing with this, be sure to create a paper trail. Because if HR is reviewing documentation, you want to ensure that your messages make you look like the professional that you are. (This is extra important if you think your boss is in the wrong.) Oh, also consider freshening up your resume ASAP.
Signs You Might Just Be Paranoid: Recognize that some bosses simply use email as their main form of communication. Others are natural micromanagers, so they send frequent and detailed messages to make sure they keep a handle on everything. If you’re not seeing a marked or obvious change in frequency or tone, it really might be nothing.
One day you’re the key point person on a project, and then suddenly you’re redeployed or replaced with either little explanation or, worse, direct explanation that you’re not hacking it.
When an employer starts reassigning your work to others without giving you a clear, understandable rationale, this could very well be a sign that the department’s preparing for your departure.
Consider asking (in a positive, constructive way) for specifics if you’re being removed without explanation from assignments you’d normally be involved with.
Signs You Might Just Be Paranoid: It could be that your focus and attention is truly needed elsewhere, so the shift makes perfect sense. Maybe your boss or team needs you on a priority assignment, or your manager realizes you’ve got a lot going on, so she’s compassionately trying to lighten your load on non-vital activities.
Certainly, don’t ignore your situation if you start getting pulled from projects, but do look at it from all angles to determine if it’s for sound reasons, or otherwise.
It’s generally not an ideal thing if you get placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). In most organizations, it means you’re falling short to a point that your boss feels the situation needs to be formally documented, and turned around. And while it certainly may not be the end of the world—especially if your supervisor is supportive through this period—being placed on a plan (and forced to sign off that you agree to it) could be a red flag.
It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between “We really want to see you make it” and “We really hope you get so frustrated and demoralized that you quit,” especially if your ego is bruised by the news. However, if you’re feeling like the requirements of the plan stack the cards well against you, start considering an exit strategy.
Signs You Might Just Be Paranoid: Now, some companies use plans as an honest effort to reignite or redirect an employee’s performance, and they genuinely believe in the person’s ability to recover.
If you find yourself on a PIP, don’t jump right to the assumption that you’re being shoved out. Gauge the level of transparency and support that comes with it. If the turnaround plan is attainable, measurable, and forthright, it could be that everyone truly is rooting for you. (And now it’s up to you to mobilize.)
Oh, how I’d like to say rumblings, gossip, and “pre-sharing” of information with your peers never goes on when an employer is preparing to terminate you. But sometimes it does—and it could result in whispery conversations in the break room or people acting strange or nervous every time you’re in the vicinity.
If coworkers or clients around you are suddenly acting a little bit weird, it might not be “just you.” It could be that they have advanced knowledge of what might go down, or be speculating from the sidelines.
Signs You Might Just Be Paranoid: As hard as it may be to do, this the one sign I’d put the least stock in, unless the behavioral changes among your colleagues or clients is just blaring. Why? Because people are people. We are emotional creatures with baggage and moods and outside things going on—relationship issues, family stressors, health issues, you name it. And sometimes these outside things come in to work with us and display themselves as “different than normal” behavior.
Don’t always assume it’s you, but do pay close attention if there’s a marked change among your peers.
Getting fired really stinks. But ask anyone who’s gone through the “pre-firing” stage—that part can stink even more because it’s just looming over you. It’s almost always best to constructively and (to the extent you can) unemotionally assess what you’re dealing with, and then strategize accordingly.
(And, if your boss really is trying to make your life so miserable that you crumble or quit? Trust that karma will do its thing down the road.)
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.