A reader writes:
I think my boss hired my replacement. I’ve only been at my job for three months, but something doesn’t feel right. I’ll list reasons below:
1. Boss just hired a director’s replacement, and everyone knows except the director. The director and his replacement will be working together in the next few months. The director thinks his replacement was hired for a different position.
2. I have seen resumes for everyone that has been interviewed – except for new hire’s (NH) resume which makes me think boss is hiding it because NH held my same job title.
3. NH went up to boss to talk about project management software (I’m a PM/EA) and he quickly walked away with him until they were out of earshot. I nonchalantly asked if NH was going to help us with project management and he gave me a bullshit response that didn’t even answer the question.
4. NH went up to boss on a separate occasion and asked if he should send boss his project summary and boss was acting weird and said “No, not right now.” I was on the computer at the time going through his emails (I’m his assistant).
5. Boss said NH was hired to work in HR, but I just googled NH and found his LinkedIn and sure enough, he most recently worked as a project manager.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but I am worried. My boss hasn’t given me any negative feedback, but he also hasn’t given any to the director that he’s replacing. How should I bring it up to my boss? I have to ask about it or the worrying will kill me.
Sometimes people ask me this kind of thing and I usually say, “Nah, you’re reading too much into the situation. Talk to your boss, and you’ll probably get some peace of mind.”
In your case, I don’t think you’re reading too much into this. I also don’t think you’ll get any peace of mind if you talk to your boss, because your boss has shown himself to be totally untrustworthy with the way he’s handling the director’s firing.
It’s true that sometimes — rarely — you need to conduct a discreet hiring round. But you don’t bring that new hire on board and have them work side by side with the person they’ll be replacing, without telling said person. And you definitely don’t unfurl this unsavory plan after giving your current employee no feedback and without letting them know that their job is in jeopardy if they don’t make X, Y, and Z improvements. And you sure as hell don’t let everyone else know about it except the person most impacted. (And really, how does that work? Surely word gets out.)
So your boss has already proven himself a terrible boss in this very key respect. Given that, and given what you’ve observed, yeah, I think there’s a decent chance — not a certainty, but a decent chance — that the new hire is your replacement and your boss hasn’t told you yet.
So, what should you do?
Do the things that will put you in the strongest position if you are fired, without doing things that could torpedo your job if you’re wrong.
First and foremost, start job searching. You have an advance heads-up that you might need to be launching a job search very soon, so launch it now. If it turns out we’re both wrong and this is unneeded, then great — you can call it off if you want to.
Second, you mentioned HR, which is good because that means you have an HR department. You might have some luck talking to them. You could say something like: “I know that Bob doesn’t realize that Cordelia was hired to take over his job. I’m concerned that something similar might be happening with my role, based on some things I’ve seen with our new hire, Falcon. However, I’ve only received positive feedback from Lucien. Are you able to tell me what my standing is here?” If your HR department is at all competent, they will be very nervous about telling an employee who’s about to be fired that she’s in good standing. So this could be an interesting conversation.
Now, should you talk to your boss directly? You could certainly say something similar to him. I don’t know that you’ll get a straight answer, but it seems like you should anyway, purely on the principle of the thing. Possible downsides to doing that: It could prompt him to have the firing conversation with you earlier than planned (although you might prefer that). And if you’re wrong about the whole thing, it could make you look a little needy … but you certainly wouldn’t be the first employee to express worry about your job, especially around the time someone else is getting fired. An alternative would be to just ask him for feedback about how things are going, although you’d have to keep in mind that you can’t rely on him for a straight answer.
But mainly, I would use this as a chance to plan: Start your job search, be ready to negotiate severance (“I left a stable job / turned down other offers for this role and was never given feedback or a chance to improve” is a good thing to say in that process), take home any personal files, and otherwise do whatever you’d wish you had done if you didn’t have an early heads-up.
And do allow for some possibility that you and I are both wrong. We might be, so you don’t want to become so convinced this is a certainty that you take actions that will hurt you (like quitting to avoid being fired, or slacking off on your work). But for the next month or two, I’d just keep yourself braced for Cowardly Boss Impact and see what happens.