signs that you’re about to be fired

While it’s true that sometimes someone is fired out of the blue, with no signs at all that it was coming, more often than not there are signs ahead of time … but the person either misses them or deliberately ignores them.

Here are five signs that your job might be in jeopardy:

1. You’re getting a lot more critical feedback in writing. If your manager used to give you feedback in person but now she’s putting critical feedback in emails or memos, it’s possible that she’s creating a paper trail to build a case for firing you. Employers often require written documentation of problems and warnings before an employee is let go.

2. You used to get positive feedback, but now you don’t. It’s important to realize that many managers give little or no positive feedback, and you may simply work for one of those. But if your manager used to freely give out praise and it’s stopped lately, it might be a sign that something about your performance has changed—or at least that your manager’s perception of you has changed.

3. Your boss no longer seeks your input or buy-in when making decisions. If your boss used to value your opinion but lately seems dismissive of your views or unconcerned about them, the change could be a danger sign. It might signal a lack of confidence in your judgment or your manager might be distancing herself from you, knowing that she might need to let you go.

4. You’re being increasingly micromanaged. If your boss is scrutinizing your work and appears not to trust you to handle things that she previously left in your hands, it might indicate that she has concerns about your work quality or judgment. The micromanagement might reflect a lack of confidence in you, or it might be an attempt to see if there are other problems beneath the surface as well.

5. Your boss tells you directly that you’re in danger of being fired. Many employers issue clear warnings when an employee’s job is in jeopardy—including saying directly, “You could be fired over this”—and yet many employees don’t take these warnings seriously. If you hear words like, “This could jeopardize your job” or “I need to see improvement on this within 30 days,” believe them.

None of these signs are 100 percent conclusive evidence that you’re in danger of losing your job, but they’re worrisome enough that you should start paying attention to what might be going on. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is to ignore these signals, assume that they don’t have anything to do with you, or assume that they won’t lead to anything serious.

Many people do ignore these signals and then are blindsided when they’re fired. If you’re getting the feeling that your job standing is precarious, consider talking to your boss about what’s going on … and start looking around for other jobs as well, so that you have options.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Sabrina*

    I would also add “Everyone else is being fired.” Of the 3 times I was at a job where people were dropping like flies, 2 times I was a fly.

    1. Bookworm*

      This one should definately be on the list. I was person number four to get fired within two months for a reason that had never once come up in any performance review or conversation. Turns out our company president was firing full-time employees with benefits and replacing them with $8 recent college grads. Once the unemployment office saw how many people were getting fired in a small 50-person company, we all got unemployment, no hearings needed. It didn’t hurt that six more people got fired over the next few weeks afterward either.

      Also, being fired never hurt me one bit. I never admit to it on person or in application, and the old company tells anyone calling them that I am eligible for rehire. (I hired a reference checker to verify.)

      Alls well that ends well. Also, being fired is not the end of the world; it just seems that way for a little while until you get back on your feet. : )

  2. Anonymous*

    If you’re suddenly getting a lot of negative feedback and you really don’t know why, or it seems like a lot of things you do are being misconstrued, it’s a good idea to start asking around and see if others are getting treated the same way. I worked at one company for three years, and for the last four months or so they suddenly started criticizing every little thing I did, sometimes coming up with the most ridiculous things I allegedly missed. One time there was an item a customer wanted which had been discontinued. Discontinued items are gone and can never come back; even if one gets returned it gets thrown away. But the QC who listened to the call said I should have called one of our stores (which we’re forbidden to do) and asked if they had any. That’s when I started asking around and found out something interesting: the handful of us who’d been grandfathered into full-time status before they started hiring only part-time were suddenly getting these nitpicky performance reviews. After I left, so did most of the others. The one who’s still there is miserable and hasn’t had a raise since.

    So if someone is bewildered as to why their performance is suddenly being rated so low, they might scramble to do better when in reality nothing they do will change anything. If there’s a possible reason why the company might want to get rid of a bunch of people, say all their full-timers or anyone who’s making more than they could pay a newcomer, it’s better to just start looking elsewhere. Otherwise you could fool yourself into thinking that you can work hard enough to keep your job when they’re going to get rid of you come hell or high water.

    Alison, I wonder your opinion on something. If the warning signs are there, and you’d really be up a creek without unemployment money, is it better to look for a job and leave on your own even if you can’t find one, or look and just let them fire you? As I understand it, you can’t get unemployment if you leave willingly, but otherwise you’re stuck with the stigma of having been fired. I don’t know what’s worse.

    1. Anony Mouse*

      I don’t think there’s a huge stigma to being fired if they replaced their full-time workforce with part-timers. That’s more akin to a layoff.

      1. Anonymous*

        If they treat it as such, yes. But if they create a paper trail that makes you look like you were fired for being a bad employee when all they wanted was to get rid of full-timers/higher-paid people, they’re going to say that when contacted for a reference.

          1. Anonymous*

            That’s another thing I’ve never understood. What constitutes cause? Any employer can say you didn’t show up one day when you weren’t even scheduled, or say you stole something, or even that there were x number of complaints against you from customers or vendors or something. So how does anyone manage to collect unemployment? There can’t be that many honest companies out there.

            1. fposte*

              Generally the employer would have to present some support for their claim to prevail , but I think different places tend to have different levels of stringency for proof.

          2. Jamie*

            That depends on the state. Some states grant UI for any dismissal not considered “gross misconduct.”

            That bar is pretty high, so anyone fired for performance or incompetence will get UI – you need to have a pretty flagrant major policy violation in order for a claim to be denied.

            Some states the evaluation process is heavily weighted in favor of the terminated employee.

          3. moe*

            The employer simply claiming you were fired for cause isn’t going to disqualify you from getting unemployment, though. If the employee can show circumstances like *everyone* getting fired at once, the unemployment folks aren’t going to be particularly swayed by that kind of claim.

            1. De Minimis*

              I think most states are aware that the employer holds a lot of the cards so in many cases it requires some type of deliberate act in order for an employee to be denied. I was terminated due to performance [although in my opinion it was more or a constructive layoff] and had no problem getting unemployment.

          4. fposte*

            It can also depend on the company’s willingness to contest your filing, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to file even if you think the company will argue a reason that renders you ineligible.

    2. Ellen M.*

      “So if someone is bewildered as to why their performance is suddenly being rated so low, they might scramble to do better when in reality nothing they do will change anything.”

      I have seen this too – it’s a witch hunt. The punishment is decided first, then comes the (false) accusation of the crime, followed by the conviction and then the punishment is implemented.

      Nothing the employee does or doesn’t do will change the outcome.

    3. Anonymous*

      “So if someone is bewildered as to why their performance is suddenly being rated so low, they might scramble to do better when in reality nothing they do will change anything.”

      So true! I worked at a company for 15yrs and in my last role I was in charge and successfully implemented several large projects. My customers were satisfied, the revenues generated were huge but in the end I still lost my job. I was suddenly criticized for everything I did. No matter what I did to correct the actions I was hit with something else. In the end after many late nights and busting my butt to get things done I was let go. Of course this was all after the largest project was completed. Not much I could do as they hit me for not finishing one small outstanding item that had nothing to do with any projects I was working on at the time. It hasn’t been easy but not much I can do except move forward. I wish you all luck in whatever you face.

  3. Anonymous*

    Sometimes you and your boss’s personalities should just click. Your boss either likes you or not. I’ve worked at jobs where some people were late, absent and what not yet because they were “cute and funny” and could lie pretty well, they managed their way out of trouble quite successfully. I don’t encourage anyone to lie but a lot of times you want to click with your boss and make sure he/she likes your personality.

    I’ve seen people go above and beyond in their work and never receive positive feedback from their bosses. A lot of employees are just taken for granted because their bosses think that the pay is high enough (whether it’s true or not) for the employee to put in a lot of extra time and effort yet it’s not necessary to praise or motivate an employee. A lot of people question if they might be fired just because their boss isn’t sending a clear enough of a message about expectations, gives little or no feedback and intimidates employees.

    1. Sweet and Petite*

      “A lot of people question if they might be fired just because their boss isn’t sending a clear enough of a message about expectations, gives little or no feedback and intimidates employees.”

      You took the words right out of my mouth. My boss’ expectations aren’t clear. Also, she doesn’t provide feedback even when asked for it(I asked her for constructive criticism. She told me we’d discuss it the next time I came in for work, because she couldn’t think of any at the time. That discussion never happened. She moved me up, instead. Guess she thought I deserved it for asking for constructive criticism. That is not what I wanted nor did I feel ready. I appreciated the thought, though.). Now, I’m worried I’m going to be fired soon because I didn’t have the feedback that I needed(She suspended me until further notice over something small. Perhaps I should’ve sounded more urgent when requesting feedback or kept bugging her about it.). Feedback allows me to clear up misunderstandings, find out what I haven’t been trained to do that I should’ve been trained to do in the very beginning, and see what I can improve on.

  4. De Minimis*

    I think these days there is a stigma to being without work no matter if you left on your own or if you were let go. Employers are so picky in many cases that either can turn into a red flag for them. In a lot of states unemployment compensation is not what it was a couple of years ago, but I think it’s still better than nothing. I think if people are worried about their current job they should try to find something else, but failing that they should just wait to see what happens at their current job.

    As far as other signs, this one may seem obvious, but I would add unexplained changes to your workload, such as being taken off projects, and not getting any response to your efforts to find anything new. A general slowdown in your employer’s business overall is not a good sign either, even if things seem to be going well otherwise.

  5. Anonymous*

    I fear my company may be setting me up for termination. I’ve been here 4 years and my productivity stats have always been solid. I got switched to a new project team working with a different client 4 months ago. The past 2 months my productivity stats have suddenly dropped. I think this is due to 2 factors. The first being unrealistic expectations of how long it should take to complete tasks and the second being scheduled to be in a particular status like training, meeting, etc in the software we login to but told to do something else and our stats are not adjusted.

    I am not the only one in my position who believes the expectations for how long it should take to complete certain tasks are unrealistic. Basically the expectations are based on the most simplistic uncomplicated task and not the more difficult ones or taking into consideration specific situations/circumstances. I don’t know how to tell my supervisor these expectations are unrealistic. I have brought up the non-adjusting of my status in our login software and my supervisor said it was adjusted but I think that is an outright lie.

    Also, we have been slow for the past month so I don’t think that is taken into consideration either. Several other co-workers are experiencing the same thing. I fear being written up and possibly terminated for something that is completely untrue. Though I don’t know why. I’m in an entry level position so I definitely don’t make as much as other people and they just hired a bunch of temps on as full time employees.

    I would look for another job but I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in my area. My spouse and I had hoped to move out of the country by the end of this year but it’s looking like it will have to be pushed back until spring of next year. Plus I’ve got seniority and vacation and my spouse and I were planning to go on vacation in a few months. If I were to leave and get a new job I’d be starting all over again and it probably wouldn’t look good to be taking vacation so soon. Also, I would probably be at the job less than a year because of my plans to move.

    Do I just stay and see what happens? Worst case scenario I get fired and have to go on UI until I find something else which would then just be a temporary job til I move? Also, to get another job I’m sure it wouldn’t look good for me disclosing I plan to move in less than a year. So I’d basically have to be dishonest/withhold info and then when I left it would probably be a shock for them and probably would not make for a good reference.

    1. Anonymous*

      Also, I want to add that with my previous supervisor she tried to write me up for insubordination. However, I had a chain of e-mails proving otherwise which I sent to HR and so HR and upper management dismissed it.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        The whole hiring temps thing looks ominous to me. A lot of companies use temps when they don’t want to pay any benefits. It’s a way to save money, but if they can push work off onto the temps instead of keeping actual employees on, they might be getting ready to restructure.

        I would hang on for now, but put back as much into your emergency fund as you can, just in case. Get your network, references and resume in shape. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. When I got laid off, I already had my paperwork ready to go, so was able to start looking right away. Due to an unrelated issue, I haven’t found anything yet, but at least I didn’t waste any time. If you get laid off, you should be able to receive unemployment, so that will help a little.

    2. fposte*

      If they’re giving all the people in your position the same unrealistic expectations, then they’re not likely to be setting you personally up for discharge. And if they’re setting the whole lot of you up to be replaced by temps, it’s probably not a situation you can work your way out of.

      So I vote for “stay and see what happens,” but if they do terminate you, plan to file for unemployment regardless of what they give as the reason.

      1. Anonymous*

        Sorry for the confusion about the temps. Yes we use a lot of temps, that’s how my company operates. What I meant by them hiring temps is that they just recently transitioned a bunch of long term temps to actual employees of the company now. I don’t know if that makes a difference.

        1. Anonymous*

          Also, if they are planning to replace us with temps (which good luck with that becaue even though it’s an entry level clerical position it is very detail oriented and complicated) then I don’t see why they need to concoct reasons to fire us when we can very likely get UI just like we could get UI if we were simply laid off.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Talk to your boss and say your stats have always been good, but it seems like rules have changed recently and you’d like feedback on what you could do differently.

          1. Anonymous*

            I have brought up with my supervisor that some tasks are more complex than others in regards to their expectations of how long it should take to complete tasks. My supervisor just said that was calculated into that, which in my opinion is a total lie or their calculator is way off. In the first meeting where my stats had dropped I brought up several occasions where stats needed to be adjusted due to certain circumstances and my supervisor claimed that had already been done, which again I don’t believe. The most recent meeting this week when my stats had dropped again, my supervisor agreed that it did not seem right. But she didn’t seem to say she would do anything about it either…

          2. Anonymous*

            Well I just had my monthly meeting with my supervisor. My stats just keep dropping every month. Again she says everything is being taken into account. After talking it over a bit I finally got her to say that it’s not that I’m not working but working too slow. The expectations for how much work should get down in what amount of time though is ridiculous. I’m not the only one in my position that feels this way. I just didn’t know how to tell her directly that I think the expectations need to be readjusted because they just aren’t realistic. I did explain that sometimes things are complicated so it wouldn’t take the normal amount of time to do them. Also, I had a worker’s comp case a year ago. And even though it’s closed I can’t over do it and I still see my doctor once a month. I didn’t want to use that as an excuse though. I was also pressured into closing the case by my doctor and job. My doctor’s office basically told me they were afraid if the case was open too long that the insurance wouldn’t pay for all of it. So I’m still afraid I’ll be fired eventually and if that happens I hope I can get unemployment…

  6. ARM2008*

    I’ll add one – you are no longer being assigned work while those around you are overloaded. The first time I was caught by surprise, but the 2nd time I knew it was coming. Both times were layoffs, not firing, but I still was without a job.

    1. De Minimis*

      At my job prior-to-last I spent at least 3-4 months in that situation before being let go. It was a weird feeling, like I had been written off but they explained later that they allowed people to finish out the first year before letting them go.

      I actually had been looking for work almost from the day I started that job, I knew right away it was wrong for me, but was not able to find anything.

  7. Anonymous*

    I would add another sign is you’ve been put on probation or an action plan. I think that can often mean “we’d like to fire you but your manager did a horrible job of documenting your screw ups and was too big of a wimp to give you formal warnings”. I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone on probation not be fired eventually (unless they quit).

  8. Suzanne*

    At my current job, people are fired all the time for no apparent reason. No warning, no “let’s have a talk about how to improve your performance”, no nothing. So, truly, there aren’t always signs of the impending doom.

    Trust me, I’m trying desparately to get out before the make me leave. It’s terrible for morale.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Like appeal it? No, but you can certainly talk about your perspective with your manager and try to figure out why you see things so differently.

  9. Pakman*

    I think one sign of immediate impending dismissal is when your normally slightly aloof boss decides to be extra nice to you and wants to take you to lunch, and mentions that they plan on giving you new roles and responsibilities etc..and then BAM! Pink slip…I think he just didnt want to appear like the bad guy and just wanted to have his employee not think poorly of him, especially as this is a close knit industry…

  10. Realisation*

    The digging for faults at work and the paper trail just happened to me. I was stolen in what seemed like a territorial dispute from one line manager to another – however this line manager right away in verbal meetings started looking for error, or making up faults which were easily dismissed, very passive aggressive.
    No faults were found but then the written attempts started – which included the accusation that I had not given her full handover notes for the one day I took off (and worked from home). It was so nasty I considered raising it with her, but feared her reaction, felt too ashamed I couldn’t handle it to tell my lovely old line manager, and couldn’t tell the head of department as he was so wrapped up tight with the new line manager. (they came in together at 8am Monday mornings?) I started looking for another role but the attacks increased to fast and she got me pushed out just before Christmas.
    lessons? I should have told my old line manager, and should have looked for another role harder and faster. But I am really not sure I could have stopped any of this happening…

  11. KEEEY*

    when your boss id constantly changing rules and dont tell you, you do what you thought was right and they nag and complain.
    talk to other employees about standing by they don’t know how long you will be here

    nag and complain about little things stupid things that shouldn’t even matter.
    take notice to the things that you boss id doing because its for a reason! memphis tn

  12. Alexandra*

    i work with my boyfriend . right before i left a gave him a hug and den he text me saying that another co-worker told our boss that we hugged. im afraid that he might get fired :( is that even possible it cant be sexual harrassment cause nothing is wrong with it .. please help idk what to do i dont want him fired

  13. Phone man*

    I have held the same job for 28 years now, technology changes as does the management and the parent company (3 Mergers later), I’m still here. But for how long? With many of my coworkers retired I am the only one in my group who does the work I do.
    That being said, I, an hourly union employee, have to work a lot of overtime and take initiative where others do not to successfully complete my projects and keep my customers happy.
    Recently I have noticed I am getting the silent treatment from previously friendly managers and am the brunt of jokes (in envious tones) about the overtime money I am making (but my co workers don’t want to do the specialized work I do).
    I fear management maybe building a dismissal case against me as they have done to others that don’t conform to the 8 to 4 minion mentality.
    How can I be sure?
    What are my rights?
    I have turned down good job offers to stay where I am, dumb?

  14. Techie*

    Another sign that you’re about to be fired. If, after years of excellent reviews, they suddenly transfer you to another division, location, etc. with a new boss. The new boss, during your meet and greeet tells you that all this condemning documentation has been forwarded to him (and you don’t know about it) and that you have a horribe reputation, especially in area “X”. Then, he tells you that he is going to give you responsibilities and no training in areas that you are not equiped for (and you supposedly had trouble with in your previous location) – basically area “X” on steroids – you know they’re gunning for you.

  15. CC*

    When the company shows a sudden interest in cross-training employees… but it’s all about you training your co-workers in the stuff you do.

  16. D*

    My boss has told other employees, quite seriously, that we’re all bums who will soon be replaced with machines. I believe this might be a sign.

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