my boss called a mysterious meeting with me and I’m afraid I’m going to be fired

I sometimes correspond privately with people who send me letters. I’m sharing this exchange (with the writer’s permission) because it’s something lot of people worry about.

The initial letter:

Hi Alison,

I’ve been getting great feedback from my boss lately. However, we recently had 2 employees who were fired and I’m on edge.

I was asked to schedule a meeting to discuss a project with myself, my boss, and another coworker. When checking calendars to schedule that meeting, I noticed my boss had a event titled “Jane check-in” (my name) for later in the week, but I hadn’t received an invite. We are due for an in-person company day in two weeks, so I’m nervous as to why he wants to check in with me now when it could just wait till we meet in person. (We are remote with a one monthly in-person day). I’m nervous I’m going to be fired since two others were recently fired. Should I ask my boss what the meeting is about and say I saw it on his calendar when scheduling the other meeting for project B, or let it go and see what happens? I’m terrified I’ll be fired. I’ve put so much effort into my work and it finally seems to be paying off (good feedback and I got a raise in January) but I’m still very nervous about the meeting.

I wrote back:

Hi! Are you worried you’ll be fired (like for your work quality) or laid off (position cut for money reasons)? It doesn’t sound like you have any reason to fear the former! But it should be totally fine to say to him, “When I was scheduling the X meeting, I saw you have ‘Jane meeting’ on your calendar for Friday but I haven’t received an invite. Is that something I should be attending?”

The writer’s response:

Thank you so much for getting back to me. I’m worried I’d be laid off or fired (although my performance has been great). The meeting is for today at 4 pm (I can see on his calendar) but I haven’t gotten the invite yet. Do you think it’s too late to ask now?


Nope, go ahead and ask! I don’t see any reason to worry it’s a firing though! Hell, it could be a meeting to talk about promoting you, or putting you on a new project, or who knows what.


Thank you! I checked his calendar and I saw my meeting got moved to 3:30pm today but still no invite. I’ll send him an email and ask. I’ll definitely let you know what happens! Hopefully it’s something good.

And later that day:

The meeting turned out to be about a new client I’m going to be working on! I’m glad it wasn’t anything terrible. Thank you so much for your advice!

People worry about this kind of thing so much, and so much of the time, everything turns out fine.

Obviously one take-away is for managers to be more aware of how on-edge this can make people — and whenever possible, give people a quick heads-up about what meetings will be about.

But the other take-away is for people who get panicky, and it’s to remember that lots of meetings get scheduled without agendas distributed in advance … and there are tons of potential topics that they could be for, anything from “here’s a new project” to “I’m going to be taking parental leave” to “can you help me brainstorm on topic X” to “great job at that meeting” to “do you want to go to this conference?” to “can you fill in for Dana while she’s out next month” and on and on. If as far as you know your work has been going fine, there’s no reason to jump to worst-case scenarios.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

    1. MicroManagered*

      I get the feeling she responds to far more letters than she publishes. I wrote to her once, years ago, and she replied almost immediately at a weird time (like nighttime).

      1. Sandy*

        Same here, I also got a very quick (and much appreciated) reply in the middle of the night!

      2. MapleHill*

        Same! I wrote her in a panic 10 ago years trying to decide if I should attempt to negotiate salary after receiving an offer and having been out of work awhile (not because I wasn’t ok with the salary, but b/c I’m a woman who was severely underpaid in former job and didn’t want to kick myself later for not at least asking). My family was adamantly against that, but Alison pointed out- after some back and forth emails to get more info- that they hadn’t been job hunting at all/in years so their advice wasn’t based on experience. I did ask if the company could come up on salary, they weren’t able to offer me more, but I happily accepted and 10 years later still loving my company and team and have received annual raises including several far above the COL. Alison should be sainted for her work. ;)

        As to the LW, oh man, I have been there! My VP asked one morning if I could meet with him at 4 that day. It’s not unusual for him to want to meet up, but usually he’ll give an idea of what he wants to discuss. All day, I was freaking about getting fired or laid off, but not sure why that would happen. Turns out he just wanted to ask my professional advice for a non profit board he’s on outside of work. All day worrying over nothing. But I think it’s conditioning from the really toxic work environment I was in for years before this job.

        1. Yep*

          Since you said he usually gives an idea of what he wants to discuss, I’d immediately zero in on the fact that he didn’t in this instance and start witting, too! Doesn’t have to be a long drawn out thing, but something like ‘I’d like to get your opinion’ or ‘I’d like to pick your brain’ would let you know it’s benign while also quick.

  1. Shhh*

    Last time my boss scheduled a mystery meeting with me, it was because a coworker was retiring. As Alison said, it’s usually fine!

    1. The Original K.*

      We had one (our whole team) because the big boss was quitting. (People did fear layoffs.)

    2. Beau*

      The last couple times I got asked for secret meetings and they wouldn’t give me an agenda were for 1) a massive raise (they had to tell me because I literally had a panic attack over the shady way the office manager was acting), 2) to discuss a new employee’s client complaint was BS.
      I still can’t stop my heart rate from skyrocketing so I COMPLETELY understand the feeling.

    3. Zee*

      I had something similar once – it was the end of my first week on the job, and I got pulled into a “meeting”. I was terrified I was being fired. Turns out… someone else was being fired, and since we shared an office space they wanted me out of her way so she could pack up without an audience.

      1. Smithy*

        I think that due to the reality that while very often there can be agendas included – there are also enough times like above where they really can’t be. And at best when you go to your boss and ask if there’s anything you can prepare for the meeting, you’ll at most be told “no – but don’t worry”.

        Very often it’s to do with sensitive news about someone else, while they might be fired – they may also be going on medical leave or leaving the job and it’s about covering duties. Not necessarily wildly secretive, but sensitive enough that most bosses do often want to wait for that private meeting to share the news. While there are certainly things that managers can do to mitigate the anxiety response many folks have for understandable reasons…..but for the times when it really is about someone else and they will not tell you until the time of the meeting, it’s worth being mindful there’s never going to be completely correcting for it.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “don’t worry”… hmm, that’s a rather tall order for me, I’ll be worrying anyway. Who knows, they might be saying it just so that I don’t worry until they’ve given me something to worry about. Or they might have news that they think I’ll be happy about when in fact no not at all (like when they announced that they were closing the Paris office, they thought we’d all be thrilled to WFH but I was not at all).

    4. The OG Sleepless*

      I used to work for someone who was the best business communicator I have ever met…clear, direct, and reasonably kind…but she had a grave, serious manner that she used for almost everything. At the very end of the day as I was leaving, she asked if she could walk out with me and ask me something. My heart was hammering in my chest as we walked out to the parking lot together. And then she said, “I wanted to ask you about your new car. Do you like it? My daughter was thinking of buying that model and I wanted to see what you thought.” JFC. Why? Just why do bosses do this?

      1. Jane Austin Texas*

        I also worked for a kind but serious boss who had a habit of impromptu calling me from his office across the hall with “Can you come to my office?” No hello, no nothing else. But I will say, the exposure therapy worked! I finally learned that 99% of the time it was a computer issue. :)

      2. Nightvale Intern*

        I also had a very serious but kind manager. She once called out to me and a coworker that she needed to speak with us in a tone that had us both convinced we’d done something horrible and were about to get fired or read the riot act. Turned out we were now allowed to wear jeans every day instead of just Fridays… lol

    5. Nonnie*

      I got a “mystery meeting” recently that turned out to be a promotion and a raise! I was quite on edge before but incredibly pleased after. it’s worth considering.

    6. Sallycat*

      It could have also just been a reminder the boss wrote to himself to remind him to check-in with Jane on something. I often put things on my calendar that aren’t really meetings, just reminders.

  2. TrixieD*

    I’m an incredibly paranoid person, and I can *so* relate to the fear of thinking you’re going to be fired when really, it’s the last thing on anyone else’s mind. I’ve had to talk to my boss directly and let him know that vague references to upcoming meetings create weapons-grade anxiety for me, and diminish my productivity in the days leading up to the meeting. Putting it in that context allowed him to change the way he communicates with me, and it’s made all the difference in the world where my mental health is concerned.

    1. Johanna Cabal*

      Yeah, sudden meetings take me back to when I was unexpectedly (though I should have seen the warning signs) laid off and expectedly fired (still stung though).

      1. RJ*

        Ditto this. The last time I was laid off was after a very productive time at work after I’d secured a promotion, raise and excellent performance reviews. Two months later and right before a global pandemic, I was blindsided by an unexpected layoff. In uncertain times such as these, you just never know.

    2. JayNay*

      OMG I’m going to use that in the future! I also get extremely stressed by non-specific meeting requests, and then it turns out it’s all for nothing.

  3. Viki*

    My Sr director called an impromptu total team meeting and started it with “No one is getting fired.” which, is not the best way to start a meeting about a reorg. No one lost their job, but man was the meeting derailed.

    He learnt his lesson because now all his meeting invites are labeled super specifically. Including ones that go “SOCIAL-QUARTELY 1-1 CHECK IN_(NAME)” which I do appreciate.

    But man, do I feel that as a naturally anxious person

    1. Princess Leia*

      I’m confused why that WOULDN’T be a good way to start a re-org meeting? If we’re talking re-org, I automatically think that layoffs could be coming so starting the meeting with the information that no one is losing their job would allow me to focus on the meeting, instead of worrying the whole time that we’re going to be let go.

      Kind of like when daycare calls and the first words when you pick up the phone is “NOTHING IS WRONG! Just wanted to let you know that…”

      1. Viki*

        Because no one knew what this meeting was and he had scheduled it for 10 minutes. Everything he was going to say got completely derailed by people panicking because suddenly being told there’s a reorg and that it’s a ten minute meeting isn’t the best way to do it.

        In theory, it’s a good way to start. But when you have no context and it’s “No one is losing their job” as the opening line, it’s not a great way for morale or keeping to the agenda.

        1. Princess Leia*

          Ah! Yes ok, that makes more sense. And a 10 min meeting for a re-org is just ridiculous.

        2. BRR*

          I’m still confused though. I would think a reorg meeting that starts with “no one is losing their job” is good for morale because the primary thing people care about in reorgs is if they’re losing their job.

          1. miro*

            Yeah, I can understand that some of the other stuff–last minute notice, only 10 minutes for the meeting–wasn’t ideal, but the opening line doesn’t seem like the issue to me. So, I guess I’m missing something. Viki, could you give us an idea of what would have been a good opening line to you? Maybe that would help give us an idea of how you and your coworkers were thinking about this.

          2. Wumpus*

            Imagine you’ve been ushered in to a meeting, with no idea what it’s about, and the first thing your boss says is “no one is losing their job”
            My first instinct would be there was big trouble in the company/team, like someone had accidentally committed some light treason and everyone would have to focus on cleaning it up

            1. miro*

              Thanks for this comment. I hadn’t even thought of something like that but I can indeed see how that would be stressful. Supposing that saying it was a re-org was the second sentence out of the boss’ mouth, then I still think it would be okay. Definitely preferable to lead with the context–“there’s a reorg, but nobody is losing their job”–though.

            2. Rocket*

              Then I would be able to focus on the actual content of the meeting without worrying if what was being said was leading up to me not having a job. Who cares if I’ve got to clean up someone else’s mess as long as I’m still able to afford the roof over my head and the food on my table.

          3. Antilles*

            It’s not clear if people actually KNEW it was a reorg meeting. If not, then this makes perfect sense:
            You get a random group meeting invite with no context, but figure it’s just a typical staff meeting about project sharing or the new corporate policy on printers or whatever…and then you get immediately thrown off with a “Don’t worry, nobody’s getting fired”.
            Wait, what the hell? Was that something that was on the table? Where is this coming from?

          4. Gerry Keay*

            Right, but only if people already had that fear. If the idea of “you could lose your job” wasn’t already in people’s heads, it’s a jarring thing to hear. Like, “Wait, was I supposed to be afraid of losing my job? If that’s the good news, what the heck is the bad news going to be?? How out of the loop am I?!?”

            1. Rocket*

              This is a letter from someone who was terrified they were about to fired despite good performance reviews, a recent raise, and literally no indication there was a problem. So it’s usually a good bet a lot of people *do* have that fear, whether it’s warranted or not.

          5. A*

            Agreed. I would definitely want to hear that before I hear the word ‘restructure’. The last time I went through a restructure they made a similar announcement, but left the ‘no one is getting laid off’ bit until the end. I had to circle back with my colleagues to review what had been said, because as soon as I heard ‘restructure’ I swear my brain partially shut down from anxiety and fear, and I wasn’t able to focus for the rest of the meeting.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Seems like in the daycare situation, it might be better to hear “Everything is fine!” at the beginning of the call rather than “Nothing is wrong!” So maybe Vicki’s Sr Dir would have been better off starting with something like that, rather than “No one is getting fired!” The latter just gets everyone’s hackles up and makes it difficult to concentrate.

        That said, my dad and I rarely talk on the phone so whenever he calls I immediately think there must be something wrong with Mom and I panic. Last time he called was to offer me a piece of furniture someone was giving away. My point being, LW, I totally get this. I had the feeling at my last job too and I think it had something to do with the fact that they did fire several people within my first year there (in a company of less than 15 ppl) and though in each case it blindsided me, I suspect it did not blindside the person who was fired. At one point I offhandedly remarked to my boss how it made me nervous and in a later meeting she came right out to say that my job was not in jeopardy and they thought I was doing an excellent job. I did appreciate that, but I still remained a bit on edge the whole time I was there. Alison’s point though about just asking your boss what the mysterious meeting is about is a good one. You don’t even need to ask for an agenda, just an idea as to what the meeting is about. You maybe even could mention to your boss in a regular one-on-one that you aren’t great at thinking on your feet (if that is the case) and that it is extremely helpful for you if you have an idea what a future meeting is about so that you can be prepared. Boss might not realize that keeping you in the dark makes it hard for you to think about anything else (again, if that is the case for you) and if Boss is a good boss he will appreciate the heads-up. (Help your manager manage you, I say!)

    2. Salad Daisy*

      My manager’s manager called a special meeting with 14 people. The first thing he said was “None of you are getting laid off”. Less than 2 weeks later, some of us, including me, did get laid off. I guess he meant “None of you are getting laid off TODAY”. Funny thing, a short while later, this manager got laid off themselves!

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      At a former employer of mine, any companywide meeting announced on very short notice was always bad news. Either we were merging with another division, or a site was closing, or they were announcing that a coworker had died. I can understand why the director started out by announcing that no one was being let go.

  4. Madeleine Matilda*

    After reading similar letters on AAM, I now always include information about the topic of meetings with my direct reports. It is an excellent practice.

    1. KHB*

      And not just for this reason! Scheduling a meeting with your employee with no information about the topic says to them “I am your superior, and I can command your time with no explanation whenever I feel like it.” Nobody likes to be treated like that.

      1. Madeleine Matilda*

        That may be the case with some people who are on power trips, but I have seen people send meeting invites with no information peer to peer and employee to supervisor. Some people just don’t put much thought into how they construct meeting invitations. When I get such invitations I email back and ask the person who invited me how/what they hope I will contribute to the meeting.

        1. KHB*

          I guess it’s a cultural thing, then. It would never occur to me to schedule a calendar meeting with anyone – direct report, peer, boss, boss’s boss… – without at the very least explaining what I wanted to talk to them about. That just seems deeply weird and disrespectful to me. But most of my and my team’s work requires a lot of solitary concentration, and there’s an unspoken understanding that you don’t interrupt that without a good reason. Maybe it’s different at jobs where jumping from meeting to meeting is more of a fact of life?

          1. All the words*

            I agree. Maybe the person issuing the invites really isn’t doing it deliberately, but if we look at it from a different angle: Would you invite a superior to meet with you without any hint as to the topic? No? Why not? Are workers not due the same courtesy?

            I think we’re at the point where all managers should be aware that these blind invites cause a lot of stress for *many* people.

            1. miro*

              As I noted below, I don’t think I’ve ever worked somewhere where people give agendas or anything for meetings, so I guess take this with a grain of salt, but…

              Why not ask a supervisor to meet with me without giving them an idea of the topic? They already know all the stuff I’m working on, so if anything it seems to me like they’re the person least in need of being told what I’d like to check in about. I don’t think I’ve ever called (or been called into) a meeting that was totally out of the blue (usually someone mentioned it as some point in a previous meeting/interaction so I had some idea of what was coming) but I’ve definitely had workplaces where it was perfectly acceptable to ping my boss and say “hey, do you have some time to hop on a call?”

              (I feel like this will be perceived as me being sassy but I’m really not, I promise! I guess I’ve just worked in some really strange places because this whole comment section has me feeling like I’m from a different planet :))

              1. short'n'stout (she/her)*

                Even if your manager assumes that the meeting is about something you’re working on, it’s possible that you’re working on multiple projects or tasks. It would make the meeting more efficient if you gave them a chance to open up any information they already have about that specific task and review it before you meet.
                And if it’s about something else, like a scheduling issue, a brief note to that effect will help them assemble their thoughts on the matter so they are not blindsided and having to respond on the fly.
                All of this also applies to managers meeting with subordinates, by the way.

            2. calonkat*

              Agreed. I have a “colorful” work history (combination of poor life choices and living in a rural area with only office/computer skills) and have had the fired/laid off/company closing meetings many times. Those meetings look exactly the same as the “hired/promoted/company expanding, can you move” meetings without an explanation.

              When I schedule meetings with others, I have a clear subject and as much information as is known at the time. And I also include information about “this can be moved if you need” or “this is the only time I could find on your calendar before the deadline of time/date.” which can help my bosses determine how to prioritize things.

              1. patchworkwoman*

                I LOVE including “this can be moved” or other info about prioritization. That sounds really helpful.

      2. Nanani*

        This. Feels too much like parents making you stop what you’re doing and do a chore RIGHT NOW even if you’re in the middle of a different chore or your homework or something else.

    2. Jora Malli*

      This! I’ve started saying “I’m going to send you a meeting invitation so we can go over (insert topic here) before I even send the invitation.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I do this, too. Partly, I hate meetings with no or super-vague agendas, and partly, I remember those nervous feelings when the boss wants to talk to you.

    4. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Also as a manager you should be having regular 1×1 check-in’s weekly or bi-weekly or monthly, depending on how often you need them. Sometimes if confidential things come up they can be addressed in the 1×1’s without stressing people out over unplanned meetings and thinking they’re getting fired or in trouble.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. My current manager is the first one in my career who schedules monthly or bimonthly 1:1s with all of her reports. It’s very useful. I keep notes about anything I’d like to discuss, and she does the same. That way, I’ll only contact her between meetings if there’s a genuine emergency that requires her attention immediately or at short notice.

        With former managers, before the pandemic, we worked in the same office and it was easy enough to knock on their office door if I needed anything, and with them we only had two 1:1s a year. That’s much harder to do when we’re mostly WFH, and added to that she works at a different office than most of her reports most of the time.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        That might depend on industry and culture though. I am a teacher in Ireland and I have never heard of a teacher having a regular scheduled 1×1 with the principal. There are about 40 teachers in my school so if a principal were to meet with each once a month, that would be two meetings a day. Plus, teachers are only paid for our time in front of the classroom, so I guess those meetings would have to come out of something like Croke Park hours (this was basically a deal the government did with the public service unions during the recession, saying we won’t cut your pay if you do this many extra hours unpaid).

        Honestly, something like once a year probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, but it’s just not done. The only times I had private conversations with our principal in the last 5 years were when I needed to talk to her about things like time off for a medical issue.

      3. Verthandi*

        My manager does this, and it takes so much stress out of meetings. Even when I get an IM asking if I have a minute for a quick chat, it’s not the stress fest it used to be from the days of

        (cue ominous music. Title card: Friday 4pm)

        See me first thing on Monday.

  5. JLP*

    Having gone through more reorganizations and layoffs than I can count at my company, I totally understand this fear when meetings are added short notice with vague descriptions. Or when a the whole team, is asked to go to a meeting at the last minute. Or when the whole leadership team is in the office early. My coworkers also have similar emotional reactions – not a psychologist, but it kinda seems like a trauma response. When we can’t take the stress, we just start joking about needing to bring our purses to the meeting – sometimes it helps just to know others feel the same fear.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep. Top 3 reasons for impromptu no-agenda meetings, in my experience:
      1. Layoffs
      2. Re-org
      3. Someone is leaving (voluntarily or involuntarily)

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        In my 14 years at the school where I teach we have had a few impromptu no-agenda meeting for the entire staff. They have usually not been for good news. One of the most memorable was about a scary security risk situation that had arisen during the day that the administration wanted to make sure we knew about before the parents started asking us questions.

      2. miro*

        On the complete other end of things, in my experience leaving/extending a job is the only time I *have* ever had an agenda for a meeting. I’m not sure if my jobs have been outliers in this regard, but I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an environment where people send agendas for this kind of stuff. And–maybe since it’s so normal in my work environments–I’ve never really found it stressful. It’s just like “yeah, okay, I guess we’re checking in about [what I’ve been working on/some project we’re both on/my thoughts on a change in the office/a new assignment]”

        This comment section is making me feel like that’s wildly abnormal (both as a general practice and as something to feel totally fine about). Have my workplaces been abnormal compared to workplaces in general or is the AAM commenter pool just skewed towards organizations/roles that don’t do this kind of thing?

        1. ecnaseener*

          I think most commenters are defining no-agenda meetings as completely unspecified topic, not just a lack of a detailed written agenda. Is that what you mean, or do you actually have a ton of meetings with 0 hint about the topic ahead of time?

          1. The Original K.*

            Right. I guess no-agenda isn’t clear – maybe “no subject is better.” Most of the time meeting requests are specific, e.g. “TPS cover sheet discussion” or whatever. A meeting that offers no information like that is what people are talking about.

            1. miro*

              I think we were on the same page with your initial wording! I think I’m using agenda and subject sort of interchangeably? It’s not like I get an invite with no subject at all, but it will be more like “check-in” rather than “TPS cover sheet discussion.” But I also haven’t ever done anything that’s very… I’m struggling for the right word here, but maybe… specialized? skilled? So there’s not really that many different things someone might want to talk to me about, which is maybe part of the difference in our experiences.

          2. miro*

            I was thinking stuff like in OP’s letter, where it’s just “check-in” So, no agenda but I do have some idea of what’s coming in that presumably it’s about me/my work rather than, say, a training for something (or, like, something I have to drive somewhere for). But the check-in can definitely range from talking about what I’m working on to something slightly more social (not a lot more social–like, work-social). Does that make sense/help?

        2. Jora Malli*

          I don’t mind if there’s not an agenda, but it’s really unsettling to get a meeting invite from somebody senior to me that includes nothing at all about what the content of the meeting will be. I don’t need a billeted list of all the things we’ll talk about, but it would be nice if the meeting title was more than just “meeting.”

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        I had a manager who used to walk around right before a holiday weekend in pre-pandemic times to tell us to head out early – he never wanted to put it in email because we’re a government agency and our emails are sometimes subject to public records requests, and it wasn’t something that was officially sanctioned and most other departments didn’t do this.

        When we went to remote, we started getting invitations to no-agenda 5-minute all-team Teams meetings at those times instead. I warn new hires what it’s about when I see one show up.

      4. and on*

        My group has used them for both “big but vague news” and “information they don’t really want to put in writing”. A case of the latter was the time when they held a quick conference call to … “mention” … that someone working on the same floor as a part of our team was transitioning and so would be potentially be seen in a particular bathroom. It was so weirdly handled. (This was years ago, at least, but not as many years ago as I’d prefer.)

      5. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        Yeah… bonuses are done on 1×1’s or reviews.

        The only other time I have seen a large impromptu meeting was:
        4. Loss of Big Client or Contract [though I have seen this happen for a win on occasion at smaller places]
        5. Some type of new protocol [like Covid] or I remember it happening on 9/11 where we were told to go home early

      6. D*

        God, once the whole team had an impromptu no-agenda meeting at the last minute, only to show up and be told one of our coworker’s teenage daughter had died so she would be on bereavement for several months.

    2. Velawciraptor*

      I used to work for a bank where sudden last-minute meetings were a sign that someone not in the meeting was being fired. They’d herd the team, minus the soon-to-be former employee, into a room and meet about something banal. And by the time the team got back, the fired person would have been cleaned out of their desk and gone.

      Just an awful way to do things.

    3. Autumnheart*

      Ditto. In my current job, it’s almost never a layoff (or, at least, not a layoff of any of us). But in previous jobs? Yeah. I even got laid off by way of my manager swinging by my desk and saying, “Hey, can you help me with something real quick?” Sure. We walked over to a meeting room and, yeah.

      So I’m not saying OP’s fear was unfounded. It wasn’t. But at least it turned out okay!

    4. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I’ve had the same job since 2019, and we’ve been acquired twice in that time. Both times it was an unscheduled all employee meeting. The second time it happened I 100% knew it wasn’t going to be great news.

      Vague calendar invites is how I knew like a week beforehand I was getting laid off, my boss had a vague “practice” meeting in his calendar right before our 1 on 1, and he had moved our meeting a few times. Yeah. It was a fun week waiting for the shoe to drop.

      I’m glad for OP it was a good thing, but it’s not uncommon to feel unease about things like that.

    5. Morgan*

      This. In the US, most of us have been through at least 1 restructuring and almost everyone knows someone who’s been laid off at one point. It’s not an irrational fear, just a consequence of at will employment and little accountability for upending people’s lives.

    6. Anon anon for this*

      I understand the “trauma response” thing. I work for an independent government agency, at a level within the agency that I’m at will and serve at the pleasure of the agency head. In the decade or so I’ve been with the agency, people at my position have been demoted from time to time. When it’s been a woman, she’s been utterly blindsided, with no previous warnings that there were issues in need of improvement (often to move a favorite into that position). When it’s been a man, everyone has seen it coming for a long time due to long-standing publicly acknowledged issues.

      As a woman in such a position, every time the agency head wants to talk to me, I feel sick until we get the conversation over with unless I’m given clear information about why we’ll be talking.

  6. Sara without an H*

    One thing I learned in my sometimes-rocky management career is that your reports always, always watch you much more than you watch them. It’s a good idea for any manager to be as transparent as possible whenever possible and to be mindful of whatever signals they’re sending.

  7. KHB*

    Context here matters a lot, I think. If you see people around you losing their jobs (as this LW did), it’s a lot harder not to jump to the worst-case scenario. So if you’re in the middle of a bunch of recent firings/layoffs, it’s all the more important for managers to be careful about scheduling mystery meetings with no agendas. How hard is it to say “Hey Jane, I’d like to talk with you about getting you set up to work with New Client X. Is today at 4:00 good?”

    1. WonderWoman*

      Right? Why not include a blurb in the meeting invite, even just “possible new client” or something.

      1. Everything Bagel*

        Problem is it wasn’t an invite, it was only on the manager’s calendar. Whether or not you tell your boss how to manage his own calendar probably really depends on what he’s like personally.

        1. KHB*

          If his plan to meet with you at 4:00 to talk about New Client X is solid enough to put it on his own calendar, it should be solid enough to let you know about it. Especially if you have the ability to look at his calendar.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            I have access to my boss’s calendar, but try not to look at it unless I need to check her availability for something specific. I’ve had a few paranoid freakouts in past jobs due to seeing vague meetings on people’s calendars – and every time it turned out to be nothing. (The one time I was laid off, they gave us a lot of advance notice.) So this method helps to keep my paranoia somewhat under control.

    2. Sloanicota*

      It also sounds like OP didn’t have a lot of information (perhaps understandably, but still) about her coworkers. Even after Alison asks for clarification, OP isn’t sure if she’ll be “fired” for performance or “laid off” because of downsizing – perhaps because she isn’t sure what happened to those other two coworkers … did they have a chance to make any corrections, had they received any heads-up, or were they laid off due to downsizing, etc. More transparency in those positions would likely have helped OP’s anxiety here.

      1. KHB*

        My employer just laid off a whole team, and the rest of us are understandably on edge. The CEO keeps trying to reassure us by saying that the layoff had nothing to do with performance, that the employees who lost their jobs were valued and talented and respected and blah blah blah, and I don’t think he understands that that’s not helping. Because it just tells the rest of us that we can also be valued and talented and respected and still lose our jobs tomorrow.

        1. ABC*

          That recently happened with my employer too. The higher-ups reiterated the team leaving out of the blue were fantastic, did an awesome job, and exceeded all expectations. But they were still let go, and the executives just reassure us we shouldn’t worry that more people will be following.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            “that more people will be following.” ????!!!???

            And THAT’S supposed to make you feel better?

  8. WonderWoman*

    I recently saw an IG post that said their manager had scheduled a meeting titled “Quick Chat – good news” which is so kind! It’s not unreasonable to have concerns as an employee, especially during these *unprecendented times* to be on edge – managers would do their staff a favor by helping to reduce this anxiety when they can. I know it doesn’t apply in every situation of course, but it can’t hurt!

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I did that with my team last week to share their raises with them — each meeting titled “touch base w/ (name) – good news!” And I still got back one “You’re killing me, what’s going on??” (So I just called that team member right away and got it handled. I guess specifying their name threw them off, but I always put the name in 1:1 meeting titles because otherwise my calendar is a swath of appointments all labeled “1:1” and I can’t remember who’s coming up next.)

  9. Guacamole Bob*

    My office had a period of turmoil a few months back – people leaving, re-orgs, etc. I started feeling my stomach sink whenever someone IMed me with “got a sec?” with no other context – I assumed it was someone else resigning or other disruptive news. It’s made me much more cognizant of not doing that if I can possibly avoid it. It only takes a few extra seconds to say “got a sec? I have a question on the slide deck for Friday’s meeting” and prevent the jolt of adrenaline that some people might get without the context.

    It also lets people respond accordingly because they have a better idea how long the conversation will take and how urgent it is. My office is good about avoiding topic-less meetings, but the same is true there – if you know roughly what the topic is that makes it easier to know whether it’s reasonable to ask to reschedule it if needed.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I haaaaate “got a sec?” IMs. I don’t hate it in my current job, though, because it’s never very vague here. If my boss has a Q she will just call me (and I’m fine with that) and when anyone else IMs “got a sec?” our roles are so specific that I can usually guess what they need the sec for. But in previous jobs I hated it b/c I never knew what they wanted. My last job was focused on social justice and as such they called me out on things that I talked about that might offend people (understandable, but it put me on edge) so I got “got a sec?” IMs from my supervisor there when she wanted to tell me I shouldn’t do “gun to the head” motion (again, understandable; as soon as I did it I realized it was a terrible thing to do) or when she wanted to tell me she was pregnant before she announced it to the whole company.

      I don’t know why anyone would just blanket write, “Got a sec?” though, instead of just saying “Hey, can I call you about a quick question about the slide deck?” but hey, some people type pretty slowly so maybe that’s why.

    2. JustaTech*

      Yup. My work has been a bit on edge and when a coworker sent me an IM “can you consult with me in Lab X” I was sure that she was going to tell me she was quitting, because our lab stuff doesn’t overlap at all, and because we have an open office the labs are one of the few places for a private conversation.

      Turned out, nope, she really did need to ask me a lab question! Clearly I’ve gotten a bit paranoid.

  10. Fergusina*

    I think this can be a generational thing, too! I’m in my mid-30s and if I have a non-urgent request I’m much more likely to email it. The phone is for things that can’t wait. For my colleagues who are in their 50s or 60s, the phone is the only option, for discussions of any urgency. I worked at a theatre in March 2020, and when we had to switch to WFH I remember my boss (who was in his late 60s) sending me a short email saying that he would be calling me at x time the next day “for a chat”. I was CONVINCED I was being laid off immediately.
    …He wanted to give me the company credit card information so that I could buy a corporate Zoom account.
    I mean, I was laid off a couple months later, because I was working in a theatre during a pandemic, but I had ample time to prepare for that.
    I really encourage those who are in a role where they can hire/fire people to *specify what a meeting/call will be about*, especially during stressful times, like, I dunno, the first week of an unprecedented province-wide shutdown that directly affects your industry.

    1. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Good point. I have a colleague, much younger than I, who texts me about nearly everything (she was hired to replace me in a big part of my job), but I wish she would call, because often my answers are lengthy and a pain to type out on the phone. And when I’ve sent her a lengthy email to explain a process, she’s not been good about responding.

      Now, as for giving credit card information, for security reasons it’s FAR better to give that over the phone than in an email, because no one knows exactly what path an email will follow to get to its recipient and what nefarious things could be happening along the way. Still, a notification email could at least be clearer about the topic.

      1. Fergusina*

        Oh for sure it’s not a good idea to give any identifying numbers in an email! It was the lack of context for the call that freaked me out. Even just an extra two words…”we need to chat ABOUT ZOOM” would have made such a difference at that time.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I am 50 & hate phone calls! I prefer texts & emails. Partially because my job requires a lot of documents, partially because it’s a more efficient use of my time, & partially because I have been burned in the past with conversation not being remembered the same by all parties.

      And most meetings could be emails. Just saying.

      1. Fergusina*

        absolutely it’s not across the board…for instance, my dad is in his 60s and if he has a phone at all it’s a flip phone for car trips. We communicate via email and instant messenger. But my experiences thus far show that many colleagues who are a generation or two older than me prefer phone calls. Luckily I have a very good phone voice, even if I am not much of a fan of phone calls, personally!

  11. Just a different redhead*

    Oh yeah. And even if it’s not a scheduled meeting…
    Grandboss in Teams chat: Hey, do you have a few minutes to talk?
    Me in internal mental state: Wah what did I do, was it about the two things that went wrong last week, but wait I got praised last week too…
    Me in Teams chat: Yes, sure
    Grandboss on phone: Hey, so, we’re awarding you stock options.
    Me in internal mental state: …huh?
    Me on phone: Oh. Ok. Thanks.

  12. Wendy City*

    The awkward moment when my boss scheduled a random, last-minute, 2pm Friday meeting, and then I actually WAS fired. A week before the US shut down due to the pandemic…

    But, as godawful as that was, in some ways it really increased my confidence around last-minute meetings/getting fired anxiety. When you know what it actually feels like to be fired, and the vibe before that happens, it’s way easier to identify Real Fear vs. Overblown Anxiety.

    1. Just a different redhead*

      My “you-are-being-laid-off” meeting for OldJob the week before Christmas was so sudden that I think it may have done the opposite for me (i.e. any meeting could be this), since I couldn’t differentiate.

      1. Pipe Organ Guy*

        At my previous church organist position, I had just come back from vacation, and the vicar sent me an email asking to meet with me to discuss some thoughts she had about the choir. I was totally blindsided when at the meeting she informed me that she was going to split the position in two and replace me as the choir director, and even told me whom she was going to hire. Not a fun day. I turned in my resignation a couple of days later. She then tried to walk it back a bit, that she wanted a discussion. Nope, nothing in the first meeting indicated that at all.

    2. Chirpy*

      Not for me. My position got cut in 2009 and I STILL go into instant panic mode if the main manager calls me to the office with no context.

      The manager that decided my position wasn’t needed was (I thought) a friend, and had recently asked me to write up my job description….which I thought was going to mean I was actually going to get to do my job instead of the other duties that kept getting dumped on me. Plus, I have never been able to get a good paying job since (it was an extremely small field that I can’t get back into). It’s absolutely a trauma response that I can’t get over, because there’s never been “safety” or resolution since.

  13. Wampus Cat*

    My child’s elementary-school principal always, when she called me, made her first sentence, “I’m not calling about your kid, nothing’s wrong.”

      1. Heidi*

        My principal invited my mom to join a parent-teacher committee that was not the PTA but had some sort of specific goal about improving engagement. Fundraising or other donations might also be a topic of discussion.

    1. Murphy*

      My daycare does that, which I appreciate. When they call, it can be anything from “She fell and bumped her knee” to “We actually fed her [allergy]” or something worse that I thankfully haven’t had to deal with yet.

    2. What Is The Reason???*

      Yes!! My kiddo’s school does this as well and it is so appreciated.

      School: Hi, is this Daisy’s mum? This is her school and Daisy is fine and okay! Do you have a minute regarding blah, blah, blah

      The reassurance and quick reason at the beginning of the call allows my mind to focus and not get derailed into thinking someone horrible happened.

    3. Jay*

      I’m a doc taking care of medically fragile patients and when I have to call a family member, I always start with “This is Dr. Jay and your dad is fine…” because I know my name strikes terror into their heart.

    4. I edit everything*

      Yeah–I see the school’s name come up on the caller ID, and it’s instant alert. So that: “He’s fine” right at the outset is wonderful. Of course, when it’s followed with “If he doesn’t do these five assignments in the next three days–which he’s known about for weeks–he’ll flunk for the grading period,” that’s a whole different kind of alert.

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My husband and I call each other on the phone so rarely that if he calls me, I answer the phone “WHAT’S WRONG” instead of “Hello”, and if I call him, I get a really confused “Hello?” and then preface whatever I’m going to say with “I’m okay, nothing’s wrong.”

      1. code red*

        I’ve started doing the same when calling my dad. His response is also always “what’s wrong?”

    6. code red*

      I have always greatly appreciated when my daycare does this. Every time I see their number pop up my anxiety flares.

      1. RedFraggle*

        This. Schools and daycares who understand that parents expect phone calls to be bad news that generally ends in “so I need you to pick up [child] right away” make things so much better when they start off with “Hi, this is [name], I’m [role] at [school], [child] is fine. I’m calling because…”

        I can actually pay attention to what’s being relayed, and don’t need to ask them to repeat themselves when they open like this.

  14. Memily*

    Ugh, my manager did this last week—he scheduled a meeting for three of his team of four and titled it Discussion We Need To Have. Turns out the fourth person resigned and it was about that, but we were all panicking a little. Why in the heck would he call it that???

      1. Memily*

        My direct supervisor is a nice guy but completely clueless when it comes to this kind of thing!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      OMG that meeting title is so bad I’m actually laughing. Like stank-face when music is good? but laughing out loud when something is that bad.

      1. Memily*

        It’s funny now! Less funny then. I thought it was about working from home, as that whole thing has been in flux and a lot of us have been quite upset about it. My supervisor is so dang clueless…

  15. taco trucks on every corner*

    I normally work evenings on Tuesdays and tend to be away from my phone in the mornings, so I became alarmed when I checked my phone shortly before going in to work and saw missed calls and texts from my coworkers saying “Boss wants to know where you are today,” and “Boss needs to speak to you.” So I naturally went to level 10 alarm… and it turned out my boss made me a vegetarian option for lunch that day and she wanted to know which location I was at to make sure I got my food. And it was delicious! But man what a heart attack it initially gave me.

  16. Wendy*

    A couple of weeks ago the store manager at the non profit retail store my husband works at told him he needed to have a meeting with him.

    He did not explain to him what the meeting was “supposed” to be about, something I wish he did.

    So far, the meeting has not taken place.

    So, my husband has no idea what needed to be discussed.

  17. LMB*

    This happened to a coworker of mine recently. Less due to their performance but more knowing how the manager in question operates and that there were a lot of changes going on at the company, we all really thought they were a goner. Turned out to be a good thing.

  18. Anon for this*

    If my coworkers see this they will recognize it, so I’m not using my usual name for it, but it’s too hilarious not to share, in this context.

    Several years back now (in the Before Times – when we were in office all the time!), our team was folded into another group (we have since been moved yet again), and at least two of the folks newly above us were very fond of scheduling meetings last-minute. Everyone-in-the-group meetings, near the end of the day, with anywhere from a half hour to a half-day of warning, but not often more.

    What made it worse was that this meant there would usually only be one meeting room big enough for us still available and unclaimed, because it was on the fourth floor and somewhat inconvenient for most teams.

    Our meeting rooms have names. And this one, for I know not what reason, is “The Lion’s Den”.

    Even with all the wisdom I was already gathering from your words, Alison, it took many many meetings before I could completely squash my surge of unreasoning worry when I was (yet again) part of a last-minute all-team invitation to a meeting with people 3+ levels above me in the org chart, in a room named The Lion’s Den.

    At least it was too large a meeting room for any last-minute one-on-ones to get hosted in. That would have been even worse.

  19. Murphy*

    Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with last minute and/or mysterious meetings meaning bad things. (Not just being fired. That only happened once.)

    BUT I probably have just as many mysterious seeming meetings that turned out fine that I don’t remember.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I think the ones you don’t remember are because something usually preceded the meeting. Like, say you just had a meeting with a client who was [unhappy?] and right after that meeting you had a meeting w/manager to discuss the unhappy client and next steps. You tend not to remember them because they are immediate problem/solution things and you move on quickly.

      1. Murphy*

        I just meant that I probably don’t remember how many times I worried about a meeting only to have it be nothing. I only remember all the times it was SOMETHING.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I remember the two times it was Something. But that was a totally dysfunctional workplace.

          Now I just ask. And much of the time it’s something that gets resolved without a meeting.

  20. Meep*

    I was totally there. Still am sometimes. It is because my manager created a culture of mistrust where she would lie to my face about how she had “saved” me from getting fired over something that she did. She did it so I would feel loyal and indebted to her. As a result, anytime her boss called to schedule a meeting to talk, I was afraid I was going to get fired. It didn’t help she did this to everyone and talked openly about firing people she disliked so even if you weren’t in her firing squad line-up, you feared you were.

    This is an extreme case, but it sounds like your boss isn’t. I would ask him what you need to have prepared as it will give you some inkling while looking like you were putting your best foot forward.

  21. STG*

    I can identify with this struggle a lot! I had my yearly performance review scheduled at 4:00 on a Friday and I spent the entire week obsessing about it. I’d never gotten a negative review and no reason to think that I should but the time just screamed at me.

    Of course, it was just fine. When I expressed that Friday at 4PM gave me pause, my manager was surprised. Turned out that he scheduled mine later in the day because he didn’t have any negative feedback to give me and wanted a good end to his week.

    1. Princess Leia*

      So this may be very location and industry-specific, but at least where I’m from they NEVER do layoffs on a Friday, much less in the afternoon. They do them on Tuesday or Wednedays generally (possibly Thursday) and as early as they can get organised in the day. I guess it’s not the same everywhere!

      1. RedFraggle*

        At least in my state, layoffs and firings are Really Common to happen as late as possible on Friday.

        My state’s unemployment division counts any part of a week as a full week for your “waiting week” before you can claim benefits. So if you’re fired on Friday morning, you can go to the unemployment office that afternoon to file your claim, and you’ll start getting benefits the next week.

        Conversely, if you’re fired on Friday afternoon, and there’s not enough time to file an unemployment claim before 5pm, you’ll have to wait a full calendar week before getting unemployment benefits.

        Needless to say, I can definitely understand why a review at 4pm on Friday would be anxiety producing.

  22. Hilary*

    In my experience (to be fair I do work in the tech industry), when a company wants to fire you or lay you off, they don’t schedule a meeting on your calendar in advance. Most of the places I’ve worked, they just come get you one morning and that’s it. It’s been a long time since that’s happened to me, but generally that’s what I’ve seen happen to others. I think typically they do it this way to minimize the chance you have to copy work product or do anything destructive.

    The one exception I can think of was an incident where my company did a mass layoff of 25% of the workforce (in March 2020)… everyone who was laid off got a calendar invite that morning to a mystery remote all-hands where they were laid off. But I don’t think that’s typical.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I was at a company once (this was pre-WARN act, they wouldn’t be able to pull this stunt today in the fashion that they did)…. the employees were told to report to the softball field… it was a Friday … and … the employees thought it was a summer picnic, as that’s how they did things there.

      They were told that the facility they were working in was closing , for good, and they’re all laid off. Collect your severance documents in the building, and you will be given a day and time to collect your personal belongings.

      As you say – in IS/IT, they *usually* just tell you and escort you to the door. What is WEIRD is quite often, in IS/IT, you can get laid off/fired, and they they beg you to provide them with assistance after they’ve let you go.
      Or, they offer you your job back, when they realize they didn’t think the layoff/firing through quite enough.

  23. Stuckinacraxyjob*

    Once my boss scheduled a meeting about my work with me and a higher up and I was all boss, am I going to be fired? And it was about how I should take breaks at work and try to eat snacks to keep my energy up lol.

  24. Texan In Exile*

    Wonderful boss of eight months: When Texan first started, she was scared every time I asked her to come to my office.
    Me: I’ve been laid off before. And my grandboss at my last job was so awful that people would quit by not coming back from lunch.
    Boss: But you were terrified every time you walked in here!
    Intern: You were like a rescue dog who was treated badly!

  25. PTJD*

    The “best” kind of this is when you get an email/note saying “Please see me at your earliest convenience.” I remember getting one of these from my grandboss a few years ago (about 2-3 months before the pandemic, so we were still in-person). I was so nervous waiting for that meeting–I didn’t expect to be fired, but I did wonder if there was some kind of concern with my performance. (I had been at the job only a little over a year and wasn’t quite sure of myself yet). Worse, I was sitting front of his office while he was having a meeting with someone in a different division that I couldn’t fully overhear but seemed bad, like he had screwed up a project or missed a performance target or something.

    Turned out he wanted to discuss my (good!) performance review and tell me I was getting a raise! I was of course happy, but also (privately) a little peeved that he hadn’t even told me “this is nothing to worry about” or something like that.

  26. Isben Takes Tea*

    This reminds me of a life-changing improv game I played at a workshop once: we went down a line and had to rapid-fire come up with reasons a friend didn’t respond to a “Hey, do you wanna hang out Friday?” text message that we had sent. While many of them were absurd and funny (“He was suddenly attacked by dinosaurs!”), many were plausible (“Her phone battery died”, “They’ve been stuck in traffic”). It really helped break me out of the “OMG this situation is because of something bad *I* did” assumptions. Could it be because they suddenly hate me? Well, yes, but that’s only one of many, many possibilities, most of which are actually more likely, and few of which are actually about me.

    You may have intuition from what has been going on in your workplace or with your manager that makes negative possibilities more likely. But if it’s something that you find yourself doing in many different circumstances, pausing and coming up with possibilities (such as Alison does) can help de-catastrophize your mentality.

  27. Double A*

    It’s funny, this can work both ways. I needed to schedule a chat with my supervisor to tell her I was pregnant. Which, obviously, I didn’t want to put in the meeting invite so I just asked for a quick chat.

    When I told her she was like, “Oh phew, I was so worried you were going to quit!” Even though there was no reason to think I would.

    What would be a good way to phrase requesting a meeting to share news like this that doesn’t put the news in the title of the invite?

    1. Jill*

      I would just say “don’t worry I am not quitting I just need to talk about something personal/sensitive”

    2. turquoisecow*

      Haha the same thing happened with my boss. I asked if I could call him and after I told him I was expecting he was like “oh good I thought you were quitting!”

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      A few months ago, my legal assistant asked for a phone call (we’ve been remote since the pandemic). The first thing she said was “don’t worry, I’m not quitting!” She was just going to have a baby/telling me about her expected parental leave. :) It was a great way to start because I WAS panicked she was quitting, and I can’t wait for her to return in a few weeks! (Her backup is fine, but she is A+++)

    4. Sean*

      “Just a quick update on some stuff”

      Informal, friendly and discloses absolutely nothing at all to third parties who might stumble on it.

  28. Jill*

    I actually have pretty bad (diagnosed) PTSD from work about situations like this. My first boss was… a word that I won’t repeat here. She made it extremely clear to each of her employees (all of us early 20s, her herself late 20s), that we will be fired if ANY mistake is made. Date mistake, punctuation mistake, if emails weren’t replied to immediately, etc. Every meeting we had with her was always requested under the guise that we were in trouble. She was the owner’s relative and the owner did not care how she acted. Even after we all quit they still wouldn’t fire her.

    Therapy & a better company has helped but I still struggle.

    ANYWAY what I am trying to say is I hate it when people schedule meetings and do not tell me the subject of the meeting. I totally feel OP here and her nerves.

  29. Let me librarian that for you*

    HR once sent first thing in the AM Monday after a holiday weekend a last minute all staff meeting invite, no context, for 10am. Spent 2 hours going through every possible scenario of who could have died or how we could be all getting laid off.

    The announcement was we leased a new office space.

    Why couldn’t they have said “for an exciting announcement?””

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Sometimes leasing new office space is a traumatic / bad announcement though.
      People do not want to drive further, or in my case the company moved to a busy and expensive big city downtown location, which caused a lot of people to quit.

  30. A Penguin!*

    I’m not entirely sure I agree with the advice to give a topic heads up whenever possible. It mitigates/eliminates the panic for a given meeting, but further reinforces the fear that topicless invites *will* be bad news, because those topics are almost never things you want to disclose before the actual meeting, and so higher percentages of topicless meetings will be bad. I’m not sure what the best answer is – and unfortunately there likely isn’t one best answer that fits everyone.

    Even in times/jobs when I know I’m killing it I get a little panicky with these short-notice no-agenda meetings. I can mostly tamp down that emotion, but I’ll never stop it from cropping up. It’s just the way I (and apparently many others) am wired. I’ve had good and bad versions – from surprise promotions to surprise layoffs.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I like to prepare for my meetings. If I get a no topic invitation, I ask what it’s about. So I can prepare.

  31. code red*

    I started a new job over a decade ago now as a contractor. Another person (also a contractor) started around the same time and was fired (deservedly so as they were determined to do the jobs of higher-level coworkers before they had even mastered their own). Later the day the other coworker was let go, I got a meeting invite from my boss. I was terrified I was about to be fired too. But it turned out, he wanted to let me know what a good job I was doing and to make sure I wasn’t worried about being fired.

  32. Jester*

    My immediate boss had left the company so my team was being managed by his boss who worked in a different office about 20 minutes away. She messages me out of the blue, especially given that we really hadn’t interacted all that much, to ask if I had time to meet. She’ll be in our office soon. After about an hour, she finally arrives and calls me into a conference room when most conversations happened right at our desks. I’m shaking so badly that she comments on it. Finally, she takes a deep breath and…tells me I’m getting a promotion. WTF. At least give me a hint that it’s good news! Obviously, I was pleased about a promotion, but the feeling in my gut I get when I think about the convo is still negative and that was seven or eight years ago.

  33. Gustav*

    Reminds me of a few months back when my manager said we needed to meet about some “administrative business”. Scared me something good until he told me about my raise…

  34. SelinaKyle*

    During the first UK lockdown this happened to me. However mine was a negative experience. I was invited to a meeting with 2 days notice and my manager would not let me know the agenda no matter how many times I asked. It turned out I was sacked, but they were giving me 4 weeks notice. It did come out of the blue, no work issues for the 14 months prior. However, 2 weeks prior to this meeting I had been rushed to the hospital with suspected stress related heart attack (I was 37). I took 3 days off work and they seemed to change towards me after that. Since they wouldn’t tell me the Agenda I went into the meeting expecting it. It was a toxic environment. It was a blessing in disguises as I’m much happier, my health is better and I get paid more.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      You took 3 sick days and were in the hospital and they fire people over that? During a pandemic?
      Sounds like a horrible place.

  35. middlemgmt*

    had this happen to me. mystery meeting with boss and grandboss sent morning of. no subject/title. literally was blank. then in the ladiesroom i overhear other people talking about a round of layoffs happening that day. how could i not panic? as it turned out, it was the exact opposite, though related somewhat. they were eliminating an open position on grandboss’s other team and wanted to combine a few remaining duties with mine, and offer it to me as a step up. PHEW!

  36. Biddle-de-bom*

    I joined a company which went through a big restructure/re-org five years ago and people are STILL traumatised by it, and I have several people on my team who immediately process any change as, “oh god, they’re going to lay us off.” If I’m honest, I swing between feeling really sympathetic to them, because OMG what a stressful way to live, and impatience because it is an awful lot of Emotion to cope with as a manager (and it’s also frustrating newer members of the team who can’t understand why the older members of the team are so resistant to change— some of them have told me that it feels unnecessarily dramatic and it means their concerns suck up a lot of time.) Open to any strategies on how to manage this as a manager!

  37. Not Working Remotely*

    I have higher ups who will schedule meetings that just have Their Name-Your Name as the subject and no additional information. Even if you know you’re doing good work, it’s still stressful.

  38. HellieR*

    I really feel for this letter writer–that is so stressful! But a good follow-up q is maybe, why ARE most layoffs done as a bait-and-switch meeting? Certainly almost everyone I know who has been through it got a last-minute invitation to a “quick meeting” or a “check in” or a “chat” with their boss, only to find out the real reason once they were there. When my layoff came, I thought nothing of the check-in meeting request from my own manager–it was a busy time and a check-in was useful–until I arrived in the video chat and HR was there too. My husband had this happen pre-pandemic and in person–they tried to escort him out of the office but he didn’t have his coat, so the manager had to go get it for him. These kind of very shocking, “your employment ends this second” layoffs don’t make sense to me unless the employee works with very sensitive material, but perhaps there’s a legal reason I don’t understand. No one I know is in those roles. But I think it’s because these types of layoffs are extremely common, it contributes to a paranoid, anything could happen to us vibe.

    1. Call Me Dr. Dork*

      That’s the way it worked with my most recent layoff, with a twist: I was invited to a quick meeting with my boss in his cube, but when I got there, he stood up and walked over to the HR office with me in tow. After the 10 minutes of HR stuff, I was then told to gather my belongings and leave while everyone else in our group was in a (fake) meeting away from their desks. I wasn’t given so much as a box or a bag, so I had to abandon some belongings in order to tote it all home on the train.

      Let’s say that I don’t have a lot of warm feelings about that job, particularly since they then wanted me to come back (for free!) to help them transition my projects to a contractor. I would have happily went to part time, or agreed to a transition time so I could document everything and hand it off properly, but I was only given the option to get 2 weeks of severance (if I waived all my rights to sue) or 0 pay after that day.

    2. Hilary*

      I would love to know Allison’s take on this, maybe she has some idea why this is such a thing.

      I feel like companies just operate this way because they assume they have to for security reasons, or to avoid people flipping out (or even worse), but I also think that the consequence of this is a lack of trust between the worker and the company.

      In my experience it also has negative effects beyond the individuals who have gone through it. I’ve had several experiences where people were just disappeared from my company one morning or in the middle of the day… no warning, no opportunity for others to say goodbye, like all of a sudden they never existed.

      And companies expect workers to show loyalty to them. Hah.

    3. bamcheeks*

      In the UK in large or public sector companies you usually get a big team meeting where they tell you that there’s a restructure and which roles are at risk and which new/vacant roles you’ll be able to apply for and then you have a three month “consultation” during which you’re theoretically allowed to give feedback individually or via the union and then you go through the process of applying for the new role (sometimes your own role) and quite possibly a few people leave voluntarily because they’re so fucked off and at the end of three months the redundancies are confirmed and people are told if they’ve been successful in applying for new roles or if they are being made redundant.

      The first time I went through it I genuinely believed it was a consultation but now I feel like they deliberately draw it out like that so that by the time it actually happens everyone’s so jaded they just want it over with.

      1. HellieR*

        Ugh, that is also terrible (and also happened to me, actually, in North America). I mean, we can give working notice when we quit and politely wind down projects, say goodbye to colleagues, clean up our offices, without it being this monstrous thing. I don’t know why we can’t have working notice when it goes the other way?? I have heard of it happening, mind you, but only for the most senior staff–either feared or beloved.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        I think that large UK employers are legally required to do it that way if they’re laying off a certain percentage of their staff. If you heard about the recent P&O Ferries mass firing, it was illegal and hugely controversial specifically because they didn’t do it that way.
        I went through a very similar layoff process while working in the US and yeah, it was totally excruciating.

    4. Gem*

      I’m curious about this too. I had a “your employment ends this second” with no explanation and it’s bothered me so much. Honestly it’s made me so paranoid now. There must be a better way.

  39. This is a name, I guess*

    This catastrophizing is a really hard impulse to tame, if you’ve ever worked in a dysfunctional work environment. One of the hardest transitions I’ve made was trying to develop normal, rational responses to work anxiety triggers once I left a highly dysfunctional, chaotic, punitive, tyrannical workplace. (A small business, naturally.)

    Workplace anxiety is similar to a trauma response, and it doesn’t magically go away when you leave the anxious workplace. It takes a lot of active internal work to manage the anxiety.

    My agency merged with a smaller agency that was known for a super, super toxic work culture. I had to deal with the weird behaviors from the staff we subsumed. Some were just kind of shell-shocked. Others were totally disengaged. Still others were straight up toxic drama monsters from all the years of insecurity.

  40. saradactyl*

    The last time this happened to me (mystery invite from grand-boss) I worried about all the same things and even asked him what was going on and he said he just wanted to check in before he went on medical leave. I relaxed.

    Then we met and HR joined the call. I immediately knew something actually was up. Grand-boss told me my department was being eliminated, effective immediately. I could accept a transfer to another department or be laid off. Whoops!

    (Most of the time it actually is fine. It was just incredibly surreal to have that worst case actually play out.)

  41. anonymous73*

    I’m a very realistic person, and generally don’t worry too much about things outside of my control. But in my 26+ year career, I’ve been laid off 3 times. So anytime there are rumblings, or big company changes, I go into paranoia mode. My logical side realizes that I’m being ridiculous, but it’s very difficult to turn off the worry at times. Glad that it was good news for the OP.

  42. nnn*

    Years ago (long before the pandemic), my organization switched to optional work from home, and the uptake was huge.

    WFH started on the Tuesday after a long weekend. The Friday afternoon before, we were all told that we have to be in the office at 8 a.m. on Tuesday for a mandatory meeting. It was apparent that they were holding the same meeting at the same time at all our locations across the country, and that they weren’t allowed to tell us what it’s about.

    Scary! Are we all fired?? Are they going to be revoking our WFH? What’s going on?

    After a rather anxious weekend, we all wake up early and commute into the office on what was supposed to be our first WFH day, sit down in the meeting room, where they announce…

    …some slight technical changes to our performance objectives. Which have no impact whatsoever on the work of the rank and file (our objectives continue to be basically “Meet your deadlines, don’t mess up.”)

  43. Fleur-de-Lis*

    Yep, alladis. I really hated when my boss at a previous job would drop by unannounced. It was never good news, and usually involved a dressing-down for me and/or she would dump her personal bucket on me and cry.

    I am very careful to say what a meeting is about in very broad strokes or to be clear that it’s just news, neither good nor bad.

  44. Decidedly Me*

    I know I can personally be better about giving people a head’s up about what meetings are about, but I’ve found that even when I explain the reason and it’s nothing bad, people still worry. It’s odd, as it even happens with people I’ve never had a negative conversation with (and negative conversations are rare in general across the team).

    I am curious how people feel when it is bad news, though. Is it more worrying to know that “The call later is to discuss your ongoing performance issues and the next steps” or to not be sure? I’m honestly not sure for myself, so curious how others feel.

    1. Cookies For Breakfast*

      My two cents: performance issues shouldn’t be a surprise. Managers should make time to discuss progress and feedback with those they manage regularly. Performance issues, ways to address them and next steps should come up in that setting, so that, at the very least, people expect they’ll be having that kind conversation. And, hopefully, it’s not too late to turn the situation around.

      If people are surprised with this kind of conversation in a randomly scheduled meeting (or at their annual review), that’s a red flag. About the manager, about company practices and culture, or even both.

      1. Decidedly Me*

        Oh for sure – that’s just one example.

        It’s more, which feels worse – knowing that an uncomfortable call is coming up or not knowing what the upcoming call is?

      2. Momma Bear*

        Very much agree. I worked for a start up once where they were figuring out how to handle things without an effective HR or much SOP about anything. They let two people go and realized by the shocked looks on the rest of the team’s faces they needed to do some damage control – both right then and to improve the process so no one else was surprised. Not doing so is poor management.

  45. Lora*

    Yeah, managers scheduling meetings definitely need to say what they are for. It takes seconds to add “meeting to discuss the Llamas Inc account” to the meeting invite. You will make people so much more relaxed just by doing that.

    I have had mystery meetings in which layoffs were announced, site closures were announced, informing me of PIPs, informing me of bonuses, informing me of promotions. In these modern times where we all have open offices, “got a sec for a call?” usually DOES mean I don’t have any privacy and if bosses want to discuss something I’d rather wasn’t broadcasted to the entire company, they don’t always give me warnings about “hey find yourself a conference room”. For instance, boss called me a few months ago to say I was getting a bonus and raise and it was x% of my salary. I hope she’s really cool with the whole company knowing how much money I make now, because they all got an earful when my only warning of the conversation was “hey do you have a minute”.

  46. straws*

    This may be too off-topic, so I can repost on Friday if it is but… does anyone have an example of a layoff/termination done well? The suggestions for how to make sure an employee doesn’t think a neutral/good meeting is a termination here are fantastic, but then how do you request to meet with someone regarding an actual termination? If they’re on a PIP, then a review would already be set up, but that isn’t always the case – especially with layoffs that aren’t performance related.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Well, with big companies they will often bring in a consultant (think like the movie Up in the Air) to conduct the mass layoffs, give you your packet with severance information, answer questions, and send you on your way. It’s impersonal, but sometimes that is better actually, because it’s not really about you personally, it’s just business and them having to downsize.

      Worst is many small business owners who make everything SO personal, or blame you for their poor business decisions or mismanagement of the business. They’re the ones who need to layoff because they can’t afford you, but will do everything in their power to fire you for cause in order to avoid paying unemployment.

    2. Lora*

      Yes, I have seen this done.

      Step 1: Headquarters announced that reductions in staff were planned and the approximate timeframe (“decisions will be made in April-May of this year, employees will be informed in June” type of range). We were also told approximate (to the nearest hundred, it was a big company) how many would be cut from which departments.

      Step 2: April, Headquarters announced the review criteria for whether or not you’d be considered for layoff (compiled past annual review scores), and more precise numbers from each department were announced. It was also announced what the severance payouts would be, and calls for volunteers for layoff or early retirement were sent out.

      Step 3: late April, they had decided who would be let go, had accepted all the volunteers and early retirements they could, and direct managers were the ones giving the bad news to individual employees. Individual employees were allowed to work out a 3-month notice period, during which they were expected to help transfer projects but it was also common to find them interviewing in the middle of the day or taking phone screens for new jobs. A listing of open positions at other sites was sent out, with those about to be let go getting preferential treatment for interviews and relocation costs covered by the company. They were also offered career coaching, interviewing and resume-writing workshops from a decent professional service, and were given time to ask colleagues and managers for references and get any projects done or publications out so they wouldn’t lose credit for those. Severance was pretty good (for the US) and in the case of long-term employees enough that they could retire early. Another option was to take a long term severance payout (e.g. if you were supposed to receive 2+ years of severance) as a lump sum payment, though there was a significant tax penalty to this.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I experienced some of this when we lost a contract. We had x notice and were notified about transfer options to other projects. Another time the work still needed to be done, the company that won the bid interviewed the team, and then offered jobs to anyone who wanted to stay on. A third time I was brought into a meeting with the Team Leads and our collective bosses, they said it wasn’t personal, they were sorry, and they all offered to be a reference for me. I also got a raise until I either quit or the end date arrived.

        I would suggest that anyone who does need to strategically fire people then have a follow up with those left to discuss what just happened because otherwise people will be scared. If you have to let someone go, fired or not, do it well or you might lose other people you didn’t plan on leaving.

  47. A Teacher*

    A few bosses ago we had a principal that would send you an email at 6 pm or later on a Friday night that said “see me first thing Monday.” With no context. You’d ask for context and she might reply 24 hours later with a one word answer. She was notorious for calling people in for petty things or for things that were not valid and then getting mad because her reasoning for trying to discipline never held up. Same boss would make her assistant principals wait until 330 on a Friday to have their weekly meeting. They were contracted until 4 but of course the meeting would ALWAYS run over.

    The next principal that came in could not understand why a lot of us would ask if we needed to bring a union rep with us or if we needed to assert Weingarten or why we asked if the meeting was disciplinary in nature. He asked me about 3 years after he started why the whole staff was so jumpy. By this point, he and I had a decent relationship and he knew I wouldn’t BS him like his inner group might. After explaining the prior boss to him, he was like “this makes so much more sense”

    1. Hilary*

      Random question but, what does “assert Weingarten” mean? Isn’t Weingarten a person?

      1. PivotPivot*

        I think assert Weingarten rules means, like having union representation or investigation protocol using union rules.

        1. A Teacher*

          What pivot pivot said. Basically not say anything incriminating and have a union rep available

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      It took him 3 years to ask?! I would have asked people (a more sensitively worded version of) “you and others in the team keep asking if you need a union rep etc, why is that?” after 2-3 occurrences!

  48. Full-Time Fabulous*

    Here’s my story and it did not end happily:
    When I happened to see on my boss’ calendar “Prep Meeting for Non-Reappointment,” I was immediately sick and knew she was firing me. Turns out my boss had cooked up a “reorganization” of the office so that she could get rid of me and another employee she didn’t like (the other employee luckily was able to resign for a better job in time). Her bosses had been OK with this and HR was ready to help her do it. So yep, we had a meeting the next week with the HR staff member who always comes around with bad news and she said she “had to eliminate” my position. Really she just wanted to consolidate the office to her favorites and promote them. I got 90-days notice and moved to another department immediately for that time period (typical since this was a without cause termination).

    Fast forward a few months and my former boss magically had a need for my old position again – she gave my old title and salary to her two favorite employees. All this to say, Alison is probably right that you’re probably not getting fired but if you think your boss is a monster like mine then start taking home your photos/plants/diplomas.

  49. Library IT*

    My work has had a lot of upheaval recently (with retirements, reorg, etc). When my boss had to schedule a last-minute meeting he put added “good news” in the subject line. We all told him how nice that was so no one panicked before the meeting.

    1. Allonge*

      I think this works great for the situation. I would find it really strange to implement it in non-turbulent times, but definitely good for weird months!

  50. Can't think of a funny name*

    Years ago, my boss at an Old Job scheduled a meeting with me on a Friday afternoon. We had just had a bunch of layoffs over the past few weeks but then earlier in this week there was an all-hands call and they told us all the layoffs were done so no reason to worry about the purpose of the meeting, right? Nope… I got laid off. LOL.

  51. Office Chinchilla*

    My employer (mega-corp you’ve heard of) has been running employee satisfaction surveys since we merged right around when the pandemic started. The single biggest complaint everyone has is that we’re not getting performance feedback. In 2020, they suspended all raises and promotions, so since annual performance reviews are usually the same meeting where you find out what your annual raise is (we don’t do COL, only merit, which is usually around 3% and TRUST ME, I KNOW), my bosses didn’t do performance reviews. In 2021, it was a company-wide raise of 4.5%, so my bosses decided this also meant they didn’t need to do performance reviews. The company mandated that all managers give performance feedback to their reports, which my big boss delegated to my little boss, and her version of performance feedback is to get us all on a meeting and say “so how’s everyone doing?” In fact, I’ve been struggling a lot, partly because the merger has been terrible but largely because of personal issues, and I’m constantly terrified someone is going to notice. My only comfort is knowing that they don’t fire people here without a months-long PIP in place, so the first meeting wouldn’t be the final meeting, but I have no clue what everyone thinks of my work, or if they even think of it at all.

  52. The Engineer*

    “I was asked to schedule a meeting to discuss a project with myself, my boss, and another coworker. When checking calendars to schedule that meeting, I noticed my boss had a event titled “Jane check-in” (my name) for later in the week, but I hadn’t received an invite.”

    The OP was looking at schedules to complete an assigned task and noticed the appointment. Had the boss set their schedule to ‘private’ for appointment contents then this whole issue would never had been.

    People legitimately need to know when you are available, but they don’t necessarily need to know what an existing appointment is about. Change your default calendar settings to private and whitelist anyone who needs details. Whether you are at the dentist, getting a haircut, holding a performance review (good or bad), or taking a break between meetings, not everyone ‘needs’ to know that.

  53. Cookies For Breakfast*

    I spent most of the pandemic working for a boss who micromanaged me to the point of very visible burnout. He had more than one strong disagreement with higher-ups. A moment came when I thought I was seeing signs he was about to resign.

    Around that time, my grandboss scheduled a meeting with me, very helpfully titled “catch up”. I was curious but not too worried. I expected he’d ask how things were going working with Boss, and prepared to ask for projects I could manage independently, so I could get out from under him. I thought he’d reschedule ten times before it actually happened, as was his habit with lower-level employees. Instead, he moved it to very first thing in the morning instead of mid-afternoon. Not worrying the meeting would be “Boss has resigned and we’re firing you” became very hard.

    The meeting was, in fact “Boss is fired and you’re getting a huge pay rise”. Which was a different kind of shock.

    And then, months later, I got demoted by the new department head via last-minute meeting before I logged off for a holiday. A meeting I genuinely thought would be about reviewing a task due while I was away. Now that’s warned me off agenda-less meetings for life.

  54. Bookworm*

    I can relate, OP! About 1.5 years ago in another job my manager Slacked me and asked if I had 5 minutes. I’ll admit I panicked, even though in retrospect this really wasn’t his style and there was nothing to indicate that I was being fired. It was very much something very mundane and boring although I think I mentioned something about feeling anxious because I noticed whenever he wanted a quick chat afterwards he always made sure to add a little something about what it was, even if was like “new project,” which I appreciated.

    Alison’s answer nailed it. Managers could probably think these things through a little more but there’s also often no reason to panic if your work is good.

    I did once have an opposite situation years prior, where a meeting had been scheduled for at least a few days and I had expected to be hired for a FT job because I had no reason to believe (and I still hold to this) that there was anything wrong with my work. (Apparently I was wrong but no one told me at any point while I was there) I didn’t panic going into the meeting but I was pretty furious after. Again, this is NOT to justify anxiety but is directed towards managers who should, uh, learn to manage (which he admitted in that meeting! *eyeroll*). Just saying.

  55. tessa*

    Sometimes I just forget to “invite attendee,” and when meeting rolls around, no one shows up, because…

    Glad it worked out, OP.

    1. Sean*

      I was about to say the same thing, since this stood out. It was only by chance that the OP discovered there was a meeting she needed to attend about a client.

      I wonder what the boss would have done had the OP simply remained unaware of the meeting, and consequently failed to attend?

  56. Anonomatopoeia*

    I DO NOT UNDERSTAND why so many managers want to not offer up information ahead of meetings. A thing I have heard many times is that folks should just not worry about things until they are told, but a thing I have observed many times is that when people come in upset/worried, they don’t hear well anyway and also are not as likely to ask important clarifying questions, and when they have all the context they need, they are able to ask good questions and offer up things to consider, plus they also aren’t worried all day, plus they may have had the opportunity to use that context to gather information that turns out to be relevant and necessary.

    I mean, I get that the cynical reason is that some managers want their staff to do as told and not ask questions because they might embarrass a manager who doesn’t know the answer (but this is a bad management plan), but that can’t be the only reason, can it? Maybe it can. But maybe not.

  57. Queen of the Introverts*

    Once upon a time, the president of our small 10-person company accidentally printed out an article on the shared office printer, rather than his private one. No biggie, right? Except the article was about how to fire someone. When he grabbed, worried someone might have seen it, he announced loudly, “No one is getting fired. Sometimes I print things out for future reference. Sorry for the scare.”

  58. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Oh gosh yes. As a manager please do not leave people hanging as to the topic of the meeting. There are so many things you could put in there. Re: New client, regular 1×1, project update, etc.

    That being said: I once worked a place where a couple of new executives came to visit and put out a notice there was to be a “Town Hall” on Monday morning. Everyone thought it was for the new executives to meet and greet everyone as it was the first time they were visiting our location.
    But basically the new executives were there to announce at the Town Hall that they were closing our office and everyone was being let go. I hate Town Halls to this very day. It was a real crap thing to do.

    1. TastefullyFreckled*

      That was how they handled our layoffs at exJob. We got a “departmental meeting” request, which wasn’t entirely rare. Then they told us that they were moving our department overseas, so this was our one-month notice.

  59. 2 Cents*

    This isn’t funny, but once an entire team meeting was called out of the blue and I panicked, sure we were all being fired or downsized or something terrible since that’s the only time impromptu all-team meetings had been called at my toxic past workplaces. And it was for terrible news — a coworker who’d been battling a long-term illness had died — but I was so relieved for myself personally that I had to remember not to smile in that very solemn meeting. (I swear I’m not an insensitive jerk.)

    1. 2 Cents*

      All this to say that in the 15+ years I’ve been working, I have worked myself up with anxiety about meeting about 1,000 times, even after stellar feedback from my manager (my most level-headed, straight-talking, even-keeled manager) and decided that this next meeting is the one she decides I’m the imposter I suspect I am, I’m going to be fired, my last project was a dismal failure, etc. Yes, I work with a therapist and a psychiatrist. Yes, I have whole protocols to go through whenever these thoughts creep in. But the fear is still there. Sometimes it helps to name that it is a FEAR and a FEELING and that won’t hurt me.

  60. Not really a Waitress*

    Ha ha! 2 weeks ago, I got a little testy in an email with a 3rd party contractor we work with. I sent it last thing, then went home. When I got home I had a 1:1 meeting invite with my great great great grand boss for the day after next. I tossed and turned that night. When I got to work the next morning, I was slacking with one of my counterparts at another site. She had also gotten an invite and she was worried because she had dropped the F bomb in front of the HR Director. Turns out, he originally had a couple of PTO days scheduled, but the reason for them was cancelled. But his schedule was free, so he took that time to reach out to team members.

    It does lead to one of my pet peeves. Meeting invites with no agenda or Topic. It just says Meeting or Augustus/Waitress but you have no clue what its about.

  61. Irish Teacher.*

    A friend of mine – a fellow teacher – once had a similar experience. She was on a temporary contract at the time and the principal said (s)he needed to speak to her. She was teaching one of her subjects for the first time in a number of years, so she was worried the principal was going to question her experience with that or something. As it turned out, another teacher was going on leave and as she was on a temporary part-time contract, the principal wanted to ask her to take on that teacher’s classes in addition to her own.

  62. JustMe*

    Wow! I’m not alone! I’ve worked in sales the last 10 years. When I was fairly new, I got a message that my grandboss wanted to see me in her office. I was mid-meeting so I couldn’t go immediately. I’m still not quite sure what was said the rest of the meeting because I was sure I was in huge trouble – I mean she is my boss’ boss right? Nope, seems that I had won my first sales prize. Apparently, while I thought I hadn’t been making my sales goals, I had beating everyone else. This scenario happened several times when finally when she called to see me, she’d tell the person, “and can you tell her she’s not in trouble”. LOL!! Ten years later and lots and lots of one on one meetings later, we always laugh about that. I never did get a “called to the principal’s office” call!

  63. feath*

    Yeah I had one of these happen to me…came back from vacation, had a meeting labeled “Catch-up” sent to me, with only me on the invite (which was odd as I worked on a team with two others for projects), and I’d just heard that people got layoff news the week prior while I was out. Even being a bit prepared with knowledge didn’t make the layoff hurt less.

  64. ES*

    As a manager who has been involved in a few firings/PIPs that led to resignations, I can tell you that at most midsize and large employers you’ll never be immediately fired if things are going well with your job. HR will require a PIP that usually happens as part of the performance management process. Firing is a process but it won’t usually be a surprise unless you’ve just done something unbelievably bad.

    That said, if you get a meeting invite with your boss and someone from HR that just says “Meeting” – and you’re at the end of a PIP – that’s almost certainly going to be a firing.

    Layoffs of course are a separate matter.

  65. Sauron*

    OOFF I feel this heavily. My boss is a chronic “Hey, do you have a minute?” type, and it is never anything problematic. Usually, it’s just “Sorry, but I told this team you’d help them with this thing FYI” or “Please explain this project to me I missed all these meetings.” But I am also high anxiety so there is always this little ping even now after dozens of these impromptu meetings where I’m like OH GOD I’M GETTING FIRED!!! No real advice here, just additional sympathy.

  66. Goldenrod*

    I had a very weird experience once where I showed up to work one day, and there was a lot of mystery around my supervisor wanting to meet with me in private. She looked really concerned & serious, and told me to sit down. I thought for sure I was being fired.

    Turns out, one of my coworkers had died in a tragic accident and they were trying to be break the news in a sensitive way by meeting with everyone individually. That day was a bad rollercoaster ride.

  67. Lurker*

    I can relate — at old job my office was next to the Director’s. One Friday, around 5pm when everyone near us was gone for the day, he called and asked if I could come in to his office to discuss a “personnel matter.” I panicked; even though I knew I was a good worker and rationally didn’t think I would be getting fired. But irrationally — they can fire you for anything! When I got to his office he wanted to discuss another employee’s vacation request (it was an ask that would have been an exception to our policy, and I was the HR person). I told him he almost gave me a heart attack, asking for “personnel” meeting at 5pm on a Friday and we laughed, but whew, I was nervous.

    By the same token, as the HR person, I always tried to be cognizant of the panic when I would schedule meetings with staff. Or if I called them and said, “Can you stop by my office?” I would say, it’s about X (nothing bad). But it’s tough as HR because if you *always* put what the meeting is about when it’s not bad, then they will notice when you break the pattern (when it is bad).

    1. Gem*

      I was wondering about this. Like, I of course want to know what the meeting is going to be about, but what if it IS bad? What is the HR / manager supposed to say?

  68. El l*

    I think if you want a meeting with someone, you should tell them (at highest-level) what it’s about. Manager, or not, with only a few rare exceptions (like if you’re an employee giving your notice).

    I had the same feeling in my Old Job – someone got fired, I was clearly annoying management, and they asked me at the end of the day if I was willing to come into their office. Had to take a deep breath, but it wasn’t about anything.

    So – the only thing to do if an employee is attend – it won’t be any less painful if it you see it coming.

  69. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oof, been there, done that! I remember early on in my current job my boss moved our one-on-one from his office to a separate conference room, and I immediately thought that it was to accommodate having an HR person there and I was getting laid off. Spent all day worrying about it, only to arrive and him immediately say “Oh I hope you don’t mind me moving the location, I’ve been stuck in my office all day and wanted a change of scenery and room with a window.” – I immediately felt relieved and silly that I’d worried. But I’ve had such bad experiences being blindsided at meetings, I don’t think it’s unfathomable to have a nervous response to unexpected changes!

    On the other side, I called a quick meeting with my then-manager a few years ago, with the intention of asking to start using an available benefit. After I asked about it she was like “oh thank goodness, I was afraid you were telling me you were quitting!” So being nervous about unexpected meetings can happen at any level!

  70. Dona Florinda*

    This happened to me twice. First time I was being let go due to some reestructuring, so there was nothing I could’ve done. The second one it was actually a promotion.
    So really do your best to keep your mind out of it and, if you have reasons to believe you’re going to be fired, take a look at what can you do to control the damage, like update your resume and start saving money. Other than that, there’s nothing you can do, so don’t let anxiety consume you for something that may not happen.

  71. Wendy Darling*

    My personal worst iteration was when the HR rep messaged me to ask if I had a few minutes to talk, then disappeared for 45 minutes, then came back and clarified that I needed to be somewhere private, and disappeared for another 30 minutes.

    It turned out that they were investigating someone else’s behavior and wanted to hear my take on it, and my take was fairly benign, so it was a slightly awkward conversation but not a big deal. But also I feel like HR should perhaps know better than to give me heart palpitations like that!

    1. Lizzo*

      You think they could have said to you, “You’re not being fired,” just to make it clear…sigh.

  72. Tink’s Mom*

    For YEARS almost every time I was called in my boss or grand boss’s office I was terrified I would be fired. Then one day I realized I wasn’t scared anymore.

    I think I subconsciously realized the reasons for the feeling; culture, unrealistic expectations, a lack of being managed, toxic environment, etc. I just stopped caring about their opinion though I still cared about my job. I probably also had a backup plan in case it happened.

    Now I’m in a better headspace, have a better backup plan and a backup to that. I’m also sure that I’m not going to be fired unless there is some cataclysmic event.

  73. Momma Bear*

    I had one where the whole (small) department got to hear some bad news about a coworker. Our jobs were intact, but it was not a fun meeting.

    I had another where I asked for feedback on a difficult assignment and it turned into a surprise mid-year review (we never did mid-years up to that point). I think had the grandboss not been there at the time I would have been written up. I was floored not only to be chastised so badly, but also that this was the first I was hearing of some of the concerns. I decided not to stick around for the end of the year review and started job hunting in earnest. I left a few months later. However, ever since then I’ve been a little nervous about one-on-ones with the boss. It’s a “me” issue. At this company there aren’t many bees and it’s been OK, but I still remind myself to not panic.

    1. Lizzo*

      I’ve experienced something similar to your second scenario…department head suddenly told me that we’re doing annual reviews, when we have never done them…and I’m pretty certain I was the only one being reviewed. Threw a long list of things at me, some of which was complete BS. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could, but boy did that traumatize me. Current job is excellent in all aspects, but it took me three years of working here before my boss could say, “Hey could we talk” and it wouldn’t result in me getting heart palpitations. Hell, we all had 1:1 zoom calls scheduled with the big boss at the end of last year and were told ahead of time “you are all getting raises, we’ll share the details with you in this meeting” and STILL many of us showed up to those meetings and said, “I’m nervous that I’m going to get fired.” :-/

  74. Taliena*

    At least it wasn’t called “2021 Goals” and you went into the meeting having done a lot of prep for your 2021 goals only to log on to Zoom and find out you were actually getting laid off. Because that happened to me and it sucked so hard.

    It was a job that I loved and which loved me back for many, many years, and then in a short period of time I became disabled and acquired a manager who was unwilling to make any accommodations. She isolated and gaslit me for a year while she put the pieces in place to justify laying me off during the next re-org (large corporation, there was always a re-org happening somewhere).

    It’s been just over a year and that layoff was the best thing that could have happened to me, even though at the time it was deeply traumatic and I’m still dealing with some (a lot) work-related anxiety.

    But managers, if you’re going to shitcan someone, don’t use the word “goals” in the subject, ffs.

  75. CatPerson*

    The other thing that our company used to do was schedule all-department meetings with no specified topic. Those were often reorganizations and usually included people who were being let go. That happened a lot at my company and everyone would whisper and try to find out and sweat and speculate. Awful. Sometimes they were other more benign announcements but since the meeting subject was mysterious everyone would spend the time spreading rumors anyway.

  76. Melicious*

    Seriously, why do managers not realize what these can seem like? The one and only time I was invited to a company-wide meeting with no information on topic, we were all told on Friday to expect this meeting Monday. We all knew the company was doing poorly financially. It turned out to be a buy-out that we didn’t know was in the works, but WHY TELL US ON FRIDAY IF YOURE NOT GOING TO ACTUALLY TELL US? We all spent the weekend convinced the company was going under and we were losing our jobs.

  77. Yellowjacket #3*

    Oh man, I relate to this so hard! I took a course over Zoom recently and the teacher asked me if I could stay on the call after everyone else left. I had a bolt of anxiety go through me and thought I hid it pretty well but she immediately said “Don’t worry!! It’s nothing bad!” and informed me that I had looked “stricken,” so….cool :\
    Turns out it was just some positive feedback she wanted to pass along, but it’s so hard to NOT have the knee-jerk anxiety impulse if you’re naturally prone to it!

  78. Lizzo*

    I was once asked to leave a job (and to be fair, it wasn’t a good fit, but my manager wasn’t great, so I was blindsided by it). We set an end date for about six weeks out so I could wrap up an important project. Meanwhile, I was looking at her calendar one day to schedule something and noticed that she had a “Celebration Lunch” listed publicly on her calendar, with a bunch of upper management on the guest list. Turns out the celebration was for firing me, and the description of the event made that clear.

    My response: a letter making clear that I had been incredibly professional about everything up until that point, and this felt like a slap in the face…to which she said, “I’m sorry that the lunch was public and viewable, but I’m not sorry for having the lunch because the people attending helped me with this difficult situation.”

    Maybe that second part was true, but WHY did you say that to me? Jerk.

  79. Director of Random Things*

    I worked for someone once who never gave positive feedback. One Friday, right at the end of the day, she asked me to come into her office and when I reached for my notebook and pen, she said, “Oh, you won’t need that!” I was totally sure I was getting fired. Nope– she promoted me!

  80. Beth*

    When I have a meeting about something sensitive or personal, I usually set the invite to private, just in case someone needs to look at my calendar. That might not have helped in this case, but it’s a good tip.

  81. RedinSC*

    I had a boss, back in the day who would wander up to you and say, “hey, can we talk? Let’s go for a walk”

    OMG! That’s like ho EVERY break up happens, right?? Each time he’d do that I’d have a mini panic. Damn, dude! NO. ANyway, I should have gotten used to this, but even after a year of this, he’d say it, and I’d panic.

    1. A Feast of Fools*

      At my previous company, the Director over our department absolutely used, “Let’s go for a walk,” as a prelude to negative feedback and delivering his personal opinion of you (which was never good).

      We had open-plan seating and he wanted to be on the move while being his jerkwad self so that (1) no one could overhear [or, at least not overhear the whole conversation] and (2) no one could read the facial expressions of both parties over the entirety of the conversation.

      We had conference / meeting rooms that were in the middle of the floor. They were mostly soundproof, thanks to white noise machines that were placed in the ceiling tiles around them, but the walls — all four sides — were smoked glass, so you could still clearly see the people inside them.

  82. Gem*

    I was laid off (or fired, honestly not sure, the words the used were “terminate your employment”) from my last job. I was totally blindsided, the meeting seemed so innocuous since I’d only been there three months. I thought it was just a check in since I was new.

    I’d spent my whole professional career training myself not to read into every little meeting and assume I was getting fired, and then my worst fears came true! Now I’m back to being paranoid about every meeting ever. It sucked but also, in hindsight that company wasn’t great anyway and I probably should have quit.

    I’m glad the LW didn’t have bad news in this case!

  83. RedFraggle*

    Reading through these is interesting.

    I’ve been fired with “I don’t want to talk about it” as a reason, as well as “I don’t want to go into the reasons.” (Yes, two different jobs.) Performance reviews or meetings with my immediate supervisor cause defcon-1 levels of anxiety.

    I’ve also had an AMAZING grandboss who could set a meeting with no subject / warning / clue, and I’d be completely comfortable heading into that meeting.

    I’m realizing, though, that I often text my boss with “do you have any time this week we could meet” or something to that effect – and I don’t give them a heads up as to why. They deserve the same heads up I do, even if they’re the person in a position of power (perhaps especially so, since they are more likely to give me a subject heads up if I consistently give them one).

    Trauma responses are really hard to get through, especially when the nature of work means were always in an uneven power dynamic.

  84. Big Biscuit*

    In this case, it seems to me that the boss could have easily put something like “new client discussion” in the subject of the invite. I’m a “boss” and I’ve learned to communicate as much detail as possible, it always helps. There are times when unfortunately confidentiality is required, but it’s not that often.

  85. Anoni-Mouse*

    On the flip side, my husband recently got a an invite for a 15-minute “quick chat” from a direct report. He was worried she might be resigning because in the past few months he had had two other such short “quick chat” meetings from resigning direct reports. Turned out that this one was to talk about parental leave.

  86. Kat*

    This is super relatable! For anyone else in this situation, please take some time to explore whether this makes you nervous or whether it makes you Panic with a capital P. I would occasionally vomit or have other extreme responses to being called for surprise meetings. It came after many years in a high stress industry where there was indeed a solid chance that I was going to get screamed at and humiliated. I ended up getting a diagnosis of PTSD and am taking steps to deal with it (including research, mindfulness, medication, and strategies for telling my new and not-insane management about my challenges). My point being that sometimes your body is asking you to find a new way to deal with an old problem, and don’t be ashamed to talk to a medical professional about it.

  87. Set2*

    I had my boss message something like “have a sec?” but as I recall he included some kind of positive, upbeat emoji, maybe a smile. It was not worrying at all, and I’d strongly recommend it. The news was that my promotion had was approved.

    I recall one boss I had who kept moving a vaguely-titled “ad hoc” meeting around my calendar for the next day. It was so clumsy that I figured if it were bad news about me he wouldn’t have the nerve to do it. It turns out he was resigning, which wasn’t a shock.

    I received “have a sec?” messages from two excellent colleagues last week telling me about their resignations before I heard about it by official channels or gossip. That did give me a jolt of panic, even though they weren’t in my management chain, probably because the calls were so immediate. One them could have been in a position to give me bad news about my project, if not my job.

    I’ve experienced multiple rounds of layoffs across two companies in only the past few years, though I was never laid off myself. I feel at this point I can see this coming a bit, like when there is a re-org without explicit assurances that everyone’s keeping their job. Even before the first round, I told my manager I was worried about layoffs just based on comments at an all-company meeting. That doesn’t save me from being panicked when the layoffs do happen, but it means that when I do not detect signs of impending layoffs, I relax a bit.

  88. AJHall*

    The last two meetings with no agenda I was called to the first was to tell me the firm had less than six weeks before it ran out of cash and the second was to make me redundant. I accept everything Alison says about catastrophising and running through worst case scenarios in ones head, but these days if someone wants me to attend a meeting, I expect them to have the courtesy to tell me what it’s about in advance.

  89. Erin*

    There was one particular teacher in my high school who frequently, in whole-school assemblies, asked named students to come and speak to him after the assembly ended. He had a specific format:

    “Joe Bloggs, please come and speak to me after assembly, You Are Not In Trouble.”

    I always respected that. Tell people that they aren’t in trouble more, please, everyone!

  90. WillowSunstar*

    I used to have this worry also due to the fact my first 10 years of working was temping. Whenever I was a temp, 99% of the time they were going to lay you off and/or not renew your 3-month contract for another 3 months, the manager scheduled a last-minute meeting with only you and either no topic, or a very vague topic. Sometimes no reason was given, other times it was financial. On occasion, the manager didn’t even bother to tell you and just had the temp agency call you and tell you not to come in. So I learned the hard way not to leave stuff at my desk that I cared anything about.

    I’ve learned in the decade since that not all meetings with the boss are layoffs/firings. But it would help if bosses would clarify the subject of the meeting to avoid inducing stress.

  91. RabidChild*

    This is such a valuable post to me, because I never want to be the cause of someone’s anxiety. As a manager, my reasons for saying something like, “Hey can you come to my office when you have a chance?” always means I have something to discuss that’s non-urgent and won’t take much time, so doesn’t need a formal meeting invite. But how statements land always trumps how they’re meant, so being sensitive to others’ reactions is something I want to continue to do.

  92. PennylaneTX*

    I have been on the other side of this (kind of). I used to keep my weekly to-do list in Excel (broken out by client and day, I am impressed at my formal self) which also had just little notes and reminders for me. My coworker was at my desk to talk about what she could take off my plate and we were both looking at the list, which also had the note “Talk to ” It was a reminder to me to talk to her about some specific thing for a client but when she saw that she was like “uh oh, what do you need to talk to me about?!” Sometimes your personal notes end up public!!

  93. That One Person*

    I really feel the OP on this one as I’ve found that “Can we talk?” is something of a trigger phrase for me. Granted its on a more personal level as it just seems like my break ups all begin with that question so now when a friend uses it to more ask “can we chat/hang out in call?” my hackles raise a bit and I can feel myself tense up for no good reason. We’re good enough friends that we’re not looking to axe it, but my mind and body supplant that idea first and foremost. Best recommendation is to consider the most ridiculous, worst possibility, and then the most outlandish great possibility, and realize it’s going to be somewhere mundanely in the middle (but try to veer towards the positive ones as best you can). This will be a nice recall to fall back on where it was just a chat about a new assignment and – from the sounds of it – prepping you for it.

  94. KN*

    Oh this is so relatable! Big flashbacks to when I was ~8 months in to my first post-college job (supposed to be a 1-year position) and got one of these “check-in” convos dropped on my calendar from the CEO of our small nonprofit. I stressed about it for days and thought there was at least a 25% chance I was going to be fired or reprimanded (for what, I have no idea! I was getting good feedback!).

    Turns out it was a meeting to ask me to stay on another year–which was great! Except I was so relieved that I agreed on the spot when he threw in casually that they would of course raise my salary something like “3%, in line with inflation.” My original salary was set as part of a college program, and it was extremely low. In retrospect, I really think I could have easily negotiated to raise my salary by 20% or more if I’d asked around, thought about it, and evaluated the offer as one option to consider instead of just “THANK GOD THEY WANT ME TO STAY.”

    I learned from that experience that leaving my job anxiety unchecked could have real, negative consequences. Not that I’ve cured myself of it yet, but I try to keep that in mind whenever I’m tempted to assume the worst!

  95. Avril Ludgateau*

    One time I was late to work and as I made it to my desk, my phone rang. It was my boss. Very sternly, she asked me to come to her office as soon as I had a moment.

    I was terrified. I was late, after all, so I was expecting to be scolded or even worse, fired. (It wasn’t the first time I had been late.)

    Turned out she wanted to sing me happy birthday with some of my other colleagues. I was so frantic and caught up in being late, and the presumption I would be scolded, that I forgot it was my own damn birthday.

    Managers: don’t ever do this. It is such poor form. I get the desire to “surprise” your subordinate in a jolly way, but the unbalanced power dynamic separates the “jolly” from the “surprise.” The fact is we live in a world where a job loss can come at any time for any reason (or no reason) and it can be catastrophic, and employers are both capricious and profit-driven. It’s sadly rational to be worried about losing your job at any time.

    (Incidentally, WFH has meant I have not had to worry about being on time for 2+ years. I used to have an egregious commute (60-90+ minutes, each way; if there was an accident on any leg of it? A solid 2 hours lost in one direction, at least) and it was a constant source of stress worrying that a minute lost at one stage would result in being at work half an hour late, nevermind the productivity loss. At least if I get fired now, it won’t be for tardiness!)

  96. Just Me*

    I once was laid off and once had a coworker with whom I worked closely be fired. I don’t think in either instance there was a calendar invitation from the manager. When I was laid off, HR just quietly came into my office and asked me to come talk to her and the CEO for a moment, and which time they told me we had to downsize and I was being let go. With the firing, I believe the boss had warned the employee that they needed to have a serious conversation and blocked out time on their own (internal) calendar, then got the underperforming employee from their desk at the end of the day to tell them they were fired. Neither was a complete surprise (at least not to me). People who are fired often *say* that it came completely out of nowhere, which I think makes some conscientious employees worry that they could be fired at any moment for no reason. Firings don’t happen out of nowhere–not unless something dangerous, criminal, or egregiously unethical has happened.

  97. Arts2Tech*

    I’ve been on both sides of the mystery meeting- good things in some, and the I was laid off in another. I really love it when my manager at least says “can you meet at x about (very high level topic)?” Or, if they can’t be specific for reasons, at least say “all good things” or something like that.

  98. Ladycrim*

    This OP could have been me last week. I’m halfway through a lengthy probation period at a new job, and everything has me twitchy about being fired. Last week, my boss asked if we could schedule my “evaluation” for Wednesday morning. Um … evaluation? Already? Is that normal? My last job didn’t have regular evaluations. If the boss wanted to meet with us like that, it usually meant there was a problem.

    I spent 2 days on edge, wondering if this was it. But it turned out that my boss was just doing my annual evaluation early because she’s about to retire and wanted to give her replacement a clean checklist. I scored very highly in everything and she had no negatives to say. I’m so relieved! (Still won’t completely relax until my probation ends in July, though.)

  99. ASW*

    I’m a little behind on my AAM reading because . . . well life. But my favorite story to tell younger lawyers was about two months into my shiny new law job after graduation, I got a mysterious email from our Executive Director asking me to come by her office as soon as I could. That was all it said.

    I was out of the office at an all day Continuing Legal Education and my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. I emailed her immediately letting her know I was out of the office but could come by as soon as the CLE was over (about 5:30/6:00pm). She replied that “no, it can wait, just see me first thing.”

    I didn’t sleep all night, I kept telling my spouse I was sure they were firing me before I was even licensed!

    I was in her office promptly at 8:30, trying not to sweat through my suit.

    She wanted me to pick out my parking space.

  100. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    In France, you’re not allowed to announce a firing in an ordinary meeting. You have to send a registered letter, informing the person of the reason for the meeting, and the fact that they are allowed to have a union representative or any other person with them at the meeting.
    That probably sounds over the top, but I realise reading all the comments that at least nobody ever has to worry about a meeting being to announce that they are fired here.

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