If something feels off at the office, you may want to brace yourself for the worst. Wise Bread shares signs to look for when a pink slip is coming.
There are two types of employees. One has a good idea of what they do, who they are, and what position they play in the company. They are savvy. They know the score. They are under no delusions, and will no doubt leave for another job long before they are ever considered as cannon-fodder.
And then there's the other kind. The guy who could get Gandhi to hate him. The woman who spends most of her day chatting on the phone to friends or doing online shopping. Or the nice chap in sales who is completely oblivious that the recent merger means his job is now obsolete. They all have Ostrich Syndrome. They couldn't see a pink slip coming if it was 8ft tall and glowing in the dark, screaming "you're fired!"
You want to avoid being in that second category at all costs. So I've compiled a handy list. If you can answer yes to THREE or more of these questions, you may want to think about sprucing up your résumé and dry-cleaning your best interview attire.
1. Are you no longer in the loop about, well, anything?
This is a huge telltale sign. Suddenly you're finding out about company news from the cleaning lady or the new girl in accounting. If you were formally in the know about all things business related, but now suffer from "the company's doing what??!" disease, the writing is probably on the wall.
2. Did you recently screw up big-time?
We're not talking a minor faux pas here. Did you lose money on an account that was previously bulletproof? Oh dear. Were you caught having sex on the boss's desk with the boss's spouse? That's probably not a career-enhancing move. Unless you're a real dope, you know if you have screwed up. And if you know, HR knows. It may not be the final nail in your coffin, but it's a nail in the coffin nonetheless.
3. Are people avoiding you at all costs?
Eye contact is difficult to make with someone if you know his or her head's on the chopping block. Small talk is just as tough. It's best just to avoid that person altogether. So if people are no longer doing that fun "stop 'n' chat" in the hall, or the coffee room empties when you arrive, then guess what . . . you may be a marked man or woman.
Read on for more.
4. Did your last performance review read like a train wreck?
Most of the time, a performance review is a whole bunch of niceties. The boss really doesn't want to say anything TOO good, because everyone has room for improvement. But generally, they praise within reason and avoid anything too negative. So if your review paints you as a stupid version of Homer Simpson with less talent than a Backstreet Boy, well, that tap on the shoulder is coming.
5. Has your company recently been sold or merged?
This is rarely good news for about 90% of the staff. Sure, management is fine. After all, they negotiated the deal. But whether you were sold or merged, the outcome is the same . . . changes will be made across the board. A merger means duplication of many jobs. Duplication = redundancy. Being sold means new management, and they always have new plans for the company. New plans that includes cutbacks and layoff. Basically, watch your back if there's a new name on the front door.
6. Are you being given impossible jobs with no chance of success?
This one is underhanded, which is why it's so popular. The company may need a big reason to give you the boot, especially if you've done everything right and are the life and soul of your department. Enter the impossible task. "Ahh Wilkins, we need you to expand our new line of warm, alcohol-free beers to construction workers." "Johnson, how's that line of umbrellas doing in the new L.A. store?" You get the picture. If you've been given a thankless task, at least be thankful for the blatant tip-off that you're about to be let go.
7. Do you now have less responsibility than the intern?
Ouch. Being stripped of your responsibilities is a sure-fire sign that there's something unpleasant on the horizon. After all, you don't fire someone who's got a ton of important work to do, with loads of people underneath him/her. So, over time the poor sucker in management's sights will be given a new job title, less work, less people (or no people) and will eventually have a hard time finding anything of any real value to do all day. Not long after this, that same employee will be out on the street. In fact, if you're at work and have enough time to read this article, you may very well be in the firing line.
8. Has your office, cubicle or working space recently been downsized?
Remember poor old Milton in Office Space being moved from one small space to another, until he was eventually sat in the dark, in the basement, dealing with pest problems. Well, this is not so far from the truth. When employees are in the firing line, it's a lot easier to move them around and downsize their environment without worrying about their morale. If you are reading this in your new 6ft by 6ft cubicle with no lights on a 1999 PC with a 200MB hard drive, you're not exactly a valued employee any more.
9. Do people whisper more, or does the conversation change as you approach?
If you're marked for termination, you'll be the last one to know about it. And being the grown-up responsible people that they are, your co-workers will be quite happy to whisper about your impending doom in a dark corner of the coffee room. Until you show up, when suddenly the conversation will change abruptly to something really original . . . like the weather.
10. Did your recently receive a pay freeze or, worse still, a pay cut?
There are a few reasons this could happen, none of them are good. Either the company is in trouble and they need to cut costs, or you're in trouble and they don't want to pay you. If it's the first one, you may not necessarily be in immediate danger but no one wants to work for a company that's going down the tubes (read Who Moved My Cheese for more on that one). If it's the latter, well, your boss is basically telling you that you're about as welcome as a fart in an astronaut suit. Begin the job hunt immediately.
11. Have you seen a job posting for your company that matches your job description?
Human Resources can be crafty. They don't want to fire you without having someone waiting in the wings to immediately fill your shoes. That's why it's not uncommon to see your own job out on the Internet months before you eventually get canned. Worse still (and this has happened to someone I know) they hire your replacement before you're fired and get YOU to teach the newbie how to do your job. Nice. Then they fire you.
12. Does everyone hate you? I mean really dislike you with a passion?
If you're one of those people who are oblivious to this kind of question, please skip to #13. If you have a thread of common sense, read on. It's not an easy thing to face up to, but you can at least spot the telltale signs. Do you eat alone at lunchtime? Do people never laugh at your jokes? Can you clear a room faster than a pack of rabid pit-bulls? If you're ok at your job but are just not popular, that will be seen as affecting morale. And morale is not something to mess with. Either shape up your attitude, or find a new job that maybe doesn't require you to work with people on a day-to-day basis.
13. Have you recently been asked to take some time off?
Let's face it. Companies in America are not prone to encouraging vacation time (compared to Europe, where we get oodles of time off). If it's not to use up vacation you're about to lose, or for a genuine reward for a huge project you've just finished, then you are in trouble. When the boss tells you to take a break, they're more than likely telling you that they'd rather not have you in the office. Maybe they'd like to talk about you behind your back (which is a lot easier when your back is in Tahiti). Maybe they need time to figure out how to can you. Either way, it's all a lot easier with you out of the picture. Time off = firing scenario.
14. Are you noticing paper-trails between yourself and your superiors?
A quick word in your ear used to be just fine. A phone call was great. A stop 'n' chat in the hall was a regular occurrence. But now everything is happening via memos and emails. There's a reason for that. HR requires written/printed evidence of everything if there's to be a firing. A paper trail is necessary to determine that your boss did everything by the book, and to record every single one of your screw-ups. So, if you've gone from getting a few memos and emails a week, to a daily deluge of paper and a full inbox, these are warning signs that you're being watched very closely.
15. Are you finding it almost impossible to get approval or 'buy in' on projects?
Think back. A long time ago, people would green light your projects faster than the Road Runner on amphetamines. But that's no longer the case. The boss is suddenly silent when it comes to approval. You're being passed around fro middle-manager to middle-manager. You get voicemail 99% of the time you call someone for their opinion, and the other 1% it's their secretary . . . who then puts you through to voicemail. No-one is going to green-light a project from someone whose time is up at that company. They don't want to associate themselves with the kiss of death that is your idea. If it happens to be a great idea, no worries, they'll take credit for it once you're gone. The silent treatment is a sure sign of pink-slip disease.
16. Have you recently been asked to work on a "special project"?
This could have many other names. "New company initiative" or "Confidential research assignment" are other known terms for this. But it basically comes down to one role . . . the project takes you away from REAL work and puts you on something that's either mildly important, not important at all, is going nowhere, or is just plain useless.
"Hey Smith, how is that special project on frozen concentrated orange juice coming along?"
"Fine Sir. Can I ask what this has to do with the IT department?"
"Oh, you'll find out Smith. You'll find out."
Rule of thumb. The second you are asked to leave a project you know is important for one that sounds like a bunch of bologna, your career is heading south quickly.
17. Are your successes and accomplishments being glossed over?
This one's tricky to work out, because most bosses and coworkers are weasels who will happily play down your role in order to make themselves look good. But, judge this one by looking to the past. Did you boss used to praise you up to management? Were you a golden boy or girl? That's great. But if it's now impossible to get praise for doing something spectacular, like doubling company profits, then you're being disrespected and probably have a large 'fire me' target printed on your forehead. If you're not getting kudos, you may be getting fired.
18. Are you currently being 'retrained' or are taking coaching sessions?
Again, a tricky one. Retraining or coaching is often a way to try to save an employee who has lost his or her way. It shows that the company or your boss still gives a crap. BUT, it also has a darker side. It's another one of those 'cover the company's butt' scenarios, in which HR demonstrates they did everything they possibly could to make things work. And alas it didn't, so they had to let you go. Not a major warning sign on its own, but combined with a few others, this has danger written all over it.
19. Has your immediate boss or mentor gone bye-bye?
If someone you trusted and respected, like a boss or mentor, is no longer around for whatever reason (promotion, fired, quit) this could spell trouble. This person may have been the only one keeping the wolf from your door. And there's an easy way to find out. Is it now impossible to get projects approved? Are you being left out of meetings? Does nothing run smoothly now that this person is no longer on the scene? If this is the case, that's cause for concern.
20. Have you recently been promoted to a position of less responsibility?
What a cunning rouse this one is. It's quite simple but efficient. In your old position, it may have been very difficult or almost impossible to get rid of you. But if the company promotes you into a newly created role, with less responsibility and no direct reports, then you have a new scenario . . . position elimination. It's hard to fire someone. It's easy to eliminate a position. You can get rid of anyone, even protected classes (older folks, pregnant ladies etc) if you simply eliminate a position. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. If you were formerly "Account Manager" and are now "Director In Charge Of Special Project Development" you may as well clear out your desk right now.
Remember, THREE or more and you're more than likely heading for the unemployment line. Take a long hard look at your working life, and do something about it. After all, if you're not good enough for them, then they're not good enough for you.
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