Some Warning Signs You’re About To Be Terminated

This article is featured today in Helium‘s front page. I wrote about it a few months ago and forgot about it. Getting fired is never fun, even when it’s in a bad job situation, but it is fair game for material. It was approximately one year and a week ago when I was hired in that awful job with that awful boss, and I’ll have to see you next Tuesday if you want my opinion on her. It was my first and only time working in an office environment. I’m allergic to cubicles, among many things, as a result.

I have only been fired from one job in my life. It was my first time working in an office environment and I was not apparently a good fit. I went from teaching to running a mail room and a lot of mistakes were made. I tried to take it in stride as I was new to the job and the stress and the mistakes were a part of it. I went through a 90 day probation period and still had my job. However, my employer was not happy. There were a few signs, especially right towards the very end.

1. Delegation of responsibilities to others. Some of my responsibilities were taken away at an early stage and given to my boss’s administrative assistant. This occurred during the 90 day probation period, so I didn’t think much of it. However, this was definitely the first sign of doubt my employer had in me.

2. Someone screaming for termination. I had to make a rush order to the printer for an event. After the printing, it needed to be mailed out by a certain deadline by an outsourced mail house, which it wasn’t. The person in charge of the event was not happy with me at all and yelled at my boss to fire me. While they did not fire me at that moment, the incident certainly lingered in the mind of my boss and reinforced earlier doubts.

3. Management withholding resources. The company recently moved to another office, where new resources were needed. A security system for doors at the office’s entrance was installed, and a coded key to be scanned at the doors was required. The accountant, who was in charge of issuing the keys, refused to issue me one, saying “There are going to be some changes and some people are going to be fired.” While my name wasn’t mentioned and he even said “It’s not a reflection on you,” his roundabout phrasing indicated I was going to get fired.

4. Being isolated by others. The receptionist was one of the most popular people at the office. Whenever a co-worker was facing termination, the receptionist was instructed to keep her distance. I became good friends with her while working at the office, but a month before I was fired, I was instructed to keep my distance from her. A roundabout reason was given that didn’t seem to fit. However, I did feel very isolated from her and the people that now formed her clique.

5. Micromanagement. When I received an e-mail from my boss asking that I send her weekly reports, I knew I was in trouble. I was never required to keep a log detailing weekly activities before and the only logs I turned in before were those that recorded mailings. My boss’s request for a weekly report indicated I was being watched. At first, she said she needed it because she was out of the office a lot, but she bluntly told me some time later she did not know what I did with my time.

6. Unexplained changes in management’s behavior. At one point, I made a mistake in photocopying a document to be mailed out, resulting in a few thousand that could not be mailed out. My boss was furious and yelled at me without inviting me to close her office door when meeting with her. She was openly hostile. The next time I reported to work, she was extremely nice to me leading up to my firing two weeks later. Essentially, management had to cover their tracks and avoid a hostile firing.

7. Unofficial warning. A few of the other signs were in place when this occurred. However, this is one that hit me over the head. The accountant, a member of the management team, pulled me aside on day and issued me an unofficial warning that “some people” were not happy with me and wanted me fired. While he was not my direct supervisor, he essentially gave me an informal performance review, which was not good. I tried to improve my job performance; however, I knew I had to shop my resume out.

8. Changing of the locks. In my case, it was the locks on my cubicle file drawers and cabinets. I saw a new lock on my desk on termination day. While this should have been obvious, this went over my head until I was fired later in the day.

These warning signs are some of the things I observed before getting canned. You may experience some of these same things, or you may have a slightly different experience.

If you’re able to get another job lined up whenever the proverbial handwriting is on the wall, do it. Jumping ship before you get fired saves you from telling your new employer why you got fired. Unemployment takes a while to process, so the new job also saves you from this hassle. Work the resume. Use all the sites and resources you can within the time you have. Don’t just quit unless you have another job to go to.

Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty tells off management and wittily coerces them into giving him a nice severance package, but remember this is a fantasy scenario in a movie. If you are in a meeting about your firing, handle yourself in a civil manner and ask about what kind of reference they are going to give you. Severance may be in the discussion, though that is something you would want to take to an attorney.

Read the “handwriting,” so to speak. The time you’re getting clues about getting the axe is a good time to evaluate if this is the job you want. You may have taken the job, not because it’s your passion, but for the pay. Look into what you want to do and go after it. Getting fired has a way of making people examine their career choices; however, the examination should occur earlier.

10 thoughts on “Some Warning Signs You’re About To Be Terminated

  1. Layoffs are scary because one never knows when it’s going to happen. Of course, with mergers or anything else that brings this unpleasant business, people know about it, but not if they’re going to get it or when.

  2. A threat only has power for so long.I just didn’t care at that point. If I did, I would have seen it, but I was tired of getting sick over the issue.The changing of the lock was a tip-off of the DAY.

  3. Okay, you can have changing the locks fantasy as long as you like.If I didn’t get fired from the mailroom, I wouldn’t be in teaching. Stay tuned for adventures in college teaching.

  4. While I am not in danger of being fired (at least by this set of criteria), I’m a little frightened at how many of these I’ve actually been involved in implementing on various coworkers ….

  5. Sadly nearly none of those steps have been taken in recent weeks with the layoffs at my job. People come in from the weekend (one time a holiday weekend) and are informed and escorted out later that day. Very sad.

  6. Not #6, nor # 8 …. although, I gotta ask: how did you not see them changing the locks as a bad sign?Man, if I had the power to change locks …. *drifts off to pleasant daydream scenario.

  7. Ah, I understand … (But, if you don’t mind, I’d like to hang on to the “what if I had the power to change the locks around the office” fantasy just a little longer … )

  8. I found your blog through Chris’ website. Just wanted to tell you I’m rowing the same boat… I’m even going (back, in my case) to college teaching, too. I quit a week ago because I wanted to gain the upper hand before I was fired for not being happy enough when my crazy boss asked me to count rubber bands, clean crickets, cut out paper dolls, and oh yeah, forge signatures. Happy teaching!

  9. Hi Robin,I’m glad to find a kindred spirit. It really is nice to have this trade to fall back upon. I’m really fortunate to have at least been minimally qualified (though I’ve been teaching for two and a half years when I got the nightmare job). I went back because I knew it was my best bet, but also because there’s room for growth in teaching.

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