Signs you're about to be fired

One of the worst things that can happen to you is getting fired from your job, but if you pay attention to the signs ahead of time, you'll be able to take action, whether that's to make things right with your current job or to start looking for work elsewhere. So what are the signs and how can you know if you're in danger of losing your job? I went to the experts to find out the most common signs you're about to be fired.

Your boss stops talking to you

One of the first signs you're about to be fired is that your boss, who used to include you in meetings and other office communications, suddenly stops talking to you. Donna Svei, executive resume writer, told me, "If your boss stops talking to you, then you're in trouble. It means they've given up on working with you to be the person they need/want you to be in your current position. Once your boss gives up, they start working through the steps they're required to take to let you go."

You may also be in trouble if it's hard to get in to see your boss at all. Carlota Zimmerman, career coach and success strategist, told me it's a bad sign if "your boss, who used to love to chat, who would welcome your unannounced visits and gossip brainstorming, now has her secretary insist you make an appointment, and unfortunately, she's pretty much booked till the 12th of never-gonna-happen-don't-even."

Michelle Vitus, founder and CEO of Slate Advisers, agreed. She told me to be wary if "your boss becomes increasingly impatient or dismissive, one on one meetings are canceled without rescheduling, and you are no longer invited to key meetings. These are early signs that your boss does not view you as critical to the team's future success."

Your company gets software that can do your job

As technology improves, one of the unfortunate consequences is that many jobs are now being replaced by software. Svei told me, "If your company introduces automation that can do all or part of your job, then your employment is at risk. Ask yourself how many people like you your company will need when the automation is complete. They'll need some, but they're automating to cut costs and salaries and benefits are often the biggest costs a company has."

Take it as a sign to start upping your game at work. Svei added, "Ask yourself where you rank in job performance, management relationships, and ability to learn new technology in comparison to your peers. If you don't look like a keeper, then start looking for a new job."

This may feel difficult, but it's not just you that's being replaced by computers. Svei told me, "Automation is expected to eliminate many jobs in the next ten years. You need to stay ahead of this career risk and try to convert it to an opportunity."

You're cut out of office communication

One of the biggest signs you're about to be fired is that feel like you're out of the loop. Donna Shannon, former corporate recruiter and president of Personal Touch Career Services, told me you may be in trouble if "you are put in a communication black hole. Suddenly, the boss and even some of your co-workers don't want to talk to you anymore. The less people talk to you, the more the boss is setting you up to be escorted out of the building."

If you're wondering why this happens, Diane Elizabeth, former business executive and founder of Skin Care Ox, had some insight. She told me, "When a company is deciding to remove a team member, a lot of consideration happens behind the scene. Key team members need to be informed of your looming departure, HR managers need to find your replacement, and your project-load must be reduced. All of this may happen without the to-be-fired employee's knowledge."

You may not see everything that's happening to prepare for your departure, but you will notice people treating you differently. Elizabeth shared, "One of the first things an employee should notice is the sudden change in their work relationships. For example, have your managers or team members suddenly stopped including you on new projects, brainstorm meetings, or on special projects? If that behavior isn't normal, then your job may be in jeopardy."

The company is keeping track of your mistakes

Another clear sign you should be concerned about your job security is if you notice that your company is documenting your mistakes. Shannon explained, "If the company wants to fire you for a reason, as opposed to a lay-off, HR will want your manager to start collecting evidence that your performance is lacking. Normally, this means that any mistakes you make will be recorded, sometimes in great detail. This way, HR has the documented proof necessary to make the separation legal."  

Vitus added, "Companies want a paper trail to justify why you were let go, and performance reviews provide a way to do that. Receiving multiple negative performance reviews or being put on a 'performance improvement plan' (PIP) is a clear indication that your role is in jeopardy."

You aren't getting as much work to do

Has your workload suddenly been sliced in half? That's not necessarily a good thing. A lessened workload may be an indicator they're about to show you the door. Zimmerman told me it's not a good thing if "emails, and responsibilities that were once within your purview, are now re-directed. For example, it used to be that you handled the X account, but now when you call, your former BFF Beth is shocked to hear your voice, since she already went over everything with your colleague Ben."

Shannon added, "When getting ready to let someone go, the boss certainly doesn't want to put a new, complex project into that person's hands. This way, when you are fired, they don't have to pick something up in the middle."

Unfortunately, if you're about to be fired, your boss may even make it more difficult for you to perform well so that they have reason to fire you. Valerie Streif, senior advisor with The Mentat, told me you may be in trouble if "your responsibilities have changed drastically. Either you find yourself with little to no work to do, which is a sign that you're being phased out and made redundant, or you're getting slammed with an impossible amount of work, being set up to fail. Either one of these scenarios could be a clear indicator that you're about to get sacked because they are trying to make it impossible for you to succeed."

Your performance is criticized

How are your performance reviews going? Pay attention to them, because they're a clear indicator of your standing with your company, even if your employer isn't already documenting reasons to let you go. 

Steve Hale, author of The Employee's Guide to Negotiating Severance, told me to watch out if, "you receive the lowest performance rating on your company's scale during your annual performance review. While receiving a low performance rating does not mean you are automatically going to be fired, the risk is nevertheless very high. You can be assured that HR and your manager are having conversations about whether or not you are a keeper."

A negative performance rating isn't the only type of criticism. Some managers are far more subtle. Elizabeth told me, "Not every manager is the best at getting the most out of their team members. While some bosses will come right out and tell you straight if your performance is lacking, others rely on subtle hints that may not be interpreted as serious performance critique. For example, you may hear a manager refer to your work as not being where he/she had hoped for this month or repeatedly ask if you need any assistance with your projects." Pay attention and make sure you're not getting subtle indicators that your performance is a concern for your manager.  

Your role keeps changing

Your manager may not want to fire you, but may be having a hard time finding a way to keep you. Elizabeth told me, "If your manager seems to be struggling to find a good fit for you in the organization, chances are that this may be one of their last attempts to keep you on-board."

This isn't about changes over time, but about many changes in your role in a short time period. Elizabeth continued, "It is perfectly normal for your role to change over time at a company; however, if your role seems to be changing frequently and your employer doesn't seem satisfied then it may be a symptom of a bigger issue. It is likely that your employer sees value in your skills, but those skills may not be providing a ton of benefit in their current role."

You don't get along well with your boss

How is your relationship with your boss? Do you get along with him or her? If not, you may have cause for concern. Shannon told me, "Most companies are willing to listen to their employees' ideas on how to make the work more efficient or generate more business. If you are being considered for termination, the boss will shut down your suggestions even before you had a chance to fully explain."

Hale added that it's not a good sign if "you have a contentious relationship with your manager, especially if the manager is new to your team or the company. Many new leaders want to 'stack the deck' with people they have worked with (and can trust). Some new leaders feel that existing team members are a threat, particularly if they interviewed for the role the new manager was hired for."

You don't get bonuses or you lose benefits

It is very painful to be passed over for a bonus or to lose benefits, and unfortunately, it also may be a sign you're about to be let go. 

Hale told me to watch out if "you do not receive a bonus or other company award that you were previously eligible for (and others on your team do receive it). Employees with performance deficits (including those who the company plans to terminate) are sometimes disqualified from receiving pay increases, bonuses, or other benefits until their performance improves."

Streif added that it's a red flag if "you've lost benefits or other privileges. This could be not a personal issue with just you but it could be a sign that layoffs are coming. Restructuring typically comes with cutting down on spending and changing the benefits that are offered to employees. If this happens to you exclusively, however, it could be a sign that management thinks that you've been frivolous or otherwise wasteful."

Things to do if you think you're about to be fired

If you think you're about to be fired, you can take proactive steps to change your performance, protect yourself, and secure new employment. 

If you feel that your performance is being scrutinized, Elizabeth suggested, "Ask your manager directly for their take on your performance. There are no guarantees that this attempt will save your job, but you will at least be able to have a frank conversation about your performance and potential improvements with your manager. You should be able to gauge your position at the company from this conversation. Does your manager seem optimistic, cheery, and supportive? Or do they come across as concerned, tentative, and unwilling to share information? The difference in tone and body language can mean all the difference."

If you think you may be fired unjustly, Shannon recommended, "Start your own paper trail. If there are underlying issues behind your termination — like discrimination being hidden under citing poor performance — documenting issues can make sure you still get your unemployment [benefits]."

Think of it as an opportunity to grow

I'm not going to sugarcoat it — getting fired stinks. But you can also think of it as an opportunity to grow. Shannon recommended, "Freshen up your resume. If you are let go, now is a good time to invest into having a polished resume while you've still got the job." 

What can you do better in your next job? Can you find a position that's a better fit for your talents and skills? This could be the chance you need to get out there and find your dream job.