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14 Secret Signs You Might Be Getting Fired

Updated: Jan. 30, 2024

HR pros reveal how to avoid getting a pink slip, how to know when it’s coming, and what to do when you’re shown the door.

1 / 14

You’re being set up to fail

If your employer wants you out, there needs to be clear evidence that you’re no longer a productive worker. Cynthia Shapiro, former human resources executive and author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know said, “If there was someone we no longer wanted at the company, we’d give him all the worst assignments on impossible deadlines, set him up to fail, and document that. After a few months, we could safely terminate him.” (Watch out for these things HR won’t tell you about keeping your job.)

2 / 14

Your company is going through a merger

Mergers usually lead to some sort of layoffs, even if it’s not a complete overhaul. You’re especially vulnerable if you’re in a staff position. Changes in leadership can also signal a change in your job status. A new boss may want to bring in new perspectives on the company or people that he’s already familiar with—and sometimes those mean the same thing.

3 / 14

You aren’t a team player

If people are telling you to keep your attitude in check, or if your boss says you’re not fitting into the culture of the company, that’s a bad sign. You can ask what you can do to correct this, but it’s most likely too late. Avoid this situation by taking every opportunity you can to bond with your coworkers, build team spirit, and promote your company. “If we ask you to travel for your job or attend a conference, it’s not really a question. Say no, and it can be career-ending,” said Laurie Ruettimann, an HR consultant and speaker in Raleigh, North Carolina. (You probably didn’t realize that these “innocent” things could get you fired.)

4 / 14

You’re on a performance review

The higher-ups at your company needs a paper trail of issues in order to fire you. To them, a performance review is the perfect opportunity to document the problem. Multiple negative performance reviews is a sure sign you’re on your way out, if you’re kept around that long. Being put on a performance-improvement plan may seem like a second chance, but there’s no going back after that. One HR director at a financial services firm said, “If you’re put on a performance-improvement plan, you’re cooked. I might look you in the eye and say we’re going to do everything possible to make this work, but that’s just total BS.”

5 / 14

Your relationship with your boss is tense

You used to enjoy working with your boss. Now it seems like nothing you do is good enough and everything annoys her. Likely won’t be as friendly with you. Also watch how she evaluates you work. If she’s monitoring you closely, she may be just looking for a slip-up that could get you ousted.

6 / 14

Your staff got downsized

You can’t be your most productive self without the help of your staff. When fewer and fewer people are reporting to you, your decreased performance hurts the company. Letting you go becomes the only option.

7 / 14

Your workload shrinks

“If you’re a high-level employee and they put you on a special assignment and take away other responsibilities so you can focus on that ‘special assignment,’ start fixing up your résumé, because you’re on your way out the door,” said Suzanne Lucas, a former HR executive and the Evil HR Lady on bnet.com. The less work you take on, the easier it is to give you the pink slip.

8 / 14

Your boss demands detailed expense reports

If this is out-of-the-ordinary for your boss, he or she could think you’re wasting time or have inflated expenses. It may not even matter if everything turns out normal—just more documentation that could be used as justification for firing you.

9 / 14

You see HR managers behaving oddly

One HR professional at a midsize firm in North Carolina described the worst feeling in the world as “going into the ladies’ room and seeing nine people you know who won’t have a job in a week and having to act normal.” If what they perceive as “normal” comes off as strange to you, be on the lookout. (Here’s how you can secretly look for a job while you still have one.)

10 / 14

Your coworkers start avoiding you

Rumors spread fast, and if people in your office expect you’re getting laid off, they’re bound to talk about it among themselves. They may purposely avoid running into you out of guilt—or fear of an awkward slip-up.

11 / 14
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

You feel under-valued in the office

You’re not invited to meetings you expected to attend. You don’t receive copies of sensitive documents that affect your department. You don’t get a straight answer whenever you ask someone what’s up. These could all be signs that your boss doesn’t trust you or is starting to doubt your abilities. If you bring up the situation and don’t get real feedback, your termination could be imminent.

12 / 14

You’re asked to take a leave of absence

Even if you’ve been told it’s in your best interest, this is a serious red flag. Take that time to check job listings in your field and inquire about interviews. (If you’re not happy at your job, try these tips to help you quit.)

13 / 14

Colleagues are working more than you

Feel like you suddenly have more free time while others in the office are taking on extra assignments? It could be because they’re (probably unknowingly) making up for the work that you’ll soon be leaving behind.

14 / 14

Your boss passes assignments down the rung

If work normally assigned to you is being given to junior staffers, it’s a sign that you’re no longer needed in the chain of command. To quote a popular TV show, you’ve become the weakest link. You’ll be saying goodbye soon. (These are productive ways you can make the most out of getting fired.)

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest