In one of my previous posts, What Corporate Super Stars Have – And How You Can Get It, I spent some time talking about how the same situation can be perceived and viewed differently by different people. I discussed how the choice is yours on whether to see your situation negatively or positively.
I believe you should put forth your best effort to see the positives in your situation, but I am not at all for completely ignoring signs that things may be going south. Work with the mindset that everyone has the best of intentions, but always keep a mental note to yourself of signs you notice so you are not taken by surprise and can plan ahead.
Today I will explore 15 Signs Your Manager is Trying to Force You to Quit, Lay You Off or Fire You. So if you are trying your best to make things work at your company and are unsure about why you are being put on odd projects and what that means, read on. The more signs from this list that you can relate to, the greater the chance that your manager is planning to let you go. With that said, even relating to one or two of these signs can mean that you are at risk. Every situation is different so use your best judgment.
I know what I am about to provide you is a lot of information so I have also provided a diagram if you need a quick reference guide.
The 15 Signs
1) Your manager does not spend time with you like he does with others. In the corporate world and in life, people naturally have their “favorites”. The same goes with your manager. They will naturally bond with certain people and personalities better than they do with others. If your manager likes to shoot the breeze with certain members of your team and you are not included in that group of “favorites” this is not necessarily a sign that your manager is planning to get rid of you. While I do not agree with playing favorites, if your manager is doing this it probably just means that you are not first in line for the next promotion, raise or for any company perks regardless of how well you may be performing.
When I say that “Your manager does not spend time with you like he does with others” is one of the top 15 signs your manager is planning to fire you or lay you off, I am talking about something different. Your manager has a responsibility to meet with you when you ask. If your manager is meeting with select members of your team, especially if he is meeting with them regularly, but will not meet with you because he is “too busy”, this is a good sign that you are on the layoff or fired list. Your manager has decided that you are not worth his time and he has no interest in growing your career.
2) Your manager says she does not know what you are working on. If your manager says she does not know what you are working on because you do not update her, this is not a clear-cut sign that you are going to be off the company books, but it is a sign that you are on the line. Your manager’s role is to make sure she knows what you are working on and what the status of your items are so she can guide you. If your manager is not taking the time to meet with you to get these updates and is not responding to your attempts to initiate such meetings, be aware. Your manager is making sure she can build a case that you are not working on anything so she can get rid of you. When it comes to layoffs and getting fired, documentation and cya-ing does not usually help you, but at least try to send her updates via email so there is a written record.
3) When you ask your manager for feedback, she stalls for time. If you approach your manager and ask them for feedback on your recent performance and for advice for areas you can improve (which I recommend you ask every 2-3 months) and she says she needs to get back to you in the next few days, this is a bad sign. A good manager should be able to provide you with feedback instantaneously. They do not need a week or even a day. As a manager they should be aware of your performance.
If your manager needs extra time it probably means one of two things: 1) she is not aware of your progress. If you have been trying to meet with her and she has been “too busy” that means she probably does not care about your progress and does not see much value in understanding your role.
Or 2) she wants to pull up files to pinpoint specific mistakes or accomplishments you have made, although my guess is that she will only be focusing on the mistakes. A manager who only focuses on your mistakes AND needs time to think about feedback is probably not a manager who is there to support you.
4) You either get dumped on with tons of work or your work gets taken away from you. Projects come and go and you will naturally have times when the amount of work is at its busiest as well as times when it is at its slowest.But if you are either getting more than your share of work because your manager is piling projects onto your plate or if you notice that she is not giving you any new assignments then take note.
If your manager is piling on the projects, she may be doing this to make you quit out of frustration and as a result of the stress of the workload (which also makes it more difficult for you to claim unemployment). Or she may be creating a situation where you fail because you have more than anyone can reasonably handle. Once one of the balls you are juggling drops, the finger will be pointed at you. She may even be putting more on your plate so that you do not suspect that she is planning to let you go. Most people would think that they are getting more responsibility and that this is a sign that they will get promoted or get a raise, so know that this may be her surprise tactic. This is not a clear sign that you are in the hot seat but it is definitely one to pay attention to.
If your manager seems to be giving your projects away to others or is not giving you any new assignments despite your attempts to take initiative and get more work, she may be making it impossible for you to succeed. Without work, she can easily claim that you are not performing and are a slacker. When your list of projects seems to be dwindling, this is a very strong sign that your manager is planning to get rid of you.
5) You only get assigned special projects. If you notice that the projects on your list that are directly related to producing results for your department are being replaced by “special projects” this is something you should pay attention to. Special projects are great and they allow you to work on the new and exciting things. They give you the opportunity to influence change and be a change agent at your organization. But if you are only or mostly on special projects I suggest you start changing the balance of projects on your plate to include projects that directly produce results.
The reason I strongly suggest this is special projects are the “ideal projects” that the company would like to move forward with. But do not confuse ideal with necessary. Special projects are not necessary and if you notice that you are only being put on those types of projects, this is a sign that your manager is trying to lay you off. If you are working on projects that do not affect your department’s results, it makes you that much easier to cut because when you are gone, business will go on as usual since you were not working on anything that affected it anyway.
6) Your manager comes up with excuses for why you can’t work on the projects that will give you results. If your manager all of a sudden starts claiming that you cannot work on the projects that produce actual results for your department because they now claim you are too young, need more maturity or do not have enough experience, or whatever reason they fabricate, pay attention. You were hired for your job based off of your experience so why is it that you all of a sudden no longer have the experience for a job that has not changed and that you have been doing for months or a year with no complaints till now?
If your manager is making sudden claims like this and has repeated them several times over the course of a few weeks, you are likely going to be fired, laid off or forced to quit. They are creating a case as to why you are not right for the job and are likely telling others this reasoning. From then on, regardless of how well you perform or how much you push for better projects, you will only be given the insignificant ones. If this is happening to you, start looking for another job. If they are using your age against you, try to get it in writing as it may be useful in the future.
7) Your manager either does not acknowledge you or is overly friendly. Often times, if a manager has marked you as a layoff target, they will begin to disassociate with you completely. They may not acknowledge you at all and may avoid you at all costs. While in a room with others they may be polite to everyone and completely ignore you. This may not mean that they plan to lay you off in the next month, but it does mean that, should they need to get rid of someone, you will be one of the first to go unless you can find some way to repair the relationship. In most cases, the relationship is repairable but it will take a lot of work. And you need to take into consideration whether you want to be working for someone who won’t even tell you to your face where they feel you are lacking, instead they just give you the cold shoulder like you are still in grade school.
Sometimes managers will have the complete opposite reaction. They will be overly friendly and will pat you on the shoulder to make you feel reassured. They will come by to shoot the breeze with you. These types are very tricky and these are the people who will surprise you the most. You need to pay attention to what they talk to you about. Do they talk to you about projects you are working on and do they give you advice? Or do they just come by to talk about random, unimportant things? If they never ask you what you are working on, it may means they do not care. This is a very tricky sign because it is so hard to read and so hard to be fooled. You never really know what this person’s intentions are until the very end. Maybe they are trying to build a personal relationship with you and trust that you are doing good work? Then again, maybe not.
I had the interesting experience of having a manager who did both of these techniques together. She was overly friendly to some people that she then laid off and she gave the cold shoulder to others that she also laid off. What a mess that is to figure out! She did catch me by surprise when I realized her nature. But I also realized that I had some inner inkling about her because I had caught her in a lie once many months before. Be careful not to over analyze the little things, but if you feel like something is off, file it in the back of your head just in case.
8) Your manager does not fully listen to anything you say or puts words in your mouth. If you have had meetings with your manager and you refer back to something important that you said to him and he claims he does not remember any such discussion this is something to keep in mind. If this happens frequently and he is being honest with you about his lack of memory, this means that he is not paying attention to what you have to say. This is because he probably does not care even though he will probably tell you he has a lot on his mind or has been very busy. If he is lying about his lack of memory, it means that he really does not care, is lying, will not stand up for you and is trying to create doubt in your mind (more on that in Sign #9).
If your manager says he does remember what you said, but he twists your words to mean something completely different, and he has done this multiple times, this is a sign that he is trying to build a case against you. He is creating reasons to lay you off and may be telling others these reasons to plant the seeds in their minds. When layoff or firing time comes around, he will have a whole band of supporters who have no concrete reason to support him other than the mental seeds he has been planting in their minds over the past few weeks.
9) Your manager tries to create doubt in your mind. If your manager tries to create some kind of doubt in your mind by telling you that you misheard something he or someone else said on multiple occasions and you know he is wrong, be weary. If your manager says the opposite of something you know to be true, again be weary. Your manager sees you as a threat and is trying to dismantle your confidence. He may not be trying to lay you off, but he is trying to manipulate you to believe your memory is not reliable, you lack strong judgment or knowledge and you have no support. In this case I recommend you play along with him and agree that you must have misheard or gotten misinformation and start looking for another job. He is trying to control you by creating fear in your mind.
10) Your manager supports her own enemy. If someone in your company, maybe someone on your team even, is giving you a hard time and your manager supports this individual, this is something you should definitely take note of. If the individual giving you a hard time is also your manager’s enemy or a person your manager dislikes, something fishy is definitely going on and you need to watch yourself. The Arabian proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies in almost every area of life and that includes work and office politics. Do not try to figure out how you ended up becoming your manager’s enemy because you will never figure it out. Just know that you have been labeled that way and it is time for you to move to another area of the company, play some politics of your own, or find a new job.
11) Your manager claims you haven’t done x, y and z but can’t provide any specific examples that support his claim. If you have a meeting with your manager and he claims that you are not stepping up, you are not working well as a team, you are not accepting work from others, etc. ask him to provide a few specific examples that led him to believe that you are not performing as he would like.
Many managers are genuine in their feedback and truly want to help you grow in your profession and these managers should be cherished. If you have one of these managers, they will be open to hearing your rebuttal of their claims and will take it into consideration. If he is honest in his assessment of you he will be able to provide examples instantly.
If he is not genuine and is trying to build a case around or create a false reputation of you, he will not have any examples. He will try to provide examples not relevant to the discussion, or he will provide examples he made up (to create doubt (see Sign #9) or to save face). He may say he expected you to complete x by some date despite the fact that you have kept him updated through emails on the status and he is aware that it is 100% impossible to complete by his “date” nor is it necessary or a priority at this time.
It is up to you if you want to probe him for a specific example that is relevant, or pinpoint how the examples he did provide are not valid. If you want to stay at the company, I recommend that you do not. If you do, eventually your manager will likely admit that he does not have any examples that led him to believe his claims and that he will research it and get back to you. Of course, now any example he provides will be a fabrication to prove a point he had no basis for in the first place. Not to mention the fact that you have now probably pissed him off.
Either way, you are being told you did not do x, y or z but there is no basis for those claims. You are essentially being “framed.” Your manager knew well before he had his conversation with you that he had no basis to go from. This is a very clear sign that you are on the lay off or get fired list and it is probably time for you to start looking for a new job.
12) Your manager won’t put his praise for your work in writing. If your manager praises you verbally whether in front of others or alone, but he refuses to put it in writing this is not a good sign. He may not outwardly refuse. He may say that it is not needed, that he will always remember, or that he will do it later – but he never does. This likely is not a sign that he is planning to lay you off but it is a sign that he does not have any loyalty to you or your work. If he needs to cut you, your performance will not be a factor in his decision. Or he may not trust your work to stay good and does not want to leave a paper trail in support of you, but this is unlikely. Even if your performance did start to suffer and he decided to lay you off, those email praises will be swept under the rug and will not have much impact against his favor. Just remember that it really is not difficult for your manager to write a quick email to you about the good work you did. So if your manager will not take the time to write a quick email it is something to really think about.
13) Your manager excludes you from, or schedules secret meetings regarding your projects. If your manager is not including you in discussions regarding your projects, this is not a good sign. Your manager is likely trying to take your projects away from you to either 1) sabotage your success by swiping your project from under you and showing that you did not step up, or 2) start preparing for when you are not at the company anymore. Think about it, why would your manager schedule meetings with your teammates or clients regarding your projects, and not include you? If she is scheduling meetings with her own boss to discuss your project, that may be an entirely different story. But if she is scheduling meetings with your clients or with your teammates and does not include you, something is going on.
Chances are, you will not know about these meetings. If you do find out, it might be nice to gently and politely – and subtly – ask your manager what the meeting was about and ask them to include you in the future. If you ask your manager to include you in the future, chances are that they will now feel compelled to include you. But, in an environment where your manager is playing these types of games, there is a good chance that they still will not invite you. Either way, at least you know something does not smell right.
Your manager may make an excuse like, “This was really a meeting to discuss other items and not so much your project,” but do not automatically trust that your manager is telling you the truth. I have been in situations where I found out my manager and teammate were meeting with one of my clients regarding one of my projects. I was not invited but I decided I would attend anyways as a surprise. Despite the fact that the title of the meeting was the same title as my project, the entire meeting was about my project and I was in the meeting to hear every word of it, when I asked my manager why I had not been invited she said that this meeting was not about my project. Even though I had been sitting right next to her during the meeting, she still lied and told me that it was not related to my project. If you have not had the privilege I had, just be careful. You will not be able to really tell if your manager is lying or not, just make sure you are weary and that you do not get fooled.
14) Your manager approaches other people to get answers to questions regarding your project. If your manager goes to others on your team or to your clients to get answers to questions they may have on your project, pay attention. This is not a strong sign, but it is certainly one to take note of. This behavior could indicate that your manager does not support you or have belief in your knowledge. This behavior could also indicate that your manager is preparing for when you are no longer at the organization. They may be avoiding you and consider you as no longer part of the team. Again, this is not a strong sign but do pay attention to it. It might be useful to subtly remind your manager that you do have the expertise in this area and if they have further questions they should come to you.
15) There is a very recent job posting for your team that you were unaware of and sounds a little too much like what your job role is about. It is rare that an employer will post a job opening for your position before you are gone. But, I have seen some unethical things like this happen so I would not necessarily put it past your manager.
If you have checked your internal job board and you feel like you are in this situation, it could mean anything. I would just wait and see how it plays out and pay attention to when the job was posted. Do not think too hard about it, but do keep it in mind and do start looking for a better position somewhere else.
Here it is. My 15 Signs that your manager is trying to lay you off, fire you, or force you to quit. If you have read through these signs and feel like you may be in the hot seat, stay strong and stay positive. Start looking for other positions either within your company or externally. If a lot of these signs apply to you, chances are that it may be too late to salvage your current position because your manager has already decided you are his or her target. I know it is hard to hear but unfortunately this type of thing happens much too often. Honestly, if your manager is treating you this way, you are much better off somewhere where you are appreciated for the value that you bring.