Few people are excited to hear they’re losing their job. But even worse than being on the receiving end of a pink slip is an unexpected firing. You think everything is rosy at work, until your boss calls you into the corner office and lets you know you’re being let go. Being blindsided by a firing is damaging to your self-esteem and can make it harder to get back on your feet and get your career back on track.
Sometimes, firings really do come out of nowhere. But often there are signs that your job is in jeopardy long before you’re officially told you’re being terminated. If you’re seeing any of the following signs at your office, it could be time to start updating your resume.
1. Your co-workers are acting weird
Sometimes, it’s easier for people outside of a situation to see the writing on the wall. If your office mates suddenly start forgetting to invite you to meetings, leaving you out of important email chains, and giving you pitying looks in the break room, be wary.
Co-workers who start treating you like a pariah may suspect that you’re on the way out the door, perhaps because they’re plugged into the office grapevine. Once you end up on management’s bad side, people may steer clear to avoid being tainted by association. Or if colleagues suddenly have a lot of questions about how you do your work, it may be because they suspect they’ll soon be taking on your assignments.
“Most often your peers already know, and the firing is only a surprise to the one getting canned,” Robert C. McMillan, author of The Next Gen Leader, told Men’s Health.
2. A computer could do your job
If a computer could do your work just as well – or better – than you can, watch out. While fears that a robot could take your job might sound more like science fiction than reality, they’re not something to brush off, especially if your field is in the midst of big technological change. Remember, your company has little incentive to keep you on if there’s technology that is easier to manage than an actual person and cheaper to boot.
“If the type of work that you do can be done by a machine instead of a person, you may need to look for another type of job. It’s usually just a matter of time before your company decides that a machine can do your job for less money,” Cheryl Palmer of Call to Career told Monster.
3. Your responsibilities are shrinking
If projects and assignments that you once managed are being handed off to other employees or eliminated entirely, don’t get too excited about all the extra free time you suddenly have. Gradually making you a less essential part of the team could be a sign that your company is preparing to let you go.
“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,” Suzanne Lucas, a former HR executive and the Evil HR Lady, told Reader’s Digest.
4. Your performance reviews are slipping
Quarterly or annual performance reviews may be a way for your supervisor to give you feedback on how you’re doing your job, but they also protect your employer. If you were warned about problems with your performance during your most recent review and have failed to improve, you’ll have a harder time making a case for wrongful termination.
A single bad performance review doesn’t necessarily mean your job is toast, but if you don’t take the warning seriously and shape up, you could be in trouble. And if you’re put on a performance improvement plan, that can be an even bigger red flag.
“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,” an anonymous HR director at financial services firm told Reader’s Digest.
5. Your relationship with your boss has changed
Increasing conflict with your boss is definitely a sign that things aren’t alright at the office. But if your once-chummy supervisor has stopped inviting you out to lunch, is less friendly or communicative in meetings, or is distant when you stop to chat in the break room, that’s also cause for concern. It could be he knows you’re about to get fired and it’s making him treat you differently.
“Humans, no matter how polished and experienced they are, if they are uncomfortable with a situation, will start to subtly shun it,” Stephanie Daniel, a senior vice president with Keystone Associates, a human resources consulting firm, told Fast Company.
6. You’re receiving more critical feedback in writing
If notes and emails picking apart your work suddenly start landing in your inbox, watch out. Documenting problems with your performance in this way could be a sign that your job is on the line.
“If your manager used to give you feedback in person but now she’s putting critical feedback in emails or memos, it’s possible that she’s creating a paper trail to build a case for firing you,” Alison Green of the “Ask a Manager” blog wrote in an article for U.S. News & World Report.
7. You feel that something isn’t right
While you may not be able to pinpoint the specific warning signs, if your gut is telling you that something is up at the office, you should listen. A general feeling that something is off – perhaps due to subtle changes in company culture or shifts in your job duties — could indicate you’re moving to the top of the “to fire” list.
“You will feel things and your job is not to judge or pooh-pooh them but to let them sit in your right brain and percolate for a few days. Is there a change in the air temperature? If so, you’ve got to mention it,” wrote Liz Ryan, the CEO and founder of Human Workplace, in a LinkedIn post.
While you’re trying to figure out if your gut is right, you’ll also want to take control of the situation by getting ready for a job search.
“If you can self-assess that staying with the organization is going to cause you some inordinate amount of stress, you’re better off making the move earlier rather than later,” Michael Townshend, owner of Carpe Diem Coaching, told Daily Worth.
Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS