On Thin Ice?

by Dr. Nancy Koury King

Have you ever wondered if you were on thin ice at work? You are doing your job, contributing to the company and even get good performance reviews.  But something is different.  You can feel it, but you can't quite pinpoint it. Maybe you were left out of a meeting. Or someone made an odd remark to you.  You wonder if you're being paranoid, if you are making a mountain out of a molehill. 

To write my book, "Fired:  How to Manage Your Career in the Age of Job Uncertainty" I interviewed 65 people who lost their jobs.  I asked them if they saw it coming.  The vast majority of them said they were completely shocked.  Then, I asked them if looking back, they could see some of the signs.   With hindsight being 20/20, many of them were able to identify warning signs that their jobs were in jeopardy.

One of the biggest signs was changes in interaction patterns at work.  For examples, meetings were canceled or removed from their calendars.  Co-workers avoided them or cut conversations short. There were even out of the blue comments like "Are you still here?"  or "I hope you quit before I have to fire you."  Most of the time, the people I interviewed said they  brushed off the comments and kept working.  But in hindsight, they could see that these were signs they were about to be let go.

The unfortunate reality is that many people are aware of an impending termination before the employee is told.  Human resources, security, information technology, the supervisor's manager may be notified  that the dismissal is coming.  Sometimes word leaks out and others become aware. 

Knowing someone is about to be let go is awkward.  It's hard to "act normal."  People generally don't want to be fake or lie, so they avoid.  Others make nervous jokes.  

The lesson here is: Pay attention to changes in interaction patterns at work and listen to that little voice inside of you telling you something is wrong.  Then develop an exit strategy and a back up plan in case you need them.  





Nancy Koury King, DM