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Getting fired is a pretty miserable experience.
That’s why it’s so easy to push the thought of getting sacked from your mind. You don’t want to think about something like that.
But you have to, or you’ll risk getting blindsided. Always be on the lookout for warning signs that your job is on shaky ground.
Once you’ve identified some clear warning signs that your position is at risk, you can start taking action.
Here are some tips on how to handle learning that you’re likely about to lose your job:
1. Don’t panic
If you think you’re about to be fired, it’s natural to freak out. “But remember that firing signs can also be false reads,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “Sometimes rumors spread like wildfire, disrupting departments until you bravely approach your boss.”
Before you draw any wild conclusions and begin to drive yourself crazy, talk to your boss. “Don’t consult other employees for any insight into your future; go straight to the source to get a read on your performance,” she suggests.
2. Initiate a conversation in a neutral setting with your boss
This is the perfect opportunity to raise your concerns, ask questions, and see if there is anything you can or should be doing to help improve the chances of you retaining your position, says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humor Advantage.”
“Come with an open mind and with constructive suggestions. Be open to exploring creative options such as lateral transfers. Offer to help out during this time of transition. Maintaining the perspective that you care about the company and want to do what’s best for the company will help you score points in the eyes of senior leaders,” he says.
3. Ask your boss for honest feedback
“Even if it’s not what you want to hear, not knowing is worse than knowing,” says Kerr.
Take notes of what needs to change, adds Taylor: “Submit an action plan and timeline to your boss and get their sign-off. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be defensive. Stay in contact with your manager, and set up regular status check-in meetings for the future.”
4. Don’t trust everything your boss says
It’s definitely worth talking to your boss, but remember that they may not give you an honest answer about whether your job is on the line.
Take whatever they say with a grain of salt.
5. Do your best work possible
Try not to be distracted by negativity, as hard as that might be.
“Focus on performing to the best of your ability,” says Taylor. “That is the strongest form of job security you have.”
6. Step up your game
In addition to doing your best work, you’ll also want to step up your game in other ways.
“Now is definitely the time to take extra initiative,” Kerr says. “Offer more input than normal. Volunteer for extra duties and roles. Demonstrate that you truly are a team player. Even if a layoff is imminent, maintain a respectful and professional demeanor so that you can leave with your head held high and knowing that you’ll get a positive referral from your boss.”
Taylor also suggests putting in a few extra hours each week to show that you’re dedicated. “It’s harder for managers to let go of people who show commitment.”
7. Keep your boss and others in the loop
Let those you report to know the status of your projects on a regular basis, says Taylor: “Also offer next steps and ask for feedback regularly.”
8. Brush up on necessary skills
If you feel that you could advance your cause by taking a course, now may be a good time.
“Perhaps not having a competitive skill set has held you back,” says Taylor. “If nothing else, this will be an asset for your future marketability.”
9. Get stronger – mentally and physically
View this challenge as a time to gain a stronger physical and mental mindset, says Taylor.
“Sometimes facing obstacles can be the moment of a complete turnaround and catapult you to a new level of success. It may or may not be at this company, but you can give it your best shot by being on the top of your game,” she says.
“Make sure you’re working out, eating right, and getting enough sleep. You want to produce solid results and make wise decisions, so give yourself the best odds.”
10. Document everything
Keeping an electronic file of your work and correspondence is a good policy regardless of your job status, says Taylor.
“It can come in handy if you have a boss with no legitimate reason to fire you,” she says. “Also keep kudos that have accumulated from managers, clients, colleagues, business associates, and vendors. You will be well-prepared should you need to refute a poor evaluation.”
Robert Dilenschneider, author of “50 Plus!: Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life,” agrees: “I would advise you to document everything. Often a company wants to push someone out rather than fire them and have to pay severance or unemployment benefits. If you have a contract that stipulates what you will receive if you are fired, tough it out and don’t quit.”
11. Stay visible
“Contrary to what some may think, if you feel your job is at risk, you won’t want to fade from view,” says Taylor.
Rather than trying to fly under the radar, do whatever you can to stay visible and active at your company.
“Volunteer for projects, help others, make visits, and stay aware,” she says. “Externally, become active on LinkedIn and in the business community – and consider blogging for online industry publications.”
12. Never assume you are safe
Even if you take all these steps, don’t assume you’re safe.
“Make sure your résumé is up to date,” says Kerr. “Take advantage of training opportunities that might still be available that would help bolster your chances of getting a new job if the worst comes to pass. Plan your finances; consider the range of options available to you, and talk to your spouse so it doesn’t come as a complete shock if and when a layoff happens.”
And, he says, embrace the notion that many of the most successful people were once fired from their jobs. Maintain the perspective that this can mean a whole new and exciting chapter for you, and use it as motivation to move on to something bigger and better and even to pursue a dream you’ve previously sidelined.
13. Start working on your résumé and looking for references
If there’s a chance you’ll soon lose your job, you’d be wise to begin working on your résumé and visiting job boards – just in case.
Also begin to feel out if anyone you work with would be able to give you a good reference.
“It doesn’t have to be your immediate supervisor,” says Dilenschneider. “It could be someone you have worked with for many years who is willing to support you when start looking for a new job.”
But tread carefully. If your employer finds out that you’re on the search for a new job, they may see you as a flight risk, which could be bad if they weren’t planning on firing you in the first place.
14. Start clearing out
As Alison Green writes in U.S. News and World Report, it’s a good idea to start packing up, if the writing’s on the wall. That means bringing your personal belongings home. Don’t forget your digital clutter – you might not be able to retrieve personal files from your computer after you’ve been fired.
15. Prioritize your health
And, “get your doctor and dentist appointments in while you still have insurance,” Green writes.
16. Don’t quit before you’re sure
Don’t make any irrational decisions, like quitting your job out of fear of being fired. You may not be at risk like you think you are, and how dumb would you feel if you later found out you really weren’t on the chopping block?
17. Decide if the job is worth fighting for
If you know you’re doing a good job but are unhappy, don’t waste all your energy on convincing your employer not to fire you.
“It may be hard to imagine now, but if this is the case, you may well come to thank the employer for your parting of the ways,” says Taylor. “Take this opportunity to reevaluate if you’re on the right career path. Take note of your true passion and skill sets, and visit your favorite job boards.”
Jacquelyn Smith contributed to a previous version of this article.