Rarely are employees blindsided when it comes to being let go. How many times have you or someone you know said, "I never saw it coming"? Truth be told, there were most likely plenty of red flags before the actual event, but they were blissfully ignored, as though that would somehow change the outcome. Let's talk about some of those indicators here that may at least give you the opportunity to prepare for the inevitable. Remember, the best defense is a great offense.
Red flag No. 1. Your workload is suddenly lightened. Managers typically will begin parsing your projects out to others to ensure nothing is left hanging when the hammer is dropped. Having you start something they know you won't be around to finish prevents undue stress on your soon-to-be former co-workers and makes certain that clients won't be left in the lurch. Unless you're about to leave on vacation, take heed.
Red flag No. 2. Your manager avoids you. When the decision has been made, your manager will not want to converse with you any more than necessary lest a word should slip that lets you in on the plan. He has most likely chosen the perfect time to tell you the bad news and has no desire to change that. He may be waiting for the end of a pay period or the completion of a project you're involved in.
Red flag No. 3. Your password no longer opens certain files. Companies will often restrict what employees see or do when that content could prove harmful should the intended former employee catch wind of their demise before it becomes official. If you ask about the sudden limited access, don't be surprised if you're offered a flimsy excuse indicating "computer issues" or something else equally explained away.
Red flag No. 4. Someone becomes very interested in the details of what you've been working on. You may see this as a flattering gesture; however, it just may be that they're trying to get up to speed to step into the impending vacancy. Someone who simply asks what you're doing is most likely just being pleasant. Someone who spends hours with you at your desk intently noting everything you do is another thing altogether.
Red flag No. 5. Minor infractions are overlooked. Have you noticed that running a few minutes late no longer is an issue? Perhaps you've noticed that no one even raises an eyebrow when you forgot to do a task that would normally have you boiling in oil. No, your company has not lowered its standards. They probably just don't see any reason to beat a dead horse.
If you've noticed any of these things happening lately, take heart. The news isn't all bad, and you may be able to save yourself:
Suggestion No. 1. If this is a job you truly want to keep, ask for a meeting with your manager. Be honest about what you feel may be happening and ask for a reprieve. Try not to be too defensive and be sincere when asking what changes you could make to avoid the axe.
Suggestion No. 2. Keep in mind firing is an unpleasant task for most managers, and they will avoid it when even remotely possible. Be careful not to make promises you have no intention of keeping, though, because it may soon have you back in the same position with no place to hide.
Suggestion No. 3. Don't beg either. It rarely works and is kind of sad. Simply state your case and be willing to accept whatever corrective advice is given.
Suggestion No. 4. If you choose to ignore these indicators, don't expect to be able to make your case the day of the firing. By that time, your replacement has been hired and your position is no longer available.
Suggestion No. 5. On the other hand, acknowledge the indicators, and if you see no way of saving yourself, at least you can start making preparations for life after firing. Get your career documents in order and start reaching out for other opportunities.
If you happen to get fired, you will be mad. You will be hurt. You may question everything about your life at that moment. But try to remember, it truly is not the end of the world, and you will survive and move forward successfully.
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at http://careertrend.net/blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers.