What to Do if You Think You're Going to be Fired

Sep 17, 2013
6 Min Read

A reader asks: “I am having a hard time in my job, and I’m worried I’m going to be fired. I’m doing my best, but I just can’t seem to meet my manager’s expectations. I’m still trying to improve, but I’m sensing that she might be losing patience with me. Is it better to quit now or wait and end up getting fired?”

What a tough spot to be in. But the good news (if you can call it that!) is that you don’t need to just sit and wait. You can take some control over the situation by having a candid conversation with your manager. Here’s how.

1. Go to your manager with your guard down. Tell her that you know she hasn't been happy with your performance and that you'd like her advice on how to improve. Be clear in your own head that this conversation is not about defending yourself, even if you ultimately become convinced she's wrong in her assessment. Rather, this step is simply about hearing what she's saying, correct or not, because even if she's objectively wrong, you need to fully grasp her answer in order to figure out the best step for yourself.

2. Whether or not you think your manager's assessment is correct, the reality is that her assessment likely has more weight than your own in determining whether you ultimately succeed in your job. So, now that you know her take, ask yourself: Can you do what's being asked? And do you want to do what's being asked? There's no shame in deciding you can't or don't want to. The key is to be honest with yourself about it.

3. In some cases, truly hearing your manager's feedback and trying to implement it will help you turn things around, so don't discount this possibility.

4. But in other cases, you may decide that you can't do what your manager expects. In that case, there’s an untraditional—but often surprisingly effective—approach you might consider. Go back to her and say something like: "I appreciate you being candid with me about your concerns. I'm going to continue to do my best, but it sounds like we should be realistic about the possibility this won't work out. I wonder if we can make arrangements now to plan for a transition that will be as smooth as possible for both of us. Would you be willing to work with me while I conduct a job search? That will help me, and it will give you time to search for a replacement and have a smooth transition, and I can be as involved as you'd like in bringing the new person up to speed."

Many managers are likely to hear this with relief. No one wants to fire someone if it can be avoided. By making it easy for your boss to end the relationship and offering terms that help you both, you're maximizing the chance that she'll work with you in the way you've proposed. You get some grace time to find a new job, you won’t have to explain a firing in future job searches, and you’ll gain more control over the situation.

(But a key disclaimer: You should take your knowledge of your company and manager into account before doing this, because some might respond with, "It sounds like you're resigning, and we'll accept that." Proceed with caution, and let your knowledge of your employer be your guide.)

Overall, though, the key to all of this is to listen with an open mind and be honest with yourself. Don't ignore warning signs in the hope that you can somehow muddle through. Be proactive, know there's no shame in things not working out, and tackle the situation head-on.

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