This is one of the worst positions to be in. After all the hard work, certifications, interview prep and practice, you’ve landed your dream job. They actually hired you, but things aren’t working out. Your new tech job has become a nightmare. Maybe you exaggerated on your resume and now you’ve been thrown into the deep end. Or real world tasks are more complex than the practice drills you’ve been working on. Maybe you just don’t fit your team, your boss or someone on your team sees you as a fraud and is out to expose you. Or maybe you committed a major infraction. It may even have nothing to do with you, like layoffs due to an economic downturn. Whatever the case, if you find yourself fearing the termination of your employment, or your reputation becomes in jeopardy, it can be frustrating.
To find yourself in losing credibility, or feeling like your days are numbered. It doesn’t really matter what causes this, whether your actions, or others perception about you and your work. I’ve experienced it before and I’ve also had friends experience it. Sometimes you see the ground shrinking beneath you, other times you’re completely blindsided. An important thing to remember is this too shall pass. Don’t get too hung up on it. Below are a few tips on how best to manage a bad situation you may not be able to help.
The last thing you want to do is procrastinate or be unrealistically optimistic about the situation. Sometimes we’re hopeful, we think it’ll blow over or work out in the end, meanwhile decisions are made about us without our knowledge or involvement. You should be proactive in finding out exactly where you stand and what your options are employment-wise.
Seek out clear and direct feedback
Depending on your organization’s culture, seeking clear and direct feedback may be a tough ask. Your company may not be like Facebook or Bridgewater Associates (companies with a notoriety for providing clear and direct feedback). Some companies are non-confrontational and will start reducing the amount of communication, access, tasks and responsibilities. Even worse, others may provide “care-frontation”, a feedback that doesn’t clearly communicate its weight or seriousness. There you are, one day away from irreversible termination and they’re telling you to correct a situation over time.
If there’s a particular person you have an issue with, how powerful are they or will they be?
If you have an issue with a peer, depending on their potential and clout, you can stand your ground or even do battle, but if they’re ‘connected’ or eventually get promoted before you, understand how potentially fatal your battles have immediately become. A lot of people eliminate enemies once they come into power. Very few leaders appreciate being challenged or working with competition, and for good reason. To get things done, you need people to fall in line, they may see you as one that will challenge their authority and this can have rippling effect with the rest of the team.
Try to see if you have any chances left
Nevertheless, try to see if your situation is employment fatal or if you have options. Try to get a sense of how bad your situation is. Things really may not be as dire. It’s important to ask questions, explore the consequence of whatever has caused the ground to be shaky under you. For all you know, you may be on the first strike. There’s a lot of difference between first infraction and final warning. Some infractions leave a lot of rope, others have no rope at all. Try to see where you are if at all possible.
Seek lateral opportunities within the organization
You may have an issue with your immediate boss or team. Seek out other teams or bosses that are willing to take you on. If your organization is large enough and hopefully you’ve built relationships, you may be able to roll over to another team. There are other considerations though, you may have to sit on the bench will an opening is created for you, or you may have to take a lesser role. Explore and try to create a workable solution.
Seek employment elsewhere
Once you realize you’re on the hit list at your organization, you should immediately begin to seek employment elsewhere, before you try the other approaches, start to apply relentlessly. It may take time to get feedback, seek lateral opportunities, or see if you have any chances left, but after having done all that, you may still find yourself on the way out the door. If you’ve been in the job market the entire time, you’ll approach all the preceding options with ease and clarity than if you didn’t.
Observe how others in a similar situation have been treated in the past
Pay attention or try to recall how others in a similar situation have been treated. Were they moved elsewhere? The public sector is known for moving underperforming employees to other areas to give them another chance of success (they also do this with high performing employees by the way). Other organizations may ostracize and eventually terminate employees on the hot seat. How others have been treated in the past can give you a clue to what ultimately happens to you.
Reflect on the entire situation as objectively as possible
List what went right
Take a moment to reflect on what transpired. What went well. What you did great. How well the situation played out. It may have been at the beginning, or when the breakdown started. Try to assess all the positive elements and internalize them.
List what went wrong
Also consider where the situation went wrong. What could have been avoided. The part you played. How to better handle a similar situation in the future. I remember once where a simple clear and direct feedback to my employer about how an action of theirs negatively impacted me. That feedback ultimately let to my exit a short time later. At the time I was providing feedback, this wasn’t remotely an option, but as things broke down, my exit was the only option left on the table. Reflecting on how things brokedown, whether slowly or over a period of time can be very beneficial. When a similar pattern begins to rear its head in a new situation, you’ll quickly identify it and know how to deal with it before it becomes larger and more difficult to manage.
Don’t let things play out
The last thing you want to do is let things play out. Do not stay silent, often what is left unsaid can fester and become an issue due to unfounded assumptions. Your silence may be interpreted as aloofness, or not caring enough. Having a conversation about whatever issue has put you on the hotseat may actually lead to the resolution of the perceived issue, or clarification about your take. Don’t count on that though, things may actually be dire, but you can’t know for sure if you stay quiet.
Don’t be defensive
Try to be as objective as possible. Don’t take any critique personal. Try to understand other people’s perception and expectation, and see how your actions may have contributed to your situation. Sometimes, there can be something redemptive about sitting through a negative feedback. The person unloading on you may come to appreciate how well you receive feedback. Remember, ego can be your enemy in times like this.
Don’t take things personal
Really try your best to see things from the other party’s perspective. Try to understand how your actions or inactions may impact a broader goal of your team, leadership or organization. Often times, we have tunnel vision, often seeing things from the perspective of our role and function. Seeing the big picture, especially what leadership is trying to accomplish can greatly impact how you react or what you do to improve the situation.
Calm your nerves and act immediately
Be objective. Calm down and make clear-eyed moves. Do not act out of emotion or irrationally. Let communication, especially in written form sit for a moment before you send it to ensure the tone and temperament is appropriate. The last thing you want is to exacerbate the situation.
If your exit is inevitable, try to negotiate how you leave
If, after all is said and done, you realize you will be exiting your position, try to negotiate how you leave. If you’re fortunate to find out just before that fateful meeting with your boss, HR and security, you may be given the opportunity to resign. Resigning before being terminated will definitely help with your next potential employer. You can also negotiate the content and report of your resignation. It may not be enough to simply resign. Some organizations will let you resign, but will still write an unnecessary and damning expose on why you quit that’s just as bad as you being fired. Read Getting More by Stuart Diamond for a detailed way for handling this.
Again, this is a tough situation to be in, but do your best to hedge yourself. Self awareness is key. Once you realize you’re on the hot seat, your decisions and actions can be the difference between employment and unemployment. You may not be able to control the fact that you’re exiting, but you may be able to negotiate how you exit and what happens thereafter. Try to leave with class and dignity.