With jobs, we often go for the salary and stay for the boss — that is, until the boss starts acting weird. We have all either experienced or seen the relationships between managers and employees deteriorate.

What follows is a constant stream of awkward interactions, unnecessarily tense discussions and an edgy undercurrent. Here are a few ways to tell whether the boss is considering termination.

Follow the crumbs

One of the most obvious signs is the paper trail. This is the often-awkward effort of managers to create documentation to support their case.

Practically speaking, that comes across as seeing the boss using more notes in preparation for, during and after meetings. For example, a routine meeting now becomes a bit more formal and is followed up by an email that recaps what was said and what is to happen next.

Often, the email looks carefully worded, includes phrases that may be uncharacteristic and perhaps includes a read receipt.

If this type of behavior is normal, then there is no reason to worry. Conversely, it is important to understand that from the human resources perspective, the first thing that happens when a manager comes in with yet another vague complaint about an employee is that we ask about related documentation.

Because that manager has not clearly communicated to the employee, documented it in any performance management tool or really done anything they should do as managers, we advise them to start documenting. We give them examples of phrases they should use and encourage them to start immediately.


In some cases, all the documentation also comes with another person. Someone from HR joins a meeting; a colleague sits in to “learn;” or a leader from another team stops by to “observe.” These could be normal occurrences, or they could be staged to add an independent third party to provide objective witness to the perceived problem.

Similarly, instead of people, new words or phrases might begin to make a regular appearance. If the boss starts talking about reorganizations, our perceived happiness or unhappiness, opportunities in other departments or realigning responsibilities, it is good to take note.

Why? Because, again, when a manager who is not necessarily good at managing comes to HR, we often advise them to exhaust all options other than termination.


So how do we appropriately prepare for potentially being let go without creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? First, we should start documenting to both check the reasonableness of our concerns and create a benchmark of understanding in case something is in the works.

Second, we should get our financial ducks in a row, if they are not already, and begin looking for a job — or at least dusting off the resume. Third, figure out what co-workers will continue to be positive colleagues and find a way to stay connected.

And fourth, if possible, talk to HR. Ideally, they are there to protect the company and advocate for employees. Thus, they could be a valuable resource throughout and after the process.