One of our biggest fears associated with our employment is facing the possibility of the ultimate rejection: getting fired. I’m not talking about being laid off. I’m talking about they don’t dig what you do or how you do it and you are given the pink slip. It can be devastating on both a personal and professional level. People I’ve spoken to who have been through this experience often find it difficult to move past it and consequently, let it form their behavior. That behavior isn’t always the kind that helps, especially the ongoing replay of the low points.

Yet, there are a few things to know that can either help you avoid that potential pink slip or prepare yourself if it should happen.

How to avoid being fired:

Take responsibility. Your job holds with it certain expectations of performance and outcomes. You are responsible for knowing what those standards and expectations are on an ongoing basis. Life and business changes, and so will the expectations. If you don’t know or aren’t clear – ask.

Have clear measurements. Once you know what the expectations are, how will you be measured? What are the specific results, both quality and quantity? Keep track of how well you are doing and keep the manager updated.

Don’t lay your problems on the boss. Sure you might think the boss “has it out for you”. That may be true, but usually it’s not. It is hard to think of the boss as warm and cuddly when they’re busy telling you your work stinks. Try to listen to what they need from you, ask questions, and get clarity. If you are still having a hard time really getting what they want, then ask a peer who is successful working for the same person. They may be able to shed some light on what is being told to you or how to interpret the boss.

Document. I will repeat this theme later, but keep track of conversations particularly those conversations where your boss is giving you feedback on your performance, as well as their expectations of you. You could also send a follow up email to your boss, simply restating in black and white your understanding of the conversation. This way, if you are wrong or misunderstood, they have the chance to correct any misunderstanding.

Keep cool, but don’t go brain dead. People who panic tend to make their situation worse – it doesn’t matter if it is a house on fire or your work performance. Try to maintain a level head, but don’t go so far the other way that you’re giving no thought to what you are doing.
How to prepare yourself:

Collect supporting documentation for the next job. You will want to collect things like complimentary emails or notes, awards and atta boy’s. In addition to those things, if you receive written appraisals, ensure you have copies of all of them. You may also want to ask a few key people to write letters of recommendation or at least be willing to agree to being used as a reference. Collect email and phone numbers for people with whom you will want to maintain contact after you leave. That may include your co-workers, but could also include co-workers in adjacent groups, vendors, suppliers and customers with whom you have developed a working relationship. These types of things are better to do while you are still working and have greater access to files and people. These will be important for your next job search.

Collect supporting documentation for your current job. If there is any belief that you are being treated unfairly, particularly for issues covered by Equal Employment, then you will want to keep every shred of documentation and emails that might at all speak to your level of performance or how you are being treated. If you have to take legal action after being fired, your case will be that much easier to prove if you have a paper trail. As mentioned above, when you are in the mode of being “performance supervised” you need to increase your level of documentation; and things like documenting conversations via email can help.

Vent or de-stress, but do it cautiously. Don’t make yourself feel worse by over talking to your co-workers. We all need times when we can vent to help relieve the stress. However, if you talk too much or you talk to people who reinforce your perspective, you will only go in a downward spiral. Find a neutral, uninvolved friend who will give you the space, but will also remind you that you will get through this.

Launch a job search. I put this down with mixed feelings. I do think if you’re sure you’re headed out the door, it’s good to start the process as soon as you can. Even if you aren’t getting fired, chances are good that this episode has left a bitter taste in the mouth for your employer, so why delay starting the job search. The note of caution is to make sure your head is truly coming from a positive, self-confident place. A job search launched when you think you’re worthless or marked for life won’t be successful. Before taking this step, you may need a period of decompression to help you process what has transpired and move you into a better place of self-esteem.

As a co-worker once said to me “if you work long enough, you’ll eventually get fired”. Grim thought, but one worthy of consideration. As a former manager, I can say that it is possible to turn your situation around with the steps I mentioned. But sometimes when the best efforts still fail, you can soften the fall with some advanced preparation.

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