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You are Probably Going to get Fired (Maybe) [HorroR Stories]

Dear Madame HorroR,

Recently, my boss called me in to her office and gave me a counseling notice and said I had 10 days to improve my performance. Should I be worried? Am I going to get fired?

— Called into the Principal’s office

Dear Called,

Yes… Probably… I don’t know.

I’m doubtless not saying anything shocking when I relate that most people hate conflict, hate giving people bad news, hate confronting anything unpleasant in general. Just because the corporate gods have shined down upon your manager and christened her a “Manager” doesn’t automatically make her better at any of that. Or make her willing to deal with it either. That is what HR Departments are for, right?

Here’s what I do know, your boss HATED having to give you that counseling notice. Now, I don’t know what it was for, but I’m guessing this is how the conversation between your boss and your HR department went:

Your Boss: I want to let my employee, Called into the Principal’s Office go

Your HR Dept: Have you discussed this performance issue with her?

Your Boss: No, I just want you to let her go, she doesn’t listen to me and her work is sloppy

Your HR Dept: Have you given her any feedback on her work, told her what your expectations are, how she can improve?

Your Boss: No, just get rid of her

Your HR Dept: (clicking keys in the background) I see that you gave her a 4.5 out of 5 on her last performance review

Your Boss: I don’t care, I just want her gone, just deal with it

Your HR Dept: Yes, but first we need to document something…

At which point your HR Department gave your manager a nice long lecture on the importance of documenting things like this, mitigating risk to the company, blah, blah, blah during which time I GUARANTEE “doing the right thing for the employee” never really came up. They probably have a whole power point presentation, that they presented at some long ago Manager’s retreat held in some dusty downtown Marriott conference room.

So, there you are with your freshly photocopied Written Counseling Notice and a sick pit in your stomach. Are you going to get fired? Yes, probably– because this is usually the first step. The decision has already been made and this little piece of paper which is supposedly designed to communicate to you where you need to improve, and in theory provide a commitment to you that you will be allowed to improve, is just a formality. But, managers are lazy and conflict resistant (see above), so unless you are sacrificing small brown eyed puppies on a daily basis you might just be able to coast through this. The longer I work in corporate America the more I learn that most problems can be solved by patience. Things change, managers change, organizations change all the time.

Here’s some actual advice you can use: Whatever you are doing that they’ve called out by giving you this notice, stop doing it. If you are coming in late every day, taking long lunches, getting drunk in the parking lot during your break, STOP doing that. If it is more work or skill related, ask for training, show some effort and willingness to learn and improve. Many times the notice will include actual remedial steps. Do these. Sure, maybe you are just putting off the inevitable, but I swear I’ve had employees stick around for years just teetering on that precipice. I remember one guy — every time we wanted to push him off, he’d shine up his loafers, set his alarm 30 minutes earlier in the morning and for a little while, try. He was still there when I left the company and is probably still there now.

But, if your boss is just crazy and hates you, and you have a weak HR department and none of the things above are relevant or will even work, then well, I’d say dust off the old resume. Please spell check it first, and don’t print it on blue paper, for the love of Mike. And your name at the top? You don’t have to find the frilliest font in the MS Word oeuvre for just your name, you really, really don’t. Whoever told you to do that has never received 300 resumes in one day for one job posting.

And, if it makes you feel any better, when they finally do call you up to the great HR Department in the sky, they probably won’t say “You’re fired.” About four years ago I spent a long road trip with my grandmother telling me all about how Donald Trump has made it acceptable again for companies to say “You’re fired.” It sticks out in my mind for many reasons: 1. This is a woman who hasn’t actually been in the workforce for over 20 years, 2. She was wearing this extremely un- age appropriate rhinestone and denim outfit that made her look like Dolly Parton was her personal shopper , and 3. She was wrong. I once had to do a find/replace in a large turnover strategy document I had prepared replacing the word “terminated” with “separated” because saying someone was “terminated” was too negative. I really wish I was making this up.

So, are you going to get fired? No, but you might get separated (or my favorite, when I was laid off from my job in London, England, they said I was being “made redundant,” how am I not supposed to take that personally?). But it’s not the end of the world, even in today’s economy, I swear. At least you can file for unemployment (unless you WERE actually killing puppies, they’d probably deny you for that).

Good Luck out there,

Madame HR

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