six signs theyre planning to replace you

What To Do If You Think They’re Planning To Replace You

If your gut is screaming that something is off in the energy at work, then it is. Your gut never lies.

You could wait and see what happens, but if it’s stressing you out to wonder what the heck is going on and whether you’ll have a job next week, I suggest that you have a frank conversation with your boss. They key to doing that effectively is to collect yourself before you begin the conversation. Don’t get emotional or angry, as hard as it might be to keep your cool.

Chances are excellent that even if they are planning to let you go, your boss doesn’t hate you personally. It’s a business decision, and even though that sounds cold, I hope it helps you a little bit. I know that the times I’ve been fired or ‘invited to leave’ overtly or sneakily (three times in all in my career so far) I always felt angry that people were being weaselly with me, but people get scared very easily.

Once I realized that these people weren’t out to get me, they were just normal fearful people who felt they had to cave in to their boss’s demands, it got easier to take the tough blows.

If they do let you go, your preparation and your broaching the topic give you a better platform from which to negotiate your exit arrangements. If they call you into HR one day and give you your walking papers, you’re not going to be a great frame of mind to start negotiating severance and other benefits. If you bring up the topic and your manager panics, and you can see on her face that you nailed it and that indeed they have been talking about sending you on your way, you’ve got the upper hand.  Here’s a script to illustrate:

YOU: Peggy, do you have a second?

PEGGY, YOUR BOSS: Sure, what’s up?

YOU: I wanted to set up a time to meet with you and talk about my plan, what I’m working on and so forth.

PEGGY: Anything in particular?

YOU: Well, I want to go top-to-bottom with you, start with my mission here and dig into my projects, a kind of 360 view.

PEGGY: Oh – okay. How about Tuesday at 10:00?

YOU: That’s perfect.

Now you’ve given Peggy time to prepare. She’s not an idiot (I hope). She knows you have questions she’s not going to be able to avoid.

On Tuesday morning:

PEGGY: Thanks for coming in.

YOU: Sure. I wanted to talk with you about my role and my goals.

PEGGY: Okay.

YOU: For starters, I want to get your take on me and this job. Are you pleased with what I’m doing? I want to make sure you’re supportive of me in this job and my agenda in it.

PEGGY: Er – why do you ask?

YOU: Well I’ve been concerned lately, and picking up a lot of signals that you and the other leaders may not be overjoyed with my performance or perhaps more accurately with the fit between me and the job.

PEGGY: Um…well there have been some conversations.

EXACTLY. You knew it, and now you got your confirmation. Your mojo will grow in that moment, even though it’s not good news. It’s always better to face reality than to bask in delusion.

YOU: Okay. Can you share the concerns with me?

PEGGY: I guess — I’d say that there’s a concern that you may be too externally-focused, spending a lot of time with customers, versus what I think the viewpoint is that the job should be more focused on the operations here in the office.

YOU: For sure, that makes sense. We’ve had several conversations about that. I guess I thought that since our last meeting there was more cohesion on that issue, that we were in synch.

PEGGY: Well, I’m not sure that’s the case.


YOU: So, really if I made a plan to exit the organization that would be the best thing.

PEGGY: I mean, if you’re thinking along those lines…

YOU: Well I hadn’t been, quite honestly, but I very much appreciate your candor and I’m a firm believer in energetic alignment. If it’s not a good fit, no harm, no foul, but I should move along. Have you and the other leaders talked about what would constitute a reasonable exit package?

PEGGY: No! Nothing that specific.

YOU: May I share my thinking with you?

PEGGY: Sure. Yes. I don’t know that I can promise anything.

YOU: Understood. I think four months of salary and my expected  bonus for this quarter is appropriate, since I’ve been here for four years doing what I think you’ll agree is an excellent job based on the job I was hired for.

PEGGY: Yes, well things change —

YOU: And that’s why it seems to be a good time for me to exit, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve done exactly what I was hired to do. I think two months of health insurance and a LinkedIn recommendation from you would round out the package that would make it easy for me to move on with mutual respect.

PEGGY: I can take that upstairs.

YOU: That’s fine. I appreciate your time and your honesty.

It’s always better to get these things out on the table. The leaders upstairs are most likely going to green-light your proposal or negotiate a bit with you. They will be glad you understand what’s happening and aren’t going to make the transition difficult for them. It’s easier for them to pay you than to keep the suspense going!

This approach has a name. We call it the Third Path. The first path  is to quit and the second one is to get fired. The Third Path maintains respect for everybody, keeps you whole and gets you out of their hair.


Read Liz Ryan’s story “Can They Fire You If You’re Doing a Good Job?” on Forbes!

Our company is called Human Workplace. We’re a publishing, coaching and consulting firm. Our eBooks, courses, tools, curriculum and private coaching and consulting help people and organizations grow their flames and build Muscles and Mojo for the new-millennium workplace.

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16 replies
  1. Srikanth
    Srikanth says:

    Hi Liz,

    Very informative article indeed. I just thought of sharing my personal experiences in working in the Middle East market. I work in the Middle East for the last 5+ years and one very common thing I had noticed amongst the employers here is to keep their Employees guessing on the stability of their jobs, no matter how great they perform. Naturally, the thoughts of getting fired always looms in the thoughts of the employees and in this case, the “gut feeling” you had explained is always there and eventually the employees leave their fate at the hands of their employer.

    I feel, the best time to time the exit in such situations is not only the gut feeling, but when the employee loses his sense of contribution and job satisfaction completely.

    Let me know what you think.


    Srikanth Seshadri

    • Murthy
      Murthy says:

      Hi Liz
      Very nice article & useful tips. Srikanth has summed up very nicely.Working in the Middle east is like a soldier in a war zone. The moment you do not fire you are fired (No matter how many wars you have won for them in Millions of revenues).Thx Gd day.

  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    Hi Liz, great article.
    I had one of those moments the other week. It felt terrible. The boss called me to have a discussion, and I was told pretty much that the team leader for this region was making a list of of all the things I was doing wrong, so they could fire me.
    It felt terrible. I called a friend after the meeting to see what my legal standings would be, and he outlined a scenario, if they were to go down that track.
    The boss slept on the discussion overnight as I did, and I went back with a proposal to align the team with the sales direction. After a week of discussion, this was accepted. And the change has been good, But I think it is still time to exit the business to find a positive place to work.

  3. moffat
    moffat says:

    Its like you have been sent from God to tell me about that, am the victim of the story you have sent job is at risk. Its just the matter of time though they have already replaced me and sent me for indefinite leave.

  4. Sharbendu
    Sharbendu says:

    Hi Liz,
    Thanks for the nice article and it happened to almost everyone I know including me. I believe in the simple theory that in case you outgrow the organization you work for or they outgrow you, a separation in inevitable. And it is always better to initiate the process than to wait for it to happen, unless you have got a well thought legal plan!
    However as a boss and business leader, I have always encourage people working with me to do some valuation in the job market on and off to have a sense of reality. It helped them to understand where they stand and many of them found wonderful opportunities, which they would have gone unnoticed otherwise, and they are very thankful to me for that extra push

  5. A. Nonnymouse
    A. Nonnymouse says:

    Thank you for an excellent & timely article. This crystalizes my own observations and validates my own approach: if you think there’s something up, there probably is. And if your exit is imminent, no matter what the cause, the best thing you can do is swing into the blow and not push back. With regard to the exit package part of the discussion, I say go for it: don’t ask, don’t get. I look forward to more perceptive articles like this one.

  6. Magoo
    Magoo says:

    Which is worse…quitting with severance that runs out before you can be re-hired elsewhere, or sticking it out and making them fire you so you can collect UI until you find your next spot?

    • sally
      sally says:

      If you take the approach mentioned in this article you don’t have to compromise. You negotiate an exit package, but you’d still technically be laid off and qualify for unemployment. I mean, that should also be part of the negotiation!

  7. CMN
    CMN says:

    A well-thought-out article Liz.

    In my view, one other way all this could be avoided would be for organizations to adopt and religiously follow an appropriate performance management system and regularly carryout evaluations with transparency being key to the whole process. A transparent PMS will make life easy in that, where there’s no fit between the job and the employee, the writing is usually then on the wall the wall for both parties to see. I do agree that either the organisation outgrows the employee or vice versa and naturally if the gap is irreconcilable, then seperation would be inevitable and, i guess, bu mutual termination of contract.

    • Chrispen
      Chrispen says:

      The boss who secretly plans to replace you is himself a coward and seriously lacks in transparency. One would rather consider exiting than endure the stress of working for the coward boss. No matter how constructive an employee may be, coward bosses are never satisfied for they actually begrudge your knowledge and skill instead of simply welcoming it into their organisation and using it to their advantage – All for a monthly salary.

  8. Lance Gotko
    Lance Gotko says:

    Great article. The one thing I would add is that the employee should say expressly that s/he is not quitting — just exploring with the employer what the terms would be of a mutually agreed upon separation. You have to be careful not to hand the employer a resignation on a silver platter and thereby endanger, e.g., unemployment benefits, unvested deferred comp., etc.

  9. Karen
    Karen says:

    Hi Liz
    Really useful article, thanks! Wish I’d read it before I decided to quit … But there’s a lesson learned for the future about taking the Third Path. I’ve managed to leave with mutual respect but without the severance payment or LinkedIn recommendation – will remedy the last part ASAP and will be sure not to make the same mistake again!
    Best wishes

  10. katie chrisholm
    katie chrisholm says:

    I was suddenly unfairly it seemed given the bombshell 5 months ago that my employer was unhappy with how things were going. I had been depressed and suffering from anxiety like all the others who had been working for the organisation had and stupidly did not go off sick like they did before they could decide to put in a PIP. I replied that I wanted my annual leave which was blocked. I went to the gp who signed me off sick with depression and anxiety.
    I was still employed and after 5 months and the entitlement to sick pay had expired although I was not better, I felt I might as well try or i would not know. But when the so called phased return occurred it was just a paper exercise.
    I was expected to do the impossible. And got no help to do it. So effectively they were helping me to fail. But I felt that at least I had the same as other employees had.


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