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Guess who’s being fired?

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 11:14 a.m. CST

Is everything copasetic at your job? Are you feeling happy, content and secure? If so, I have some advice for you — DON’T!

Know it or not, like it or not, you could be whisking down the road to termination. In the slightly altered words of “The Music Man,” that’s Termination with a capital “T,” and that rhymes with “Thee,” and that stands for “Canned.”

If you’re not worried now, take a quick peek at a recent column by Joann S. Lublin in The Wall Street Journal. Titled “Six Subtle Signs You’re About to Lose Your Job,” Lublin lays out the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny signs and signals that mean your next assignments could be packing your boxes, turning in your card key, and removing your presence from the office forever.

Now, you may think that you would never miss such a clue. After all, you’ve been fired so often, you could find your way to the unemployment office blindfolded. But remember, management is always thinking up new ways to torture the staff, and in the brief interval between your last firing and your next firing, there may be a whole set of excruciatingly painful humiliations you’ve never experienced. Yet.

Consider the case of Jill Abramson. Ms. Abramson says that she was totally surprised when she was fired as the executive editor of The New York Times. If an experienced reporter is blindsided by a pink slip, what chance does a doofus like you have?

OK, then, are you sufficiently scared? That’s a good sign you are ready to learn about the really bad signs.

For example, “your boss refuses to discuss your long-term projects.” This happened to one vice president sited by Lawrence J. Stybel, a leadership consultant. The VP’s manager dragged his feet in approving a budget. This should have set off warning signs, but the VP “didn’t connect the dots.”

Unfortunately, the snail’s pace at which you work makes every assignment a long-term project, so you may have to do a little probing and poking on your own.

“Can we talk about what I’m doing?” you might ask your supervisor. “I’m making so little progress, it would be motivating if I thought you cared.”

If your manager turns and walks briskly away, it’s time to start packing those boxes.

“Rumors fly about a hunt for your successor” is a fairly unsubtle clue, though you want to be cautious here since employers have been known to start fake searches simply to scare “underperforming” employees. To get confirmation, ask your manager if the company would like you to interview the candidates for your job.

“I have plenty of time since the work on my wrongful termination discrimination suit is going so well,” you could add, helpfully. “My lawyers were really surprised you would even consider firing a full-blooded Kiowa and an orthodox Druid.”

Subtle Clue No. 3, “Colleagues shun you,” will not be of much use to you. You’ve been shunned since your first day. “You’re assigned an executive coach to fix your flaws” is also a non-starter. Everyone knows you have no flaws. “You must justify your job” is another clue, and, frankly, if this comes up in your work life, you can be pretty darn sure that you’re toast.

Given your sluggish performance, your toxic personality and your hardly hidden contempt for your company, it will be impossible to justify what you do, which isn’t much. On the other hand, they have kept you around for quite a while, so there must be something you are doing right. (Maybe it’s the fact that when it comes to making sure there are no donuts left over after staff meetings, you’re a peak performer. That should be worth a couple of extra months before they give you the boot.)

The final subtle clue is definitely not so subtle: “Your supervisor suddenly interferes with your employees.” Reporter Lublin tells the sad tale of a bank executive who was surprised by his out-of-town boss suddenly showing up to run his staff meetings. “’She asked everyone’s opinion but mine,’ during these meetings, he observed.”

After the third visit, “she eliminated his job.”

Tragic, but the exec should have been proactive. When his boss showed up at his office, he should have rushed over to her office. He could have spread a little dirt, dropped a few not-so-subtle hints about why she was never at her desk, and nabbed her job, no problem.

It may not be subtle, but it is satisfying.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company and now owns Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, Calif.

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