I feel the need to vent.

I’ve received three calls today from long-term employees who were fired out of the blue and have no idea what they are going to do with themselves. Again I say it. Never stop making yourself more employable, and keep your eyes open for the writing on the wall that you may be about to lose your job.

I’ve written before about how you must continually be improving your employability (if you insist on working for someone else), so this time I will focus on how to recognize the warning signs that you may be getting the boot.

The company implements extreme cost-cutting measures.

First understand that the signs may not have anything to do with you, but rather the overall economic health of the company. If you see the company is struggling, then you should assume that a reduction of the staff will soon follow.

In the traditional office environment, things like overtime, company lunches, free soft drinks and other perks will disappear. In the retail setting, just look at the shelves. A struggling store will cut back on inventory. There will be a hiring freeze, and the company could be encouraging a staff reduction with severance packages.

You have seemingly become incompetent.

Alternatively, the signs could have nothing to do with the economic health of the company, but rather how you are suddenly being treated.

The vast majority of terminations are not wrongful under the law due to the at-will employment presumption. Nonetheless, that does not stop employees from suing for wrongful termination anyway, and those actions are costly to the company. Therefore, the company will want to build a package on you so that if you do sue, there is a paper trial showing that you were incompetent in your job. To that end, the following acts are red flags that you are being papered.

You are moved into a position where you have no idea what you are doing.

What better way to build a file with warning memos than to move you into a job you cannot perform?

You are given impossible goals or projects.

As an alternative to moving you into a new position, the company can keep you in the same position but set impossible goals or tasks. If you were required to sell 50 widgets a week before, suddenly you will be required to sell 100. Then when you fail to meet the new goal, you will receive a written warning, and perhaps an action plan.

Everything you are doing is being documented.

It does little good to create a situation where you do poorly, in order to fight a possible wrongful termination action, if there is no documentation of that fact. If you are on the way out, the company will document everything you do “wrong”.

Have your escape plan in place.

I am more frustrated by a long term employee who has no escape plan than by a relatively new hire. The new hire may not have time to formulate such a plan, but the long term employee was just being complacent. Put your escape plan in place. Maximize your education, and don’t limit yourself to one type of employment. If you are a mortgage broker, it isn’t going to do you much good if all you do is work to make yourself a better and better mortgage broker, if that industry tanks and you find yourself out of work. Yes, improve yourself in your chosen profession, but look for other possible jobs. Make a game of it, and see how many certificates you can gather.

For example, you might be an accountant, but go ahead and pick of certificates to be a court reporter, phlebotomist, crane mechanic and Dental Assistant. Of course I am exaggerating to make the point, but these callers had worked the same jobs for 15 years or more, and not one of them had done anything to create a back-up plan during that time. Don’t put yourself in that position.