If you have ever been fired from a job, did you notice anything different about the behavior of your peers or upper management just before your termination? What are some common signs to look for among your coworkers and project manager(s) that would indicate your position is severely at risk?

EDIT: My instincts were right, and I opted to resign rather than face termination. I guess when you have that "gut feeling" that something is about to happen, it's a strong sign that you should be heading for the exit...

+89  A: 

You work at Yahoo.

Shawn Simon
Or Sun. I feel for those developers.
As someone who worked at Yahoo (and found this answer quite funny), I can say there wasn't any warning for anyone. Business as usual, then one day you have a meeting with your manager that you are told you can't miss. There weren't any telltale signs at all. It may differ at other places though.
Ryan Doherty
Yahoo's layoffs in the last half of 2008 were equal to their hirings in the first half. They expanded when they shouldn't have.
wow, I didn't expect to see this from Y! ... can someone elaborate more?
Alex. S.
FYI I wasn't laid off at Yahoo, but I did give my 2 weeks a week before layoffs, which causes all sorts of management headaches :)
Ryan Doherty
^ Because it's soooo hard to scroll down
Mike Robinson
@TM, get a sense of humor your crotchety programmer!
+171  A: 

I've never been laid off, but I've worked with people that were. The number one tell-tale sign seems to be that they don't have anything for you to do (either there isn't enough work to go around or they don't want you to start something that you won't be finishing).

A second sign would be that they want you to spend your time documenting stuff that you've already done. This will be so that somebody else can pick it up after you've gone.

Thirdly, the management keep having meetings but nobody knows what they are about and everybody seems stressed.

Dan Dyer
I just got laid off and knew it was only a question of when because projects for my department dried up. Otherwise we went into cost cutting mode (consolidating hardware, cutting expensive vendor contracts, etc )
Yeah that's pretty much how it went down for the last few weeks at my last company when they laid off most of the programmers one afternoon.
This is so true.
An addendum to part three: Remember when you were a kid and your dog was getting old and your mom had to break the news that it was time to put him down? Remember the look she had on her face? Every management person will have that same look on their faces.
Hooray Im Helping
+10  A: 

They bring on somebody who does the same thing as you. You're not included in meetings that you probably should be in. More management activity than usual is going on. Things haven't been going so well in the past or you don't get along well.

And of course the most obvious one: You think you might be fired.

I always say trust your instinct. I called my firing the afternoon before it happened. Although I thought it would be later in the week (on a Friday).

+4  A: 

You have to go to a meeting where they tell you that security will escort you back to your desk.


Orr Matarasso
(This is killing the joke, BTW.) When security escorts you back to your desk, it's so that they can watch you pack your stuff up into a box so that you don't steal anything or damage any property.
+98  A: 

It has never happened to me, but I've seen it happen.

  • Asked for a summary of all your projects and file locations
  • Sudden focus on documentation and no coding
  • Ask to train or hand off project to coworker
  • Your company was subject of a recent merger or acquisition
  • Lots of meetings between managers and key developers
  • Asked for a list of passwords to databases, and applications
  • Asked if any files are kept on your local drive
  • Layoffs of staff in other departments
  • People you normally chat with seem "busy" or preoccupied
  • It's a Friday before a holiday or it's just before your manager's vacation time
  • When asking about future work or upcoming issues, you're told "not to worry about that right now"
  • Your boss starts doing your job
  • Your company's stock price is taking a dive
"It's a Friday before a holiday or it's just before your manager's vacation time" <-- Yup, happened to me right before this christmas :P
Happened to me right *after* Christmas. Boy, there's a fun first day back from vacation.
Adam V
+6  A: 

Just want to add to the answers here (all good for the most part). If you keep yourself current and ready for what the market is asking for, then it doesn't matter so much. If the company ends up firing you (a reasonably good resource) that probably means they are not going to be in business for very long anyway.

A good idea is also always to have 2-3 months salary deposited in a money market account.

Otávio Décio
You obviously don't have a mortgage to pay...
Omar Kooheji
I sure do, that's the reason behind having money set aside.
Otávio Décio
@Omar, if you can't save 2-3 months of salary because of a mortgage you are living above your means.
Hey, no fair. Maybe his mortgage rate just reset!
Mike Sickler
I've worked for 100 year old insurance companies that laid people of for various reasons and are still going strong. Large companies purge occasionally, it's "just the way it is".
Jim Blizard
@mikemacman if you weren't planning for a rate reset (e.g. with an ARM or other product) then you are not very good at financial planning. If you know your rate changes in 1-7 years and have not planned for it, I unfortunately don't have a lot of sympathy.
I have no mortgage. My income is solely for pocket money anyway. :)
+18  A: 

The company has decided to call two meetings, on the same day, and doesn't announce it until that morning. The employees are divided between the two meetings.

This happened at a company I worked for (before I got there) and the people at the first meeting were laid off on the spot and the people in the second meeting were given various lengths of time before the same thing was to happen to them (i.e., these people have 30 days, these people have 60 days, etc.) The second meeting was designed to drag on as long as possible so that the people in the first meeting could be packed up and gone by the time the second meeting let out. It was pretty brutal.

On the upside, it's been my experience that "bad news" meetings are never called days in advance.

EDIT: Oh and I guess I should elaborate, the company got bought out by another company before anyone in the second meeting actually got laid off which is why it was still around to hire me a few years later.

That happened once, but it was a genuine meeting. Everyone was joking "are you in the 'keep' or 'let go' meeting?"
Dead account
I have seen this exact thing happen.
Nathan Reed
+6  A: 

Here are a few that I've experienced:

  1. You work for a small firm that has let the office manager go, so there's no one to pick up the phone when it rings. (Developers in the office do it.) You pick up the phone and hear the voice of the man who leases the company car to the owner, saying that if he doesn't get a payment in right away they'll impound the car. You start to wonder if they'll make payroll next week.
  2. New work isn't coming in, and your last billable project is coming to an end.
  3. There are lots of meetings, whispering, and closed doors. You aren't invited.
  4. One of the partners spends a lot of time standing by the printer and waiting for documents coming out. They turn out to be termination letters that s/he didn't want anyone else to see.
+7  A: 

Everyone in your department is busy but you.

+4  A: 

A additional clues I haven't seen listed yet (from when a company I worked for was soon to close its doors):

  • HR asked everyone in our department how many outstanding vacation days we had (in our jurisdiction, the company is obligated to pay out remaining vacation time)
  • sudden push to finish a few billable projects whose deadlines where weeks again
+12  A: 

First there is always a recruitment freeze and that is when you can start worrying about the future.

+101  A: 

You have time at work to ask

As a programmer, what are some telltale signs that you’re about to get fired or laid off?

on Stack Overflow.


Grant Wagner
@ceretullis, awesome!!
Nathan Koop
To those who don't get the reference:
Eugene M
and favourited this thread.
Right now, this answer has been upvoted 69're officially screwed!
This comment is absurd. You can be on stackoverflow during your non-work hours or looking for a solution to a problem.
+7  A: 

For firing, I have witnessed the following:

  1. Gets assigned very specific tasks with specific deadlines
  2. Other coworkers recruited to evaluate task outcome
  3. Many closed door meetings with those coworkers
  4. GOTO 1, but with tasks that are incrementally unapalatable

This goes on until the employee fails and can be fired for gross incompetence or the employee gets a clue and walks.

For layoffs post merger, look for the conference rooms to be freshly stocked with boxes of tissues.

So true about boxes of tissues.
+4  A: 

Follow the business indicators. If there are no sales, then there's not going to be anything to pay as salary, in the long term. When you see this potentially happening, then look at the other answers to find out if it's probably going to be you or someone else who has to go.

+1  A: 

If it's performance related then they should have spoken to you at least once and say that they are concerned about your performance, more than one of these meetings and you should worry.

I've seen it happen to a guy at my last job we came back from lunch and he went to a meeting with the CFO came back and started picking up stuff from his desk and said "Right thats me away"

I thought He was just leaving early, turned out he'd been sacked.

I was scared shitless as I was in the probation period of my first job out of university.

Turns out he'd had a few meetings previously and he'd fudged his resume to get a senior developer job when he didn't have the skills to be a senior developer.

Was still scary, but my boss came round to me and said that I was safe and that it was not normal for that to happen...

Omar Kooheji
Getting rid of somebody for no obvious reason is always a morale problem, and the company often can't reveal the exact reason why for legal purposes. Not good.
David Thornley
+3  A: 

While I was contracted to a company, the parent corp came up with a plan to:

"split" our "assets" into "logical tiers" and then "merge" the remaining "core business components"

We're shutting down your office and taking the brand you created.

Around that time there was a hiring freeze, a lot of upper level management meetings and a large number of buzzwords flying around. There were also a lot of town hall meetings wherein the parent corp's management assured everyone that everything was OK.

It was painful for the people that didn't see the writing on the wall.

Gavin Miller
+57  A: 

When you're around some other people, that are invited in more meetings than you are, you should say something like "Oh boy, I think I might get fired!"

Then, if everyone is laughing - you're safe, but if you hear an awkward silence instead - you're in trouble!

Paulius Maruška
It's an opportunity for fun. Make an untitled list of ranomly selected people's names (say 25% of your department), leave it in the photocopier and then sit back and enjoy the paranoia-induced fall-out.
Dan Dyer
@Dan Dyer, funniest thing I've read all day.
haha.. that's crazy
@Dan: +1 for your comment!
+3  A: 

As a survivor of a layoff at a small company, the sign I should've noticed was the managers moving (less expensive homes) and driving cheaper cars. At the time they passed them off as "my spouse didn't like the house" and "gas is expensive," but it was pretty clear the day of layoffs.

I know a company that recently did layoffs and their sign that mimicked my experience was stopping the 401k match. When a friend mentioned that, I told him to update his resume because it's going to get ugly and he didn't even have time for that -- he was laid off a week later.

The other sign you're in trouble is that a lot of new projects get cancelled with a WTF reason.

Austin Salonen
+2  A: 

A new employee is hired, much younger than you, and you're told to show him how your code works, to free you up for new projects.

Tom Moseley
Also, worry if they take away all your smaller projects, with the promise to get you 100% on some new project. There is no new project.
  • there's a new project but you're not invited to any of the meetings and nobody wants to discuss it with you.
Mark Harrison
+64  A: 

True story: You're stressed about your job so on a whim one weekend you do a scan on craigslist to see what else is out there, and you find your job listed as an open position.

(That was an ugly Monday.)

Ouch :( That does suck.
Andy Webb
When I was working for Hewlett Packard, I found out about our location closing in the newspaper before the company bothered to tell us.
Adam Lassek
You'd be amazed how often this actually works.
You should have applied for it.
Yeah, I really should have.
I know someone who got kicked out of their apartment that way.
Chad Okere
Ouch! Your job is one thing, but your apartment? Damn.
If the company is not expanding then be worried.
+20  A: 

If you work for a big company, they are often very tidy and organized.

  • the layoffs will happen on the first day of a new financial quarter.

  • Check your email before going in. If it doesn't work, you may be laid off, or else they have disabled all email pending the layoff.

  • sometimes a new general manager or director is brought in. it seems there are some people who specialize in managing transition periods like this.

Mark Harrison

What about an "expansion" of duties?

I've recently been placed into quasi-17 hour support mode as part of a 3 man rotation (6pm-11pm week nights, 6am to 11pm weekends, each dev takes a 3 person shift). We aren't likely to be needed - we're in tandem with someone from the hardware side and that person is the main point of contact. But it suddenly restricts my activities every third weekend.

I've never had to do anything like this before. There was an incident this last weekend where someone couldn't work remotely and they were preparing something important. I'm a little worried it indicates an attempt to squeeze out every dollar of value out of the Developers as they can, and that this is a precursor to a development position being cut (there is plenty of work, and no developers were harmed when the company laid off about 1/6th of the work force last fall).

It's not 24hour support, but it has a level of suckitude that can't be ignored.

+5  A: 

In my experience, having gone through a layoff, there are are warning signs.

  • The portion of the business you work in can be considered a cost (i.e your work does not directly generate revenue).
  • You have no projects
  • Your manager does not have any additional work for you nor do they have any answers as to what is going on (they are probably going to be laid off too)
  • You are not allowed to invent work or at least work of high priority
  • Requests for new equipment or resources are denied
  • One or more of your coworkers are in the same situation

You either want to start looking for a transfer to another department or get ready for a layoff :(

To the companies credit:

  • we were a cost center with revenue potential... but the company was unable to sell the service. They did what any company with responsible management would do.
  • our units director did our best to give us advanced warning (without telling us directly)
  • a good severance package was provided
  • the separation process was dignified and professional
Andy Webb
All of them just happened to me, yesterday. It was awkward recognize them...
Alex. S.
+121  A: 

You notice comments in code such as:

/* TODO: Fire Dave */
Rich Bradshaw
LOL if your manager put that in your code
Nice. Can't wait to get back to work tomorrow...
Wonder if I could get away voting in a scrum cycle and say it takes 600 hours to fire me?
/* Dave's not here man */
+1  A: 

This happened to some folks in my company who were shown the door this past monday:

  • The new organizational chart doesn't contain their names.
  • VPN and CVS access terminated over the weekend, along with email.
  • Bugs assigned to them were spread out over the weekend to other team members (WTF?!? 45 new bugs assigned to me?)
  • As others have said, team leads in frequent closed door meetings with folks from other departments (HR, accounting, legal).
  • The project release spreadsheet doesn't mention them or their assigned tasks.
  • Finally, get a phone call from HR.
+14  A: 

For an employee about to be terminated, the signs can be subtle. Typically you'll notice a certain aloofness from your boss and probably your coworkers (yes, they will often know before YOU do). You'll visit the coffee machine and everyone there will stop talking or laughing and quickly find an excuse to get back to work. They may offer a polite smile as usual, but will avoid holding eye contact with you if at all possible. You may notice that your boss and coworkers aren't taking as much interest in you as before, that they no longer seek your ideas and opinions as they once did, or that you are casually left out of normal office functions and meetings.

For a contractor about to be thrown out the door, it can be much more brutal. You may be given increasingly "impossible" tasks where the specs and timetables are imprecise, confusing, or altogether wrong. Several days later you'll then be called into the manager's office, questioned, and briskly told that your performance is not meeting expectations. Perhaps you've visited the desks of certain company employees to ask questions, or maybe you've gotten into the habit of visiting the water cooler, the vending machines, or even the restrooms once or twice per day. It never bothered anyone before, but now you'll get called in and told that you've been seen "walking the halls". Or that your actions are disrupting the work of others in the office. Essentially they can trump up anything at all as an excuse to send you packing.

As for layoffs, it's mostly a case of following the money. When the payroll begins to get slow, when the managers appear distracted and short-tempered, or when the normally upbeat sales staff seems perpetually glum and dismal -- it's probably time to fire up the job-hunting radar. And of course, always beware of mergers!

+77  A: 
In that case I advice visiting a therapist for some hypnosis therapy.... And you'll have to make the therapist die during the session... :-/
If someone asks you about the TPS reports, you're days are numbered.
Someone asks if you like Michael Bolton
Clearly you are a go-getter with upper management written all over you
Just make sure you have people skills, dammit!
**I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?**
+10  A: 

You get back to your desk from lunch and your password has been reset and there is an empty box sitting on your chair.

Jason Miesionczek
A prior employer did something like this, except you showed up first thing in the morning and your computer was missing from your desk.
+8  A: 

Your manager is being nice to you and constantly asking about your family and your health.

Your CEO is constantly writing open letters to the employees.

You get a comforting feeling knowing that your spouse makes more money than you.

Company going bankrupt:

The "inspirational" posters that used to be on the walls are being taken down

The landscaping service has been cancelled.

There are no toilet paper rolls in the restrooms and when you ask the janitor ... he pauses....looks you in the eye and says "Are you sure you really need one?" and then hands you a roll and says "I was saving this for later"

+78  A: 

Live well beneath your means, have at least six months of living expenses stashed away with no debt and not worry whether or not you're going to be fired or laid off.

Especially if your a contractor :)
Dead account
I wish I could vote for this one twice.
Tim Post
My other personality just tried, it seems that voting again might discard the previous vote made by my other self.
Tim Post
+1 for sage advice (although you didn't answer the question)

You, and everyone you work with who you think is terrible, get pulled into the boardroom.

It's pretty much over after that...

+2  A: 

For layoffs in general, it's all about financial stress, though some companies make a policy of doing it on a regular basis. A push to start billing for things that were not previously billable is a sign of financial stress that I haven't seen mentioned. Different places will have different tell-tales, but if they have enough layoffs for that to get noticeable then you should just get out anyway. At one place I worked it happened like clockwork that if the company got > 25 people there would be layoffs to knock it down to 20 or less.

Termination for cause is different and will usually be proceeded by talks, getting written up, etc. Of course, if you're in that kind of trouble you should know you're not doing well.

+1  A: 

I survived a couple rounds of layoffs at one particular company - first warning was generally "everybody meet in 5 minutes back in the storage area" (only room in the building big enough to hold all of us...) where the meeting started with "If you are in this room, your job is safe..."

Ironically, I left the company the week after another round of layoffs. I knew it was coming, however, because when I gave notice they asked me to stay and explained that they were laying off several individuals and could use my services to catch up. Not sure if my leaving anyway saved anyone else, or not...

To answer the original question, we generally had pretty good ideas of:

  • How the company was doing financially, etc.
  • Who the most likely layoff candidates were.

Engineers are generally pretty good at making connections like these...

+7  A: 

From the last time... company failed to make payroll the week after I left. (Just in time).

  • Company has started having company wide meetings to reinforce "Just how promising the sales pipeline is".
  • You have been waiting for a decent monitor or other small piece (< $200) of hardware or software that's "not in the budget"
  • A new product that will be key to the companies success is outsourced
  • They want to IPO, but never seem to get anywhere, or lose investment partners.
  • The company makes software products, but follows no standard coding practices, and the majority of your co-workers do not care.

From the first time, during the dot com bust.

  • A network admin accidentally reads an email (was legitimately fixing an exchange mailbox, not snooping) from the CEO that the company is shutting down.
  • There are 3 different exec teams in 3 years
  • You show up to work and the doors are locked. I was lucky enough to be privy to the info that the net admin had, and managed to get my stuff out the day before.
  • P. or S. Eckert from Buffalo have just bought the company, shut it down, and refused to honor their employment contracts. I ended up in a class action and got all of $400 because they owed the creditors so much.
+1  A: 

This happened today, maybe 3 hours ago:

We have a team meeting and afterwards both of the contractors on our team are asked to stay. One of the guys on my team that was not privy to any kind of staffing knowledge yells out on his way out the door, right after they are asked to stay, "Fired!". And then they were. I have been in meetings and haven't talked to him since, but I can't imagine he is feeling good about that choice.

+3  A: 

I had a co-worker who was working on a basic checkbook app since he was just graduating from college.

He had some basic error in his app that involved a database, and instead of trying to figure it out, he went to our DBA and asked, "Did you turn the database off?".

Ironically, 3 minutes later he got a call from HR, the co-worker exclaimed, "Sure, I can be down there in 2 minutes!", and we never heard from him again.

"Did you turn the database off" might be the first symptom of them pulling his access.
@Joshua Thanks for clearing that up... :-p
nono, completely unrelated. we looked at the code and it was something like trying to access a connection w/o opening it.
Your HR is awesome.
+1  A: 

The company is being very emphatic about having no layoffs at the first of the next quarter, and you're low on the totem pole.

David Thornley
+4  A: 

You're testing out the new reporting program that you just finished writing for an internet company during the 'dotbomb' era, and the numbers are showing that you're company's advertising revenue has dropped like 50% percent in the last 3 months.


When you first read about on TechCrunch.

Ray Vega
+1  A: 

At my last job, the sign that your job was in jeopardy was being transferred to the QA team. Going from say, the UI team to the Reports team was just the managers shuffling the deck out of boredom, but being moved to the QA team meant you had about three months to get your resume in order.


The city is going through the annual budget cycle and talking about layoffs.

Then a co-worker comes and tells you that there was a document out on the network, and he doesn't know why it's not protected from him reading it, but your name is on it to be laid off. (It was because he was in IT and had more privileges.)

You go to your boss and say that you suspect that you're on the layoff list, and ask for the courtesy of two weeks notice. He says that he can't do that. So you tell him that you'll consider that the notice, and that you'll be getting your projects wrapped up, documented, and ready for someone else to handle. He mumbles and won't look you in the eye. (It turned out to be a day longer than I expected, but still around 2 weeks.)

Oh, and the people higher up avoid you; the people who like you and who know their name isn't on the list are still friendly. (Management didn't know that we knew. I didn't keep it a secret from my co-workers who were friends.)

+1  A: 

Everybody looks at their shoes while talking to you ...

You boss is suddenly friendly ...

The next BIG scheduled release is no long that big ...

Your boss suggests that you "take the weekend off" ...

Everybody agrees that "the users won't mind, given the circumstances ..."

But the real giveaway:

You wake up one morning and realize that you've actually started to LIKE your job!


Paul W Homer
+2  A: 

On my current project, we have over 50 developers, and team leads are in charge of feature sets. I can tell when a developer is not highly regarded, when team leads hesitate to accept him (or her) on their team. Conversely, when team leads fight for a developer's time or a developer has to give away work because he is in too much demand, that developer is highly regarded.


The Bobs start asking, "What would you say you do here?"

Justin Scott

First thing I noticed? My paycheck bounced.

Al W
Once went 3 months without pay, then got the lot in a final payment.
Dead account
@Ian-You are a patient man. Was this a family member you were working for?
John MacIntyre

I saw two examples of this telltale sign :

In a software house that outsources programmers to other companies, two of my friends have taken to the head-quarters. Then in three weeks got fired.

+19  A: 

All of these have happened to me. I've been layed off once and worked for two companies that went under. I've never been fired though.

you may be getting laid off if...

  1. You walk by a meeting of your team that no one told you about
  2. when the boss is introducing someone around the office they skip you
  3. your boss distances himself with you
  4. All the developers move to a new office except you

you may be on the road to getting fired if...

  1. you get a formal warning for something trivial
  2. Your team leads alternative to paired programming is to tell you he's going to throw you out the window because of your code.

your company may be going under if...

  1. You notice people asking "have you got your paycheck yet?"
  2. The CEO moves the company to his mom's basement
  3. On failing to acquire a company after the due diligence
  4. The CEO sends around a survey that includes the question "what do you think of my hair cut"
  5. The sales guy is on gross commission
  6. The time estimate of the main project was taken from a developer that left the company before the project started and halfed
  7. People expect the companies product to fail.
Scott Cowan
your boss distances himself with you with no apparent reason, it's so true...
Alex. S.
+1  A: 

Your manager asks you and the rest of your team to bring in all the company laptops for an "inventory audit" at the end of the following week. The unlucky ones didn't get to take their laptops back home again.

  1. your key won't open the front door any more
  2. your login account has been disabled
  3. other programmers are in your cubicle stealing your chair and office supplies
  4. you get a subpoena from the SEC
Steven A. Lowe
what's with the drive-by downvote? all of these things have actually happened to me (not all at the same job of course)!
Steven A. Lowe
+5  A: 

"We're getting some Indian developers in next week. Could you please show them the code and make sure they understand everything? Thanks"

I handed in my two weeks notice before the Indians left.

Cameron MacFarland
a friend of mine was laid off and had to spend her two week notice training her replacements!
Steven A. Lowe
That's incredibly stupid. What motivation do you have to train your replacement well? I've heard stories about people training their own replacement and they've never made sense to me. Why do managers do that?
Cameron MacFarland
@Steven A. Lowe: That's the position we're in, but we were told about our layoffs from 1-5 quarters ahead of time so we could start training our outsourced replacements earlier. (Some of the products are pretty large, and there are still legal obligations to support them.)
Greg D
+2  A: 

If it's time for your annual review and its being delayed (more than usual), then this might be a bad sign.

Also impromptu meeting of the whole company or department is usually a sign, although that's usually only about 5 minutes notice.

Ted Elliott
+2  A: 

The last time I got laid off by surprise came as a result of being in heads-down "contractor mode", and not paying enough attention to company politics and rumors. Then my boss came to me on a Thursday and told me that the company wasn't going to be able to make payroll the next day. I resolved to always listen to the other employees wherever I worked from then on, even if I was there as a contractor.

I went back to being a contractor for a while, where layoffs are not generally a big deal (they are expected), and financial self-discipline is the key to survival. It helps to be married to a professional in a different line of business (my wife is a CPA).

After that, I worked for a large retailer, and I noticed a couple of things: One, they seemed to know even less about customer service than I did, and two, they went through 3 CFOs in as many months. When I asked for a more up-to-date and faster computer, they spent more time, energy, and money denying the request than they would have by just buying the computer. I bailed. They went under less than 6 months later, and liquidated. Another company bought the name and resumed service using only 3 of the existing locations, and that company seems to be doing much better than their predecessor. But the original software development staff (along with the code I contributed) is all gone.

Another indicator I had at another company (a large bank) was increasing demands for overtime, and expressed dissatisfaction at the number of hours I was putting in, along with complaints that I was "too slow". I view mandatory overtime that goes on for more than 3 weeks in a row to be prima facie evidence of managerial incompetence -- or a way to frustrate you into quitting.

TX CHL Instructor

When you're a new hire at a small company, and your CEO forgot to pay $280,000 worth of taxes to California.


Mike Robinson
+1  A: 

You arrive at work and press the shift key so that the monitor wakes up, but it doesn't. You press the "ON" button on the monitor, but nothing happens. You reach under the desk to turn on the computer and notice that there is no computer anymore.


Working as an contractor, I was extended an offer without any detail. I went to look for other jobs. PM kept on telling me I didn't have focus at work, even though it was due to VPN issues. PM keeps asking about job hunt. Told me that they would love to hire me, to keep my work pace up. Then they try to push past contract date.


Contractors start disassembling empty cubes in your work area. GAC!


In a previous role, there was an 18 months time limit after which redundancy money was payable. I was informed that I would be at risk of redundancy one day before.

I'd just come back from a wedding the day before, and I wish I'd pulled a sickie.

+3  A: 

I've been through this a few times. The very first sign that the company is in trouble is when they start charging for coffee.

+1  A: 

I've personally been part of only one layoff. It came as a total surprise to everyone involved.

Upper management called an "all engineering" meeting for the afternoon. Upon entering the room, nobody looked to be in good spirits. Then it was announced that our whole company division (1/3 of the total employees) was being cut, and our product which everyone had been working on for 4 years was being cut. It was a really emotional and depressing day for everyone.

So, if there's a sudden and unexpect "all engineering" meeting, there's a good chance you're getting laid off.

Kamil Kisiel

True Story: A company I worked for lost their biggest contract. That meant lay-offs. 250 of them, to be exact. They waited until Friday after lunch to drop the bomb, but they blocked all network access so no one would sabotage.

Also, my last project with them was finished two weeks before the lay-off, but was not assigned another. Two weeks I spent reading and browsing the web, and getting paid for it.

+2  A: 

I wish this post was available a few months ago. I would've know better.

The CEO and the number two of the company I worked for both got fired within days of each other. Not long after that there was an announcement that our company was 'merging' with another company, meaning being taken over. Then on a conference call my boss mentioned that the project I was on MIGHT be cancelled.

Well guess what? About a month later one of the guys from headquarters just shows up at the door and he had that sad look on his face. On the bright side, the severance package was pretty decent.

+1  A: 

If a layoff is about to occur one the earliest signs you'll notice is that "new methods for measuring performance" are introduced. This is basically a CYA move by the company so they don't get any lawsuits from people claiming they were unfairly terminated.

One place I worked as the tech wreck began decided that everyone in our group needed to write 10 memos that quarter or face serious consequences come quarterly review time. The silly thing about this was that the "memo system" at the company was all paper-based and memos got Fed-Exed to several company sites (this was in 2001 when things like email and even wikis had existed for several years). Some folks refused to participate in the 10-memo "show" because, well, it was just a silly exercise - and no doubt it was.

  1. You submit a vacation form, and nobody bothers to approve or reject it.

  2. The boss's boss's son moves off your team.

Laurie Cheers
+1  A: 

While this isn't specific to your job, the following is a sign your COMPANY may be considering layoffs.

Their stock falls over 50% in 3 months. Usually, this means the company will engage in short term cost cutting measures to appease wall street, which will damage long term profits. IE, our local firm was bought early last year as a 'critical new income stream', and now they are letting us all go over the next 6 months ( including all the experts who wrote the system ) to cut costs.

+1  A: 

If the head honchos from corp HQ show up at your satellite office unannounced, that's usually a bad sign too.


You have a sinking suspicion you're about to get fired.

Prove me wrong naysayers and downvoters.
+1  A: 

I was offered a $6000 "retention bonus" in March, provided I was still employed by the company the following October. In April, the company announced migration to a different platform, licensed from the company that bought us out. I was programming on the Unix billing servers, and the new platform was NT. My immediate reaction was, "they gave themselves a $6000 reason to let me go by October." In August, I was gone. In December, they were in receivership.

+1  A: 

Considering that the last two companies I worked for went under and the one before them went through a couple layoff periods, I can say that there's one surefire way to tell. When your manager gives you the "we're not going out of business" speech, you have about 6 months before something big happens, tops. This is especially true if he/she gives it after a company meeting and there weren't really any rumors that you were going out of business to begin with.

Jason Baker

you should have waited for them to terminate you. now you won't get severance pay.

Sheehan Alam
+1  A: 

One company I worked at would (still does?) rename your email account to "ZZ - [Lastname], [Firstname]".

I ever go back I'm writing a shell script and a cron job to notify me before it happens....

Eddie Parker

let you know... CNN - Microsoft to issue 5000 pink slips today

+6  A: 

You get an email from management which contains just this link:

ARGH! Recursion!
+5  A: 

Once I was working as a contractor at a state government agency, and had been there three years. I got along well with everyone, including one of the most crotchety supervisors I've ever had (and we're still friends), and put in a lot of work. I was getting increasingly bored and tired of the work I was given, however. My direct manager, with whom I also got along well with, and who liked my work, noticed and decided I needed a change of pace. So she terminated my contract.

That seems like an odd way to give me a change of pace! But she gave me 6 weeks notice -- something absolutely unheard of in that department (all the other contractors who had been let go during the three years got canned with no notice and someone to stand over them while they packed up). This was a state government's department of corrections IT shop with highly sensitive and important data processing functions, and you would have thought they would have given me the bum's rush, too, just to be on the safe side. But no. On top of that, my manager also told me to feel free to put in as much overtime as I wanted to during the six weeks until I left. I took her advice and tore through a whole pile of work before leaving.

It was all to the good. After that gig I got into a position where I could learn Windows programming (getting out of the mainframe world, finally). If I hadn't got canned this would likely have never happened.

+5  A: 

I once worked for a company who called our department into a meeting on a friday afternoon and spent an hour telling us what grand plans they had for us. Monday morning, we came in and the whole department had been sacked.

I once worked for a company who had an IPO and within six months was back in the same financial straits that it had been before. There were rumors about vendors not being paid and paychecks bouncing. I saw the writing on the wall and left, just in the nick of time. The department of Labor padlocked the doors a couple of months after I left. Lots of friends were ruined. I was lucky.

I once worked for a company who had a contract with a government agency. The angency loved the team, but corporate management decided to use that as ammo to raise the rates to the agency. All the bosses came out, told us what great jobs we were all doing and the next thing you know, the entire contracting staff was out on our ears. Got twelve weeks severance though so...

I've been programming professionally for 32 years now and have only been fired once, for demanding that I receive what was owed me (they gave me what they owed me on the way out haha). I have been laid of a few times. Usually you can tell when it's coming because the day to day activity deviates from the norm.

Your otherwise hectic schedule frees up. No new work comes your way, you are asked to document everything. You are asked to train someone. You are moved to an obscure place or just a less suitable place. You can't get a straight answer to simple questions. Your boss won't look you in the eye. You start to feel isolated. You get tasks that you know cannot be accomplished within the constraints given (ie six week task in two weeks) One of your boss's bosses pat's you on the back and tells you you're doing a great job.

Beware of mergers and reorganizations. Live well below your means. Stay current with programming technologies. Never fool yourself into thinking you aren't expendable. Trust me, you are.


who lays off a programmer????

unless the company is going down. if the company is worth something, the devs wont ever become surplus. if the dev is worth something, they wont ever become surplus

+2  A: 

You reach 10k rep on stack overflow.

too much php
  • the CTO flies in from across the continent for a one hour meeting with just your team
  • Someone off-handedly mentions the startup of a internally-competing project
  • The it guy comes and does inventory on your computers the day before
Steve the Plant

Just to give a few examples of what I've seen or been through:

If the company is about to run out of money and the economy is sucky, you may lose your job. I had this happen back in 2004 where the assets of where I work were purchased and apparently I wasn't one of the assets but the other employees were.

If the company has a meeting in the afternoon where they are handing out letters and explicitly telling them to, "Do not open the letter until you are home alone," which should be a warning sign. This happened in 2000 where I worked where some people were told to come back as a "get your stuff and get out" arrangement while the remaining third of us had another meeting to say, "We made some deep cuts to keep the company running and hope this is the only time we have to do this." Absolutely terrible way to handle things but that is what was done in those dot-com bust days.

If you get sent home by an angry manager that seems to think you were nuts for going to a Microsoft event, you might be getting fired soon. This happened to me in 2007 where I had had a few other warning signs as if I fixed bugs I had to undo the fixes and what I was working on wasn't given good guidance or deadlines or other useful things.

If you are management and there are some new head guys brought in, this should be a warning sign. For example, if you are a director or work directly under one and a new VP or CIO is hired, you may wonder how you fit into the new hierarchy as the new guy may have his own team that he'll bring in. I saw something like this in 2004 where I worked as a number of people from another company started working where I was and some of the former directors left the company without stating why but we could guess the projects not quite running smoothly could be part of it.

JB King
+1  A: 

HR suddenly has ALL the conferance rooms booked for tomorrow...

+1  A: 

I was reading this post for information during lunch time and at 1:00pm it just happened around me! Dozens of people laid off around in different groups, people are sad.

Lucky enough, I am not one of them.

People do not know about it even yesterday.

Then we figured out some signs:
1. People are asked to do things that are usually owned by some one else, without a good reason to tell. The original owner is in trouble.
2. All hands (or team) meeting call with a short notice time, usually on the same day.
3. Busy secret meetings for management.

I still cannot believe this just happened: those guys are great guys.

Saddly, such decisions usually come from some financial reports where the instant income matters more than others.

Dr. Xray
+1  A: 
  1. You will find that your Team Leader/Manager is talking one-to-one in a meeting room and you are the last one to be called for discussion.

  2. Your team members are discussing something serious in a group and change their subject as soon as you go there.

  3. Lady team members look you with a sad smile and pitiful eyes.

  4. The Manager dosen't answer when you ask something to him and returns back to his desk.

  5. When your wife finds out from your behaviour that there is something wrong at your work place.

Balaji Birajdar
+1 for answer 5.
Didier Trosset

Leaning towards the employers selling out:

  • Your employer keeps bidding on and winning jobs and contracts, but doesn't maintain the necessary staff to complete the work.
  • Physical projects are started grossly ahead of schedule so there is a concentration of half finished work that almost overflows production and staging areas. Looking busy is more important than finishing existing orders.
  • Existing work load is calculated at more than 24 hours a day per resource. Obviously, a team of four should be able to do 800 hours worth of scheduled project time. The balance of the schedule is added to the next month's schedule, but resource pools are not balanced.
  • Auditors from a 'prospective client' are being sent to evaluate the status of the company.
  • HR requests when scheduling vacation time are denied due to the lack of human work capacity in the project schedules. It doesn't matter if you plan days or months ahead of time.
  • Training and certification is denied for employees and reinvestment in the resource pool stops. Need that certification? Sorry, we can't afford to send you to the class for three days. However, you can train everybody else on that next month.

While having a coffee break in the cafeteria, you grab the newspapers and read in the economics pages that your company is closing its <insert the name of the city you're working in> office.

Didier Trosset

The feeling in your gut. It's rarely wrong.


You get assigned to a team with "Special Projects" in its name.


Besides not having enough to do When some team members have a lot of stuff to do, and you don't get assigned many things..that's a sign.

Also, when management starts looking for someone to 'blame' for every little thing that happens unexpectedly..that's also a sign.

Ed B