Steps You Can Take If Your Boss Might Be Fired

Is change in the air? Your boss has been stressed out lately, and now there’s a rumor circulating that she might be fired. This news has you wondering whether her hasty departure will have a positive or negative effect on your career.

While there’s no need to panic, you definitely need to protect your job and reputation; your successful track record, hard work and position of trust could go by the wayside if your boss leaves. And if upper management views your boss negatively, that perception could rub off on you.

How you play your cards can make all the difference during a period of management upheaval and uncertainty. Here’s how to come out ahead. 

Avoid the Rumor Mill

Try to stay above the fray to the greatest extent possible, advised Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of software startup Aha! “The most important thing you can do is do your job,” he said.

Colleagues who get distracted by the chaos (or who propagate gossip) may be laid off, or reassigned to troubled projects until a replacement manager is named. Whatever you say during this time can and will be held against you.

“Executives know what’s going on,” cautioned Josh Mangum, director of strategy for Search Solution Group. They are assessing your maturity and ability to stay focused while they move the chess pieces around. You can raise your standing during times of change by avoiding distracting signals and increasing your productivity.

Don’t React, Respond

If you get overly emotional over a situation, such as a boss losing his or her job, it works against you. A panicky “flight or freeze” instinct can lead to hasty and ill-advised decisions, said Marcel Schwantes, an executive coach and founder of Leadership from the Core.

By being patient and thinking things over rationally, you’ll eventually arrive at saner conclusions. Plot out your moves and consider the consequences. (Google CEO Sundar Pichai agrees with that advice, by the way; here’s a great story from him about how to react to life’s stresses.)

Raise Your Visibility and Value

While you don’t want to seem like an opportunist, ratcheting up your performance and visibility a notch or two can work in your favor, especially when your biggest advocate (i.e., your boss) leaves the building for the last time. This is especially important for tech pros who have been steady contributors but maintained a low profile.

Look for ways to add value in any way that you can, Schwantes advised. For instance, offer to take some tasks off your departing boss’s plate as a show of good faith. This is a great way to build your own internal credibility after she moves on; in addition, you may need her to provide a job reference in the future.

Alternatively, suggest ways to make the transition to a new manager go more smoothly. Adversity is an opportunity; establish yourself as a leader, and sell yourself and your ideas to senior management.

Document Your Own Work Performance

Before your boss leaves, get any promises in writing and document your work performance by asking your boss to sign off on self-rankings and KPIs. While a new boss may not honor prior commitments, you can use promises of promotions or pay increases to demonstrate your potential and ability to exceed expectations.

Once you’ve made your point about your capabilities to your new boss, add that you are open to new goals and priorities, or taking different approaches to projects.

It’s not unusual for a newly appointed manager to fire employees who come across as defensive, disloyal, or resistant to changes in direction or leadership. You don’t want to give your new boss a chance to use you as an example. “Essentially, you need to be prepared to interview,” Mangum said. “Whether that’s with a new boss for your current job, or with another company.”

Put Out Feelers

If your boss is terminated, you may end up fired; if that wasn’t stressful enough, there’s always the chance that you may not get along with a new manager. While this is not the best time to launch a conspicuous job search or take time off work for interviews, you should absolutely reconnect with the members of your professional network. You should also look for opportunities to transfer to another team, and even contact a couple of recruiters.

Taking proactive steps when your boss is on the ropes could mean the difference between a steady paycheck and a sooner-than-expected trip to the unemployment line.