So your performance review didn’t quite go as expected, and now you’re getting a bad feeling that you might be on the chopping block. While your mind jumps to conclusions about heading straight to the front of the unemployment line, there are more options than just accepting the writing on the wall.
Here are some strategies for saving your job and using criticism to help shape you into a worker whose presence can hugely benefit the company.
1. You’re Slacking on the Job
We’re all guilty of over-promising and under-delivering on occasion, but you’re likely aware of the difference between that and straight-up slacking. This probably comes as no surprise, but poor job performance is one of the top reasons employees are fired.
It seems so obvious, yet your smartphone, the internet, and social media all make it so easy to fall prey to distraction. But trust me, spending too much of the workday on social media isn’t likely to help you rack up any “likes” from your colleagues or supervisors in the near future.
How to Turn it Around
The worst thing about slacking is that you inevitably build a reputation of being lazy. And once you’ve earned the label, it can be hard to shake off. Hopefully, though, the fear that you might potentially lose your job will be enough to inspire change.
First you need to identify the root of the problem. Is it really just those pesky distractions like social media that are disrupting your workflow, or does it go deeper? Low motivation to complete certain tasks or duties can be a major issue and can hold you back from being successful even as you exceed expectations in other areas of the job.
Figure out what responsibilities you’re having a hard time meeting, and then devise a plan to help keep you on track for getting your work done (these questions can help you get started on that). It could be something as simple as reversing your order of operations so you do the work you like least when you’re feeling most productive.
You can’t change hearts and minds overnight, but if you find a consistent work groove that helps you deliver real results, eventually your slacker reputation (and that rumor you might be let go) will begin to fade.
2. You Failed to Deliver an Important Project on Time
Your Wi-Fi went out, you got in a huge fight with your significant other, Starbucks botched your morning coffee, and so on. Whatever the reason, little things in life can add up and keep us from getting our work done.
When you miss a deadline, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself, panic and think your professional life is over (if you do, that’s good—it means you care). We don’t always hit our mark, and that’s OK sometimes. But lose sight of too many due dates and you’ll find yourself in the hot seat in a jiffy.
How to Turn it Around
First and foremost, take responsibility when you miss a deadline. Let your manager know that you understand the business impact when you don’t deliver your work on time, and then lay out a solution to prevent it from happening again. Come up with a plan to help you snag some quick, easy wins before you start developing a reputation around the office for missing deadlines.
And definitely don’t point the finger at anyone else. If there’s one thing employers like less than someone who is unreliable, it’s someone who doesn’t take accountability for their actions (or in this case, lack thereof). Plus, throwing your co-workers under the bus makes you generally unpleasant to work with and is way more likely to get you fired than any individual missed deadline.
3. You Got Into an Argument With an Unruly Client, and Now They’re Threatening to Take Their Business Elsewhere
You give them special attention, make 11th hour revisions per their request, and take “urgent” weekend calls on the reg—but no matter how much effort and time you sink into their business, you just can’t seem to make them happy. If you’ve worked with a difficult client before, this situation probably sounds all too familiar.
When tired and stressed, your natural human instinct is to bounce into action, stand up, and fight for your work. But no matter how in the right you might be, you aren’t likely to win an argument with a customer—and now your little outburst has your client reaching out to your higher-ups threatening to pull their business.
How to Turn it Around
The first thing you should do is ask yourself how big of a screw-up this was. Talk to your teammates honestly about what happened. Get an opinion you can trust on whether you were crossing the line or just sticking up for your team. Next, look to asses the business impact. Was this client simply one of hundreds, or a quarter of your company’s revenue?
Finally, come up with a strategy to explain it to you boss. Share your side of the story and any relevant facts to back-up your case, but most importantly tell the truth. You were brought on board for a reason, and your manager will respect you candor—even if you just lost a big chunk of business.
4. You Were Spreading Some Unsavory Company Gossip—and Got Caught
Every office has its gossip (and a group of workers who’ve gained a reputation for spreading it around). Knowing the perils, you tried to steer clear of that crew. But despite your initial best efforts to avoid it, you somehow got wind of an unflattering secret about a colleague.
Word got out about the rumor and who spread it, and now the entire company (not to mention your boss) thinks you are the source of all the gossip. Forget that opportunity for a promotion next month, now you’re just worried about holding onto the job have.
How to Turn it Around
The most difficult part about bouncing back after being outed as an office gossiper is regaining the trust of your peers and supervisors. Many managers view this kind of talk as poisoning the company culture, and might now see you as a potential liability.
Whether this was your first time or you’re a routine offender, once you’ve been caught you’ll probably only going to get one chance to change before your boss starts looking for your replacement (and if the rumor was really malicious, you may not even get that).
More than just holding onto a job here, it’s important to be an actual good person and offer a sincere apology to the subject of the gossip (especially if it’s embarrassing). You also definitely want to have a conversation with your supervisor to explain that you understand the severity of this type of behavior and make it clear that it won’t happen again.
The best way to keep to keep yourself off the unemployment list is to avoid falling behind in the first place (or getting caught up in an unfortunate interpersonal issue). Be proactive about your work before your get that poor performance review. But once you’ve gotten some candid feedback on where you stand, you can still turn things around by taking it to heart and communicating with your manager about where to go from here.
After all, if they really wanted you out then you’d already be gone. If they’re still bringing you in on company meetings, assigning you new responsibilities, and giving you coaching—then they see your value and want you to step up to the plate and succeed.