Recognizing the Signs You Are Being Set Up to Fail at Work

Angry boss showing signs that an employee is being set up to fail
If you are like most employed individuals in the United States, you go to work expecting that if you put in a good effort, your employer will support and continue to employ you. You may be caught completely off guard if you go to work one day only to hear that your boss is terminating your employment.

As unexpected as this sort of event might seem, your employer may have been planning to fire you for some time before actually terminating you. Sometimes, your employer may even purposefully set you up to fail at your job before firing you.

Preventing this from happening requires that you be aware of the dynamics of your employment relationship and be able to note any changes in it. Let’s take a closer look at what signs can indicate that your employer is setting you up to fail and what steps you can take to address this situation.

Key Signs You Are Being Set Up to Fail at Work

Boss throwing an employee's papers up into the air and yelling

It’s not always obvious that you are the victim of workplace sabotage. Your manager or employer is not likely to come out and state directly that they want to sabotage your career or force you to quit. Instead, your employer will reveal their intentions through what they say and do.

But you may wonder how to tell if your boss is sabotaging you on purpose. While there could be a reasonable explanation for your employer’s actions, typical signs you are being set up to fail at work include:

Unachievable Deadlines and Targets

One obvious sign that you are being set up to fail is when your employer assigns you tasks with impossible deadlines. Sometimes, deadlines are short, and not much can be done.

However, if your employer consistently gives you unrealistic deadlines or sales targets to meet and has not provided you with the tools to meet those expectations, it could be a sign your employer is sabotaging you.

Withholding Necessary Resources

Perhaps your employer does not set unrealistic deadlines but instead fails to give you the equipment or training you need to do your job. Alternatively, your supervisor may delay providing you with the resources you need without a justifiable reason.

In either case, repeated instances of this conduct could be an indicator you are being set up to fail.

Exclusion From Meetings and Decision-Making Processes

Suppose that your job is one in which you are expected to participate in meetings with your coworkers or supervisors. Being suddenly excluded from these meetings can suggest that your employer no longer views you as part of the team, and they may already be planning for a future that does not involve you working for them.

Lack of Feedback or Constructive Criticism

An employer who critiques your work performance is invested in helping you become a more effective and productive employee. Withholding such feedback, by contrast, sends the message that your boss does not want you to improve.

A sudden cessation of meaningful feedback — especially when feedback is requested — could mean that your boss may be trying to sabotage you on the job.

Sudden Increase in Workload Without Justification

Your employer could give you more work because of a worker shortage or a large project that must be completed. Absent any such reasonable justification, your employer could be setting you up to fail by giving you more work than you can handle when no other employee is being similarly burdened or being given unrealistic deadlines.

Being Assigned Tasks Outside of Expertise Without Support

There is nothing intrinsically suspicious about an employer asking you to take on new duties and responsibilities beyond your present ones. However, being given such a challenge without being afforded the training, mentorship, or support you need to learn your new tasks can be a test your employer is giving that they don’t expect you to pass.

Negative Changes in Communication Patterns

Be alert to changes in the way your supervisor speaks with you. Sudden and unexplained changes in frequency or tone may all suggest that there has also been a change in the way your employer views your future with the company.

If your boss does not communicate with you regularly and in familiar patterns, he or she may be preparing to let you go.

Public Criticism or Humiliation

If your supervisor fails to follow the adage, “Praise in public, correct in private,” it could be another sign that your employer is no longer committed to your success. Publicly reprimanding you can be your supervisor’s way of alienating you and creating the perception of separation between you and the rest of the company.

Discrepancies in Performance Evaluation

Receiving positive or neutral job performance feedback in person and then receiving written performance reviews that suggest your work performance is deficient can also be a red flag. Your employer may be trying to build a case to support the decision to terminate your employment.

Overlooked for Promotions or Career Development Opportunities

Numerous factors go into why one person receives a promotion or career opportunity and another does not. However, if you are constantly being passed over for advancement opportunities, your employer may be signaling to you that they do not see you as a continuing member of the team.

Why Are You Being Set Up to Fail?

Confused employee wondering why they are being set up to fail at work

It is helpful to find out whether your employer is setting you up to fail at work and why. Under normal circumstances, sabotaging any employee is counterproductive to both the employee and the employer. An employer who engages in this type of behavior wants you gone and is willing to go to significant lengths to do so.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that these behaviors are not always indicative of an employer who wants you to quit your job. Other circumstances may be prompting your employer to act in a seemingly hostile manner.

For example, the sudden resignation of multiple workers may leave your employer short-staffed, resulting in you being saddled with more responsibilities without being given adequate training.

But if there is no rational explanation for your boss’s behavior, then you may very well be experiencing signs your boss wants you to quit. There can be several reasons:

  • Your boss feels you are not a good fit for the company and its culture;
  • Your supervisor has heard negative information about you from other employees;
  • Your employer is dissatisfied with your work performance or attendance, or
  • Your supervisor does not want to accommodate certain aspects of your employment.

Workplace politics, managerial issues, and systemic problems within the company can all serve as key reasons why your employer may be attempting to sabotage you.

Responding to Your Boss Sabotaging You

Whenever you feel as though your boss is trying to make you quit by hindering your efforts, it is best to confront the situation head-on. If your employer is not aware of how their behaviors are impacting you, then your situation will not improve. Communication, documentation, and allies can all be of benefit to you in this scenario.

If you have enjoyed a good working relationship with your supervisors up until now, proceed with an attitude that gives your employer the benefit of the doubt. Ask to speak with your employer in a private setting and at a time when they are not pressured by other circumstances.

Explain to your employer how their actions are impacting you and making it difficult for you to perform your job. If you wish to continue working for your employer, communicate your appreciation for your position and any support your employer previously provided. Provide specific examples of the behaviors or changes that you have noticed and describe how those specific actions have impacted your productivity.

Listen to your employer’s responses. If they try to deny or minimize your feelings and perceptions, that is a good indicator that your employer wants you to quit. If they take your concerns to heart, your employer may have been unaware of their actions and be willing to change.

In either case, create a timeline of the behaviors you have noticed when you sit down and meet with your employer. Follow this up with an email that summarizes the key points of your conversation, including any promises either you or your employer made. Additionally, seeking allies within your organization who can vouch for you can also be beneficial.

Legal Protections and Seeking Counsel

Close-up of a scale in a lawyer's office

Florida is an at-will employment state, which means that both you and your employer can sever the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. However, this does not necessarily mean your employer can sabotage your work without repercussions. You may have legal rights against your employer for such behavior.

For example, if your employer is creating a toxic and hostile work environment, this could be something that you can sue your employer over. Your employer’s attempts to ostracize you and sabotage you can cause your peers and supervisors to harass you. If this is the case, the law may afford you protection.

Similarly, you have legal rights if your employer is trying to force you to quit because they do not want to accommodate a disability you have or approve leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. You also have rights if you belong to a protected class of individuals.

Finally, it would be illegal for your employer to treat you in this manner in retaliation for exercising any employment-related right or because you are a whistleblower.

Successful suits against your employer can result in injunctions, civil penalties, and compensation for back pay and other economic harm you suffered.

A lawyer can help you protect these rights. At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., our employment law attorneys have helped thousands of employees fight against workplace sabotage, discrimination, and other employment issues.

Moving Forward: Contact an Attorney

Feeling lost or unsure of what to do when your employer is trying to get you to quit is normal. That is why it is vital to speak to an experienced employment law firm in Florida like Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., as soon as you notice your employer’s changed behaviors.

Our seasoned team of hostile work environment attorneys can help you evaluate what is motivating your employer’s behavior and create a plan for investigating the matter further. If necessary, we can also help you take legal action against an employer and can work quickly to preserve evidence and support you through all stages of your claim.

Contact us to schedule your consultation and learn how we can safeguard your rights today.

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