There are key signs and subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - cues that you may soon be out of a job. It's critical to know how to recognize them and how to respond; both to potentially save your job or to get a jumpstart on finding something new.
Change in Greeting
When bosses are about to make a change, and they have identified the person, natural empathy, concern, and guilt kick in (unless you are Donald Trump). When this happens, your boss' personal behavior will change: he will often become more formal, less willing to volunteer a greeting when seeing you at the office, and more short in conversations. In short, less friendly, chillier.
Increase in Concern-Related Questioning
Some bosses will show increased levels of personal interest and concern if they are about to make a change. This is usually a subconscious emotive reaction to feelings of guilt and responsibility. Signs include asking about family, particularly if you have children or an ill significant other.
Lack of Eye Contact
Eye contact is our most honest interaction with another human being. It is very hard, except for the most skilled (often professionally trained) liars to look someone in the eye and lie. So, when your boss knows they may soon terminate you, you will notice less eye contact, less direct engagement, and more 'proxy' engagement. This is one of the strongest emotive signs that something is amiss.
Expression of Performance Issues
If your boss has expressed issues with your performance, especially repeatedly, in the past, and accompanied this with a change in his emotive reactions toward you, this usually means they are seriously contemplating the change or have already made the decision. Also, if your boss has assigned work typically yours to others while expressing disappointment in your performance, this is a significant sign the decision has been made.
You Are Training Someone
If you are training someone to do your direct job, or extremely similar tasks, you should be on alert. Pay attention and look for changes in your boss' emotive response cues.
So, what can you do about it?
Its easiest to start with what NOT to do.
The worst decision to make is to choose confrontation.
Don't confront your boss about a pending change.
There are several key reasons why confrontation is a bad decision.
The first is that often your boss is not the primary decision maker. Changes come for many reasons: overall cost cutting, reassignment of resources, outsourcing, and more. Only direct performance-related issues usually involve your boss as the primary decision maker.
Your boss doesn't see himself as the bad guy (unless he's Donald Trump) or the cause of your misfortune. Chances are, unless you antagonize them or make them feel angry or defensive, your boss wants to make it as easy for you as possible.
Also, don't get angry and resign.
Employees facing termination often feel angry, or hopeless, and just want that feeling to end. No one likes going to work with an ax over their head. But, if this is you, the best strategy is to grit it out and endure the experience. Termination, especially if you are in a significant role with some form of severance, typically yields better labor and employment protections than voluntary resignation.
So, what can you do?
The best and most obvious thing is to become a lights on-lights off person.
Really rededicate yourself.
There is a small chance it will change the outcome. More often than not, it won't, because your boss isn't at the chain of command, but it makes your boss much more likely to help you in other, softer ways. Your boss can make that call, write that recommendation, give you that Linkedin reference you are going to want and if you paint yourself in the best possible light, that will really help your chances.
Equally important, if change comes, react with class and dignity.
Don't show anger. Don't express excessive and uncomfortable emotions. Make yourself look like the person your boss will regret letting go, and will want to recommend for a new job.