13 Signs You’re Being Set Up to Fail at Work

Work can be stressful at times. But when the stress levels start skyrocketing and you’ve got a boss who’s going above and beyond to give you a hard time, something is probably up. Bosses have to make the difficult decisions about who to terminate during layoffs or economic downturns. Sometimes, they’re even encouraged to give people a hard time to get people to quit, which is disrespectful to say the least. But if you’ve got the Sunday scaries every week, you might find these signs you’re being set up to fail at work relatable.

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13 Signs You’re Being Set Up to Fail at Work

1. You’re workload drastically changes

When you’re being set up to fail the workload will either drastically increase or decrease. Either you’ll have so much work, it’s physically impossible to get everything done. You might find people delegating their projects to you when you just don’t have any bandwidth. Alternatively, you might hear crickets. No work at all. You’ll start asking around for projects to help with and your colleagues all tell you they don’t have anything to share right now. This is a sign you’re being set up to fail at work. You might not realize it yet, but it’s clear they’re slowly trying to push you out. If they’re giving you too much work, it’s to stress you out so you quit or so they can claim performance issues. If you’re not getting enough work, it’s to say you’re not getting anything done or that you don’t take initiative. Either way, it’s a problem.

piles of paper for overwork. signs you

2. Your manager becomes distant

If you’re used to having 1:1s with your manager every week, and suddenly those 1:1s get moved to every three weeks, something is up. Managers should be doing regular check-ins with the team. If you find your boss hard to get hold of all of a sudden, it’s best to do a check-in. You might say, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been busier than usual as we’ve had fewer 1:1s. Is there anything I can help take off your plate?” That shows that you’re being a team player and willing to help out as needed. It also acknowledges that you see a shift without being cold about it. It’s possible that your boss has more responsibilities on his or her plate than usual. And so maybe the reason why they’re meeting you less is because they’re swamped. Give the benefit of the doubt when talking about it, but understand this could also be a sign you’re being set up to fail at work.

3. Your boss starts criticizing you

A true leader will accept personal blame for underperformance on their team. But not all bosses are leaders. In fact, most aren’t. If they place the blame on you or start criticizing you for your hard work, it’s a sign that you’re being set up to fail at work. There’s constructive criticism to make you better and there’s personal attacks framed as constructive criticism. If you suddenly feel like you’re constantly getting cut-throat remarks about your work quality or even your character, you might have a toxic boss on your hands. Believe it or not, but when you’re doing something poorly at work, a good boss will tell you that you can continue getting better at it. They’ll believe in you and find different ways of coaching you so your performance improves. But if that doesn’t feel like the vibe you’re getting from your boss, they’re probably not a good one, and that might not work well in your favor.

getting criticized or arguing with coworkers

4. Minor mistakes set your boss off

When you start getting angry messages or having stern conversations about minor things, it’s a sign that you’re being set up to fail at work. Minor mistakes like typos in non-legal documents aren’t a big deal. And they’re easy to fix. Emailing the wrong person is also a small mistake. These are things that happen when you’re working hard. Most people are busy working hard all week, mistakes are inevitable. But if the little things are setting off your boss, they could be under extreme pressure. Extreme pressure is often a sign of financial difficulties. Most managers tend to be stressed when the business isn’t doing well as their targets increase but their team sizes decrease. If your boss is blowing up at minor mistakes, it’s possible you’re being set up to fail at work with unrealistic expectations of perfection.

5. Your manager starts micromanaging you

In a healthy culture, there’s tons of trust and autonomy going around. If those things start going away, there’s an incoming problem. If your boss starts micromanaging you, overseeing every little thing you do, wanting to approve every single piece of work you do, it’s a sign that you’re being set up to fail at work. And it’s also a sign that they’re tracking you. They want to evaluate how much work you do. If your colleagues are being micromanaged too, they might be comparing you to others to see who’s performing best. That way, if a lay off happens they’ll remove the weakest links on the team. But a micromanaging boss is usually a clear indicator that there’s trouble in the business or that more senior eyes are watching your team.

eyes watching

6. They actively exclude you from meetings or decisions

If you’ve been on the team for a long time, suddenly getting removed from big decisions or meetings can feel like a huge blow. For example, if the team is hiring a new member but you’re not being included in the decision for hiring, you might feel left out. Eventually, you’ll start noticing all these little things your team does to exclude you. And once you start seeing this pattern of exclusion, it’s a sign that you’re being set up to fail and being pushed out of the company. You should feel welcome and included in all meetings and decisions, especially if you have seniority in a company.

7. Your boss stops investing in your career

A boss’ main role is career development for their team. If a manager isn’t prioritizing that on their team then it’s safe to say they aren’t doing their job. Optimizing team members for success is crucial to ensuring that everyone is qualified for their role as there are technological advancements, new industry trends or tools, and other changes the team needs to adapt to. The team needs to perform at its best to hit the targets set by the company. If your boss isn’t encouraging you to develop yourself in new ways, it’s a sign that you’re being set up to fail at work. If your career growth becomes stagnant, the company isn’t investing in their people. And if a company won’t invest in their people, they’re doomed to fail. The best asset at any company is its people. And when people are in the right roles and performing at their best, you’ll see a company’s growth skyrocket.

8. You’re asked to document your work

Before employees are put on a performance plan, they’re often asked to document their work. If your boss is trying to write you up for performance, they’ll start asking you more questions about what you’re doing all day. They’ll start tracking your progress to see if you’re hitting your targets, if you’re producing enough work, and if you’re completing tasks well. They might start asking you to send over your work for approval before you move on to the next stage creating a bottleneck in your workflow. All of this is done to see what your produced work is actually achieving. If you’re working hard and putting in the effort, you can actually make yourself look valuable when documenting your work to your boss to show the data behind your performance. Still, documenting your work is a sign you’re being set up to fail at work if you’re underperforming compared to teammates.

document your progress

9. Your boss downplays your accomplishments

If you’re the top performer on your team and your boss starts downplaying your accomplishments, the red flag is showing. If you aren’t the top performer, it could be a sign you’re having performance issues at work. Your boss minimizing your accomplishments not only makes you feel bad but it also makes you feel underappreciated at work. If you don’t feel appreciated, you’ll likely start actually underperforming wondering why you’re putting in all this extreme effort for someone who’s too afraid to give a high five or compliment when you crush a target or personal goal. Your boss should be hyping you up when you’re doing well to keep the momentum going. If they’re not doing that, and you’re literally the team rockstar, you’re being set up for failure.

10. Your boss gossips about you to colleagues

You’ll never see a true leader gossiping about you to colleagues. But a bad boss will. Toxic people engage in gossip at work. If your boss is gossiping about you to colleagues instead of defending you when others speak poorly about you, you’re in the wrong work environment for success. Companies with bad work environments engage in toxic behaviors, such as gossip. And if the people who are promoted into leadership roles are gossiping, then there’s probably no leaders in your company. It’s a bad culture to work in, and it’s somewhere where you won’t truly thrive. You’re being set up to fail.

gossip at work. signs you

11. You get put on a performance plan

It is possible to recover from being put on a performance plan. But often, being put on one is meant to demoralize you. It’s not actually to make you a better performance or colleague. If you’re being put on a performance plan, they’re literally putting in writing that you’re problematic in terms of work performance or culture fit. Companies with performance plans are usually toxic. Stressing employees out instead of encouraging them to grow in constructive ways is a sign that the company is more concerned with rules and structure rather than flexibility and growth. Corporate companies often have performance plans to help offset costs, such as employee raises so they can save on salary expenses. You could be the best performer on the team and still get put on a performance plan.

12. You get demoted

Getting taken off projects or having a title change can be a demoralizing experience. Often, these negative events spiral people. It becomes a domino effect of everything tumbling downward from one moment to the next. A demotion might not change your salary but it’ll still have a lasting effect on your morale. And once your morale is shot, productivity will decrease, and you’ll start having more issues at work creep up. A demotion of any sort can set you up for failure because it often makes you feel like you’re not good enough. And with a thought like that, how can you level up your performance? Being coached to improve can allow you to grow in things you’re weak in. Having a good manager who sees that will encourage you to get better at your craft.

13. Your colleagues start avoiding you

Tension with colleagues can make work so much more stressful. A collaborative environment allows everyone to thrive. But sometimes, cliques form in the workplace preventing collaboration from happening. And when the us vs them dynamic creep into the workplace, everything starts getting a little more chaotic. Having conflict with coworkers to the point where gossip happens, miscommunication arises, and people are being pitted against each other creates so much toxicity in the workplace and it’s almost always irreparable. It sets a precedent that this behavior is acceptable. Even when colleagues leave the company, the problems will still be there.

Now what?

If you find that these signs you’re being set up to fail at work are a bit triggering to you, you might realize that the outcome doesn’t look good. While you could wait it out for a termination or severance if your performance truly isn’t the problem, you should consider looking for your next role in the meantime. There are good companies out there (with great managers who want you to thrive). Stop working in a stressful environment that brings out the worst in you. You can use a tool like Huntr to build your resume, create an AI cover letter, and find mock interview questions for the exact role you’re applying to. Sign up for Huntr today!

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira, Senior Writer at Huntr, brings a rich background in marketing, tech, and ecommerce to craft insightful content on job search strategies and career advancement. With experience from Super Magic Taste to Shopify, she excels in creating engaging, actionable advice for job seekers.

Nicole's expertise in SEO and content marketing, honed across diverse roles, enables her to effectively guide individuals through the complexities of the job market. Her contributions at Huntr are vital, offering readers valuable tips and strategies to navigate their professional journeys successfully, making her work an invaluable resource for job seekers everywhere.

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