The term “managing someone out” has emerged in recent decades as a strategy in corporate America. This approach is a strategy for subtly (or, in some cases, not so subtly) encouraging an employee to decide to leave on their own, rather than being directly terminated. This tactic is highly complex and is often perceived as minimizing the disruption and conflict of directly firing an employee. Unfortunately, it rarely has that effect. And for the employee, it can create a tremendous amount of stress, uncertainty, and trepidation.

What Is Managing Out?

At its heart, managing out is a methodology by which a manager creates an environment where the employee opts out voluntarily. It can show up as any configuration of reassigning an employee to a new team, removing responsibilities and reducing workload, increasing micromanagement and negative feedback, excluding the employee from meetings, and assigning impossible tasks. Sometimes employees who are actively being managed out are put on performance improvement plans (PIPs). Managing out is perceived by some to be a softer and more dignified alternative to hiring that preserves the individual’s self-respect and the company’s image alike. But anyone who’s ever been through it knows differently.

Why Do Companies Manage Out Employees?

Companies might decide to manage someone out for a variety of reasons. It could be a mismatch between the employee’s skills or personality and the organization’s culture or evolving needs. It could be something that emerges as a result of a personality conflict. Sometimes managing out happens when someone just doesn’t “fit in” but they’re still performing: there’s no legitimate performance reason to terminate the employee.

Often, companies (and managers) imagine that managing employees out is a kinder way to terminate. No one loves the difficult conversations of firing someone. And, it can be a way to protect the company’s image and avoid the unpleasantness of termination. However, the grim reality of managing out is that the way it’s done most frequently is a cruel process that can gaslight the employee into doubting their competence, when their performance is simply not the problem.

Recognizing the Signs

For those who might be on the receiving end, recognizing you’re being managed out is pivotal. As previously referenced, signs could include being sidelined in meetings, a noticeable decrease in responsibilities, or an influx of critical feedback that seems misaligned with your perception of your performance. These indicators, while subtle, signal a shift in how your presence in the company is perceived. It might be time to reassess your standing and prepare for potential next steps.

The Underbelly of Managing Out

Being managed out comes with hidden costs that extend beyond the immediate prospect of job loss. It can strike a blow to the employee’s professional confidence, igniting a cycle of self-doubt and questioning one’s value in the workforce. This erosion of self-belief can make the journey to the next professional endeavor much more daunting, as the individual grapples with articulating their worth and contributions in the wake of a departure that wasn’t entirely of their choosing and that may have been manipulated.

Responsive Strategies

If you think you might be being managed out, then taking decisive action can help you regain control of your career. Start by initiating a conversation with your manager to seek clarity and constructive feedback. Document your work and every interaction and performance evaluation to have a concrete basis for discussions or decisions. Take some time to reflect on whether staying wtih the company is worth it, and, if not, begin to chart your course toward a new role. Update your resume and activate your network. Generally, when I see the signs of a client being managed out, I encourage them to start looking for a new role immediately.

Transform Challenge into Opportunity

The process of being managed out, while fraught with uncertainty and fear, presents an opportunity for significant personal and professional growth. It’s an opportunity for introspection, that encourages individuals to reassess their career paths, realign with core values and skills, and seek out new roles with a fresh sense of purpose. Companies, too, have the opportunity to transform – it’s critical that transitions are navigated with integrity os that the departing employee is treated with respect and compassion (and we’ll talk about that in the next post!)

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