Saw some stuff that seems to mean I'll be soon laid-off; confront them about the fact I saw it or wait for the other shoe to drop? Put in effort at current place, or on interviewing?

To stave off advice re: legal concerns about my accessing documents, I should clarify in the question itself that I saw the spreadsheet with the low rating/ "PIP" comment due to the manager above my manager explicitly sharing it with me (by mistake, I think?) via a Google Sheets comment. I received an e-mail with a title "FYI: see sheet" or similar, then merely clicked the link in the e-mail. Thus, I wasn't accessing anything in an unauthorized fashion.

Full Story

I work at a medium-sized tech startup in the SF Bay Area in a tech/engineering-heavy role.

I feel that there’s a good chance I’ll be either terminated or laid off within the new few months.

First piece of evidence:

I saw a spreadsheet that rated every person in my subdivision with ratings from 1 to 5; I was the only person rated ‘1'. Also, I saw a comment the manager above my manager made about reducing my rating from 2 to 1 to “distinguish me from [the person rated a 2]”. I also saw a comment with “PIP?” listed for my row. (I understand PIP stands for performance improvement plan, which seems to be the first step towards firing someone).

More details:

There were two aspects that I was listed as underperforming in: (1) execution speed, which I feel is due to manager constantly moving goalposts (overruling my protestation)/ manager not being satisfied with any approach other than exactly what my manager would have thought of, and (2) "understanding of work area," which is due to my manager angrily grilling me if I know certain things, me emotionally shutting down and not being able to respond, then him erroneously concluding that I don't.

I've put in quite a bit of time and effort already having conversations with my manager about these two aspects, but he has improved little in either of them, unfortunately.

Second piece of evidence:

I heard from another employee that my subdivision is being “restructured” and “dissolved,” with existing employees being distributed to other teams, and that as part of that, it’s likely that there will be some layoffs, too.

Question 1:

I don’t have too many options here, but one is to confront them and ask them about the spreadsheet; I believe this was shared with me unintentionally due to a mistake they made using Google Spreadsheets.

Would people recommend this?

Possible advantages to confronting:

I get closure rather than limbo; if they tell me I’m terminated, I can start putting full effort into interviewing elsewhere. If not, I can relax.

Possible disadvantages to confronting:

(1) I am terminated more quickly, and lose pay I would otherwise get; (2) if they’re on the fence about terminating me, they may feel the damage has already been done due to my finding about it, and decide to terminate me if they otherwise would have not; (3) if terminated rather than laid-off, I might not get severance pay.

Question 2:

Should I put in lots of time and effort at my current job? Or put in the bare minimum and start interviewing for other places?

Time/effort at current:

Might make it possible that I won't be terminated after all (as the negative remarks on my sheet are about me finishing things slowly); might delay termination which will be helpful financially.

Time/effort spent on interviewing:

If I will be terminated, helpful financially to get a head start; less upsetting because I'll focus on more positive stuff; better to interview while I'm still technically employed (?). But: might expedite termination (bad financially).

  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user44108
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 6:16
  • Are you expected to report this kind of leak to HR or data protection officer by company rules? If yes, and your manager later notices what has happened, would that alone be grounds for termination?
    – user86849
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 9:17
  • I've put in quite a bit of time and effort already having conversations with my manager about these two aspects, but he has improved little in either of them, unfortunately. You've already tried and failed to save the employment relationship. Let it go, and find another job.
    – employee-X
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 23:13

9 Answers 9


Don't confront them.

Here's why:

  • If they say they aren't going to lay you off, will you believe them? You shouldn't. So you are no closer to resolution or closure.
  • If they say they are letting you go. Then what? If they are truly magnanimous, which is unlikely, they will give you time to figure things out.

So what should you do? Go figure things out. Interview and find another job while you have some time.

  • 32
    Good point about them possibly lying if they say they won't terminate me. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 0:14
  • 3
    @this_is_not_good extra hard? No not worth it. Changing their opinion of you isn't likely to work. Do you think you are the worst performer on your team? Do you think you could do something to improve that? If so, do it. It will help you in the future even if it doesn't have your job here. But give them reasonable effort even if you aren't trying to salvage things. No need to speed the process up.
    – Summer
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 0:48
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    If you want to stir the soup a bit - talk to your manager's manager about the mismanagement but raise the problem technically - tell how the micromanaging is badly affecting your concentration and work time and that when you tried to raise it with your manager - he/she ignored your opinion, and that you are constantly questioned if you know something in an abusive way. If you bring up the issues that you were blamed for by your manager, this might give them a hint that the problem is actually in the management. Could be also a good idea to ask if you could switch to other team/manager.
    – Rachey
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 9:13
  • 9
    @this_is_not_good: if your bad rating is due to how you are being jerked around by management, that is an extremely bad sign, there's no convincing the managers you're right and they're wrong. been there. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 13:59
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    @this_is_not_good It sounds like such a miserable management situation that I would advise start looking for something better -even if you had not seen a spreadsheet at all- but just said that your manager constantly interrupts you, moves goalposts and harangues you about not knowing things you do actually know. You can't win at your current job, work hard enough to not hasten your own demise and put out feelings for something new now!
    – Meg
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 15:12

I think you should double down on effort AND interview for other roles. I was once put on a PIP, it was shocking at the time and I didn't totally agree with it but I realised it wasn't totally unfair.

My solution was for the next three months I worked my butt off to improve and impressed the management enough I was able to hand in my notice on the same day they told me I had passed the PIP. I left the job with a mended relationship and with no stain on my employment record, which in these situations is the best result I could have expected.

You have an advantage that you know your performance is under scrutiny, don't waste that by confronting them. Work hard, make a good impression but with the redundancy rumours I would definitely not be planning a long stay.

  • 16
    I upvoted because I agree with most of the response, expect for doubling down on effort at the current role. Upper management has either branded this person as an underachiever or prefers the worker that he's competing with. Doubling down isn't likely to change this perception at the upper levels. You can impress the hell out of your own manager, but if he's not the one calling the shots, it's not productive. I'd consider the current company a write-off based on what he's seen and the upcoming 'restructuring' (ie, reducing headcount) and concentrate hard on looking for a position elsewhere. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 13:17
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    @PeterBernier I agree about upper management to an extent. However I will say that all my personal references come via people who've been my line manager. This might be the last impression the OP leaves on them. The course of the PIP is often predetermined, however if the OP can extend their employment by knuckling down. Waiting for the right job, there isn't a massive amount to lose (I got my new offer the day before my final meeting).
    – Dustybin80
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 13:26
  • 4
    @PeterBernier, I was once in a PIP situation, which seemed to be politically motivated rather than performance. I did the PIP work, but also interviewed and gave them my resignation before they could can me for some sort of violation of the PIP. In my case, the requirements for the PIP kept changing as well as it being around 9 months of work shoved into a 3 month period, as well as being work I had previously suggested the managers have the team work on instead of getting into a "crunch" situation. I worked hard so I didn't get fired before the expected PIP end. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 19:21
  • 2
    @PeterBernier it's more the other way around; I don't think upper management has necessarily branded me in either way, but my current manager has; he's the only one that has much of a clue about what I'm doing, and his perception of me is basically unable to improve without worsening his self-perception, I guess, because he's largely the root of my 'underperformance' here I feel. Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 4:17
  • @this_is_not_good if you honestly feel that no amount of extra working will change this managers perception of you, then Peter's suggestion of just working 'normal' hard is probably wise. You don't want to be fired before you're ready to leave if possible. However if it's a situation where you feel that the extra effort can mend bridges then go for it (not at the expense of finding a better role though).
    – Dustybin80
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 8:57

Something that you wrote which is unaddressed by the other answers is this:

My "slow performance" is true but due to micromanaging; constantly interrupting me and (unilaterally, overruling my protesting) moving goalposts. My "lack of understanding" (other aspect I was criticized for on the sheet) is due to manager aggressively probing angrily whether I know something expecting that I don't, and me emotionally shutting down and him concluding that I don't. Neither of these issues I can likely address well in the next month; I've put in months of time and effort trying to do so already, to not much avail.

You should get out of the situation described above regardless of whether or not you are about to be fired.

It does not matter if your relationship with your manager poor because your performance actually is poor, or because your manager sucks at managing. It does not matter if they are about to restructure your job out of existence, or put you on a PIP, or fire you tomorrow. The kind of situation you are describing, where goalposts are always being moved outside of your grasp, is one under which no sane person can be expected function adequately.

Don't wait for them to fire you. Don't wait for them to not fire you. Don't wait for your department to get restructured. Just get out now. Don't fixate on the reasons why this is happening to you or ask them if these horrible fates are about to befall you; it does not matter.

As for effort, you should always put in your best reasonable effort at your job, while you are employed there. Your goal should be to get out as fast as ethically possible.

  • 10
    "Also, I saw a comment the manager above my manager made about reducing my rating from 2 to 1 to “distinguish me from [the person rated a 2]”." also suggests this is office politics related, rather than just performance related. If the managers have the option to rate one person lower than another because of some sort of favoritism (or lack thereof), it's a toxic place to be. The OP needs to run (not walk) away, but also ideally have a destination before running. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 19:25
  • 4
    @computercarguy I'd read that as they want to give a different grade to OP as in their opinion there is a difference between OP and that other person that they want to reflect in the grading, not changing the grade due to any other non-performance reason, there isn't an indication for that, but in the end we indeed don't know their motivation. Yet I'd be careful going from that to judging the place toxic in general. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 22:25
  • 2
    @computercarguy have never seen a company that applies purely objective performance metrics, as such, it's often people gauging how good someone is and then comparing whether the results hold up to comparisons among the rated people to realign the grades to match the actual differences in people. One company I worked at even had a ranking amongst peers as their primary performance measure, so they would take the "ranks" from last year and adapt based on 1-1 comparisons until they had a new ranking. But alas, we can agree on lacking context for a clear judgment I guess^^ Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 22:55
  • 1
    @FrankHopkins, unfortunately I have seen and been the object of "political" removals. The last time it happened to me, I had worked at the company for 4 years. The first 3 years I'd had nearly glowing yearly reviews. Then the attitude of the company changed, I was vocal about how bad the changes were, so my review hit rock bottom and I was in a PIP. I left before they could fire me. My PIP basically included doing 9 months of work in 3 months and was work I'd several times suggested the team work on before it became a time crunch. Everyone has their own experiences. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 23:01
  • 3
    @this_is_not_good If you are about to get fired, you won’t get the golden handcuffs. Even if you were going to get them, I’d still bail out. I have been in a situation with this type of goalpost-shifting micro-manager; it does not get better if you try to stick it out.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 11:01

I don’t have too many options here, but one is to confront them

As @bruglesco already pointed out, there is no possible upside to this.

Should I put in lots of time and effort at my current job? Or put in the bare minimum and start interviewing for other places?

These two items are not contradictory. Put in your normal effort and start interviewing.

Why put in your usual level of effort? Well, you never know whom you meet again. Not working well on purpose is never a good idea, but even less so when you're already rated badly. What if they wanted to give you a chance? You seem to be in no position to know the final decision. You'd basically throw any chance away, for very little gain.

What if a colleague joins you at the new company and talk starts about you not acting like a professional?

If your position allows, you might want to focus on research tasks – ie testing new stuff – as they are more likely to benefit you in case you change jobs.

  • 5
    To make this a golden answer, I'd also recommend taking the knowledge that someone believes the current effort level is insufficient and internalize it. If the shoe fits, wear it. This is a freebie to self improvement. If it is false, chalk it up to the poison culture and leave it there. But if it is remotely true, own it and work on a bit of self improvement for the next job.
    – Jammin4CO
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 14:12
  • 1
    As we say in the Bay Area tech world, "it's a small valley." (Silicon)
    – Beanluc
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 20:47

Since the question has been answered already, I thought I'd focus on a different aspect of your question that drew my attention:

There were two aspects that I was listed as underperforming in: (1) execution speed, which I feel is due to manager constantly moving goalposts (overruling my protestation)/ manager not being satisfied with any approach other than exactly what my manager would have thought of, and (2) "understanding of work area," which is due to my manager angrily grilling me if I know certain things, me emotionally shutting down and not being able to respond, then him erroneously concluding that I don't.

I've put in quite a bit of time and effort already having conversations with my manager about these two aspects, but he has improved little in either of them, unfortunately.

From your phrasing it seems like you're saying 'I have a bad manager, which is why I'm doing a bad job'. Since you're the only person rated '1', and I assume you're not the only person reporting to your manager, what part of your performance could you improve on? How do your colleagues handle the constantly moving goalposts and grilling? Could it be that you need to learn to not emotionally shut down when being pressured by your manager? Is there a way to manage his expectations regarding goalposts and deadlines? When you want to try a different approach, have you tried different methods of convincing him?

You might truly have an incompetent manager, but surely you can't put all the blame on him. Whether or not you stay at your current company, there are bad managers everywhere. Maybe it's worth learning how to deal with them instead of trying to change them.


If you have the lowest rating then clearly there's a big disconnect between your expectations and theirs, and probably not one that can be corrected. Do Not Confront, especially based on evidence you weren't supposed to see - that could get you fired on the spot. If you are in a very competitive job market like the Bay Area then you don't need to waste a lot of time working a job that is a bad fit, so you do want to start looking for a better opportunity, but...

You've already invested a lot of your irreplaceable time in this relationship, get the most out of that time by trying to really understand what is wrong and how you got to that point. Think back to the interview, were there warning signals that you missed? Did you overestimate your own abilities, or underestimate their expectations? These are questions you should ask yourself, and be brutally honest with yourself. Good Luck!

  • 1
    Sometimes it's not clear, even after the fact, that there was a miscommunication of expectations. That said, it's still a good idea to at least try to figure out if better communication could be done on the OP's side so they don't get in this situation in a future position. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 19:28
  • I like this answer. The biggest warning sign was, bizarrely, during my negotiation, my to-be-manager offering to not manage me upon my joining. Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 4:29

There are good reasons to look for a new job elsewhere, but I'll answer on the assumption that you want to stay at this company.

You accept that you are not a star performer, and you put some of the blame for this on your manager. Show your company that you are aware of the performance issues and you want to be proactive in solving them. Give them the solution: a transfer to another team within the company. This will mean that you get a new manager, so your current manager's faults will no longer affect you and you will be free to perform to the best of your ability. Find a positive reason about why you will be better in the new team, rather than being overly critical of your current manager.

This obviously depends on the company being open to a transfer, which may not be the case given what you've said about upcoming lay-offs. In the event you manage to get a transfer though you will presumably have been transferred into a team that will be staying and you may find the transfer avoids your role being put under consultation for redundancy.


Your employer can sue you for accessing documents you were not authorized to access regardless of the documents being on Google Drive and regardless of you having an employee account for Google. I imagine that they would be inclined to do that if you admitted to accessing this document and any of their key employees jumped ship suddenly, perhaps, after talking to you about upcoming layoffs.

One way for an employer to protect itself is by resorting to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a civil remedy that allows a private party to seek compensation for losses caused by the unauthorized access to data on a protected computer by a current or former employee. https://www.hinshawlaw.com/newsroom-newsletters-305.html

I don't see anything positive coming from you confronting your employer. They would either lay you off on the spot or fire you. If they fire you you'd be entitled to unemployment but if you have a professional job those benefits are a joke and essentially worthless to you. If you get laid off you'll likely get a severance package with cash and health insurance benefits lasting for some period of time after lay off.

Your best move is to look for a new job and change jobs asap.

Should you put "lots of effort" into your current job. Your going to be laid off whether you put in 50% effort or 100% but you getting a good reference from management depends on you having a really good reason for putting in less than 100% that you've shared with them. I would stick to 100% if you don't have a legitimate life changing emergency going on like your loved one is in the hospital or you're getting chemo treatment or something.

  • 30
    I need a citation that the employer could sue after they leaked the information to OP. If that's true, next time I want to fire someone I am going to e-mail them information they aren't supposed to have, then GOT 'EM!
    – Summer
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 3:18
  • 6
    @bruglesco lol yeah, I highly doubt that "unauthorized access to data" applies in this case since I was explicitly (even if mistakenly) authorized in the form of an e-mail that said "FYI: look at this document." Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 3:31
  • 6
    @JuliaHayward: he's read a document he wasn't entitled to → he's read a document he received or was otherwise made available to him. Requesting to not such a document is similar to the "you are not allowed to read this email if it is not for you" footers in emails
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 9:05
  • 13
    If someone sent a email ""FYI: look at this document." to OP, he was entitled to read it...
    – Josef
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 9:05
  • 2
    The circumstances (e-mail saying look at this) would make “I don’t know I wasn’t supposed to read it” a possible defense. Nevertheless, far better to NOT make known that you read it, as that would almost certainly make you need a defense!
    – WGroleau
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 6:06
  1. Lay-offvaries by tenure with organization, offers settlement pay-out could be years of salary up front. Then you file unemployment maybe 6 months later for layoff.
  2. Confront If you confront and are incorrect, there is a entirely new issue (you vs. Confidentiallity) breach of trust. I had this happen,if you can check with someone inside HR, Dept of labor,Plans are either in works or not. If the business took a (SBA)small business loan, they would be very intrested as they must know,as well as city and newspaper. They will either confirm rumors or deny. You will have options.
  3. Letter of Reference Whom ever is in management that you trust,or immediate supervisor.
  4. Ask in email for a peer review. A manager review by the immediate supervisor. YOU MUST PRINT AND KEEP A COPY OF EMAIL. (*Reason for requesting ) If employer is stating that you are subpar in your work performance, the review must contradict that spreadsheet. You must copy that also, even a. photograph..required in Dept. Of Labor where you will be paid daily until arbitration hearings over, as you go file complaint before lay-off/ Firing.
  5. Have a BEER AND GO FISHING IN THE WOODS, RELAX! If a company is gonna close we cant stop it,but you can keep a check coming in. Use short term disability go to doctor for stress..etc gives you 1 year pay off from work. Then Insurance company will send docs for long term disability, it pays % of salary upto 3 years, doctor must send papers that show you cant come back to work. Employer cannot stop these checks,since money comes from their Insurance Company and CA.Labor Dept.SHALL BE RESPONSIBLE to oversee your case as you must tell your industrial labor intake person how sick or stressed you are and you've filed for short term disability. If you dont have it, speak to HR add it on your check immediately.
  • 6
    This looks like a horrible set of suggestions designed to bleed the company, their insurer, and the taxpayers for every last penny. Questioner's time would be better spent finding new, more satisfying work rather than maintaining an attachment to a place that is depressing.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 15:40
  • 1
    This answer seems to be highly location dependent. The OP doesn't specify their location, so making claims against a specific government dept. may not apply to them. Also, making false claims can be a criminal action of fraud, causing more problems for someone following these suggestions. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 19:33
  • Well, I thoroughly dislike this answer. But I tweaked it to fit the the numbered list format, so at least it's a bit more readable.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 21:28
  • 2
    @computercarguy I did mention SF Bay Area, actually. Regardless… I can't make much sense from this answer from S.C., although I appreciate his attempt. Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 4:33

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