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I am a software developer. I have a colleague of mine, who is a tester. The colleague was given a termination warning last week. In the warning, he was given a huge amount of work to finish during four weeks. Otherwise, he will be terminated.

This colleague has been working with us for almost two years and a half. I know it is none of my business, but I cannot help it not to develop sentiments against the management. For example, none of the projects have failed, let alone failed due to bad quality. We all think in our team, that the termination warning was given to squeeze more work out of him, as well as the rest of the team, especially there are rumors that the company is for sale, and the management looking for immediate money.

His termination warning demands him to deliver a huge amount of work, which consists basically of user guides (texts, and videos) for some of our products. Now, I wonder if I can help him not to lose his job. He is expecting a baby in three months.

Apart from being extra careful with adding bugs to my developments, what else can I do?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 16 '16 at 2:47
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Nothing you can do will help him. If the company is being sold they have probably been told to get rid of some staff. This is reasonably common. Buying a company with contracted staff, you don't see a use for is bad business.

Whether this is the case or not, if he's been given an unrealistic amount of work then he is on his way out. He should have started job hunting as soon as he got the warning.

If you really want to help him, use your network to see if there are any jobs available for his skillset.

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    Totally agree with this answer, furthermore you should take a hint into these kinds of practices, nothing stops them from doing the same thing to you, so thread lightly and It wouldn't be a bad idea to update your CV as well, just in case. – Pablo Sep 12 '16 at 12:34
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    Also, trying to help a doomed employee only puts a bull's-eye on your own back – Retired Codger Sep 12 '16 at 13:02
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    I agree. If you also want to help yourself, spend the time you could use to help him finish his work to look for new jobs for you. If the rumors about selling the company are true and they kick someone out like this because of that, it will only become worse. – Josef Sep 12 '16 at 13:13
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    Sounds like a PIP. If the amount of work is unrealistic and the support given is not adequate then they may be setting themselves up for unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal or other such claims anyway depending on jurisdiction. – Flexo Sep 12 '16 at 19:37
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    @SomeUser It's reasonable in that the practice can be described through reasoning. One could make the complaint that fairly common could imply that it is a fair practice. Let's try to not pick words for each other :) – psaxton Sep 25 '16 at 19:33
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The only way you can help him without landing on a sword is to help him get out of there and get a new job. I have never had to terminate any employees, but I have worked with other managers who had done something similar to this, and they always get fired. There is no way to work your way out of incompetence, perceived or actual, or any other reasons that management wants to swing an axe - that is just business.

You can be a professional reference if you have faith in the quality of his work. You can help him update his resume, and reach out to people who need a QA guy and see if they have room for him.

I would also do that for yourself, if management is ready to pare down and start swinging axes - then create a new Monster profile and get your resume up there, too.

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    I'd recommend CWJobs and Reed rather than (as well as?) Monster, but yeah. – deworde Sep 12 '16 at 16:36
  • @deworde1 I suppose it depends on Country/Locality. Most of the IT Project Management/Program Management "consulting firms" (placement drones) that contact seem to scrape my resume off Monster more than Dice, StartWire, Career Builder or LinkedIn. Can't say I've heard of CW or Reed. – VaeInimicus Sep 12 '16 at 16:39
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    You might change that to "out of incompetence, perceived, actual, or maliciously claimed". – gnasher729 Sep 12 '16 at 20:18
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    While we're recommending, don't overlook StackOverflow Jobs. The quality of offers varies, but the bullshit ratio appears a lot lower. And it takes less time to spot interesting offers. – MSalters Sep 13 '16 at 23:20
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Advice him that in a situation like this, it is most likely that he will be fired, no matter how hard he works right now. And if he doesn't get fired now, he is going to get fired soon. "You will be fired unless..." usually means "you will be fired".

So the next advice would be that instead of working his ass off for a company that is going to fire him anyway, he should start working his ass off writing a good CV, and looking for jobs.

If you are good at writing CVs, or have good contacts in your industry, you can probably be helpful if you want to be.

Whatever you say, in the situation of that company I would advise you to make sure that nobody else hears what advice you give him. He is probably not the last one to be fired without a good reason, and you don't want to be the next one (until you have a new job lined up yourself).

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    "Advise him", not "Advice him". ;) Typo, I'm sure. – jpmc26 Sep 12 '16 at 23:23
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This is constructive dismissal:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_dismissal#UK_law

This is where your employers make your life at work so miserable, that you leave. It is not allowed in the UK. Get in touch with ACAS for advice on this: http://www.acas.org.uk/

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My colleagues who worked at MCI in the 80's and 90's spoke about something similar, which they called a "Long March" or a "Death March". What management would do is announce that there would be layoffs in 3 months, and assign everybody an unreasonable amount of work. The results were predictable: everybody worked like crazy, and a lot of work was accomplished (in the short term).

It worked so well in fact that MCI started doing this almost continuously. This created a toxic work environment, where inefficiency, backstabbing, sabotage, and tribalism prevailed. Guess where is MCI today. Have you ever heard of it? It used to be huge.

I have had experience working in places that would periodically purge employees with heavy work loads, and I have worked in places that were pleasant to work with good management and efficient teamwork. Which do you think I preferred?

There is a good chance that you will be the next victim of this sort of toxic management style. Prepare your resume.

As for your colleague, unless he is a masochist, he should spend the four weeks looking for a better job instead of attempting to accomplish the impossible.

p.s. If you and your team assist him in accomplishing the impossible, it might encourage management use overwork and threatened layoffs more. Then, this management practice might spread like a disease. Do you want this?

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Steps to help him stay

From all my experiences, as an employee and as an employer, a decision for firing is made well before the "termination warning is given". However since other answers focus on "can't help him", let me offer you precisely the steps to help him. Let me say also this: I tried them, and they didn't succeed, my colleague was still fired. He was given an extension though and his firing proceeded in a way that made the team know more about it. Some of us chose to look for other jobs. Good luck to you.

  1. Talk to manager about your doubts - ask why is he fired, honestly tell you don't see the reason. Protest his firing, if you strongly feel it's unjust. Ask for better conditions for him. Him having someone having his back speaks well of him, even if he is incompetent. You may give the manager a pause, a cause to rethink. If he pauses and then still goes with "fire him", then you know decision has serious reason and was made already.
  2. If the amount of work he was given seems unreasonable, verify that with other people. Ask them if they also think that. Tell to your / his boss that that's a bad move and it makes other people afraid that same will happen to them.
  3. Perhaps add "in light of talk about company going for sale people wonder how many staff we are to lose prior to acquisition". This is something that I honestly am hesitant to add, may hurt you and others if played wrong.
  4. Get your colleague to profess what he wants. You should know if he wants to stay or not. BEWARE! People almost always say they want to stay, while few months later, in new job, they almost always say they are better where they are now and staying would have been a bad move. How much of it is rationalizing and how much is truth, you may never know. In my cases they really seemed happier.
  5. Carefully weigh in that if you succeed and he stays, this will cause stress. He went through "termination warning" and had Damocles' sword above his neck. It's not gonna go away like that. So, your help doesn't stop on "him NOT getting fired". Consider it likely you'll end up diffusing several situations later on, where he (or management) over-interprets some words, actions. It's a large responsibility.

I won't give you warnings about risking your job and so on. Others have given aplenty, that's one. Two - I think you yourself know your work environment well enough to know what will be risky and what won't.

I believe that software tester and software programmer who have real skills, will be hired. There's huge demand.

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    I disagree with this advice. I feel, at best, would delay the inevitable and at worst it would put the helper at risk. IMO, the only way for him to help his friend is to lobby a move to another team in the same company. If he could talk the tester up to another manager, the latter might make a move to take him on board. All other visible actions might be risky I'm afraid... – François Gautier Sep 13 '16 at 15:48
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    @FrançoisGautier I think your comment should be another answer! I certainly see it's merit. Still, there are environments where my answer could work. I gave it because: A) there are already 3 answers warning that it's too late and not to draw attention to oneself. B) OP wants to help. I wanted to encourage that. C) Were I that tester, were I facing UNJUST dismissal and were I expecting a child, I'd want my colleagues stepping out. D) I did, and this helped our colleague who had a nervous breakdown. It didn't help with his termination, but still, I'd do it again. – LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Sep 13 '16 at 20:14
  • @FrançoisGautier, that should definitely be its own answer. – Wildcard Sep 14 '16 at 1:14
  • This answer is valuable – axsvl77 Sep 17 '16 at 3:16
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Meddling in the affairs of a manager is rather bad form and actually pretty dangerous.

There might be a way that could not turn against you: Lobby for your friend to move in another team.

In this situation, you are connecting people and saying good things about them. This other manager might make a move to get your friend because it's much easier to take on board somebody that is ALREADY in the company (and moreover if he is unwanted in another team).

You have to pay attention not to burn your credibility by up talking somebody who will turn out not being professional or plainly incompetent.

Good luck.

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