I work for a Mobile GIS company in South Africa with roughly 40 or so employees. This is my first job after finishing university. On Wednesday, after working here for about 8 months (and to my immense surprise), I was called into a meeting by the two senior-most members who are also directors of the company.

In the meeting, I was given an ultimatum which basically boils down to 'have this done by Friday morning or we're firing you and finding someone else'. This is in regards to instructions I received bit more two months ago where I was told to 'experiment with' the implementation of a new technology.

  • Prior to this, there had been no complaints (at least any I'm aware of) about my work. I was meeting all of my deadlines and making a contribution to the team.
  • Absolutely no concrete deadline was given to me at any stage before now.
  • Throughout the period I was constantly kept busy with other work. One of the directors even mentioned it in the meeting 'I know you were being kept busy with other work, but...'
  • No guidance was given to me from any of the senior developers, or the person who assigned the task. Things such as 'there are plenty of examples available online' were said', even though this is blatantly false.
  • The implementation of this new cloud technology has little to do with my informal role as 'Mobile Application Developer'.
  • When I was given the assignment they were aware that this is something new which I have absolutely no experience with.
  • I (verbally) informed one of the directors in charge of the development team multiple times that I was having issues with this and constantly getting other work did not allow me to spend much time on this.
  • One of them told me that "I don't care if you have to work 24 hours a day to keep on top of things. Normal working hours are only for people who can get the job done"

A lot of other things were said, but the entire meeting came down to the two of them running roughshod over me and completely ignoring any (however valid) excuses, I might have had. As I'm typing this I've been awake for about 26 hours trying to get something concrete done, but even if I had someone helping me and worked 24 hours a day for a week straight I would still be unable to meet the deadline, much less have it done a day from now.

Any advice anyone could give me for dealing with this would be sincerely appreciated!

Edit: An update on what happened. Shortly before the meeting I had a long discussion with one of the senior developers about the whole thing, and he agreed to accompany me to 'back me up' so to speak, because he had no idea that this was even going on and felt it was unreasonable in the extreme. The two of us went to the meeting with the report I had compiled. It was extremely unpleasant, to say the least, with a lot of screaming and insulting things being said about 'you developers', which apparently now included my senior colleague.

Reading between the lines a bit, here's what I thought led to this: Director A is mad at B, because B spent money on expensive technology. B, without anything to show for it, decided to shove the task onto me as an 'experiment', knowing I would be unable to make the deadline I was not aware of, so that he had a scapegoat.

In the end, no disciplinary action other than a serious scolding resulted from this. I think they must've wised up since the first meeting and realized that the CCMA would make matters extremely difficult for them if they fired me in this situation.

That result aside, I am already looking for another job and will be handing in notice as soon as I've found something. This is definitely not the sort of environment I intend to spend more time in than I absolutely have to.

Edit: Also - why do people keep flagging this as a duplicate for a question about surviving a PIP? It's clearly not even close to the same situation, I strongly doubt anyone in this company's management even knows what a PIP is.

  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. A lot of good advice which is better suited for either chat or the answer box.
    – enderland
    May 12, 2017 at 19:49
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    Well, we still want to know what happened. :)
    – Chris E
    May 12, 2017 at 20:41
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    Made an edit describing what happened.
    – Jnthndjgr
    May 15, 2017 at 6:27
  • 34
    One of them told me that "I don't care if you have to work 24 hours a day to keep on top of things. Normal working hours are only for people who can get the job done" Holy shit, just quit. What a toxic bullshit environment
    – Daenyth
    May 15, 2017 at 14:29
  • 38
    Please remember the senior dev who chose to back you up on this, and pay it forward to other colleagues in the future if you get a chance. Standing up to management as a team is the only way to put bad managers in their place.
    – Kik
    May 15, 2017 at 16:48

13 Answers 13


When threatened with dismissal, the first step is to consult a lawyer. After you did this, follow the advice given. Most likely it will include talking to your seniors about the fact that they gave you an impossible task.

Either way, start looking for a new job. A company that you need a lawyer to not get fired is not a company you want to work at.

  • 35
    That, especially the second paragraph. Wether @Jnthndjgr is guilty or innocent does not change the validity of your answer : he needs to prepare his resume for the next step. Even if he survives the thing. It's not proper conditions to work, and a "mismatch" for a first job is really sellable at this point of his career.
    – gazzz0x2z
    May 11, 2017 at 7:37
  • 12
    I thought that this would most likely lead to me having to seek legal advice. There are several other things about the way the company does business that has been bothering me since I started working here. I think that starting to look for a new job at this stage is probably my best option - the only reason I haven't done it yet is the fear that resigning so early in my career would look bad on a resume.
    – Jnthndjgr
    May 11, 2017 at 7:42
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    If ask why you left, you can just mumble something about the project being cancelled, which it will be, when it it isn't done by Friday. In any case, no one would want to work with people like that, so get out.
    – Mawg
    May 11, 2017 at 10:12
  • 22
    "the fear that resigning so early in my career would look bad on a resume" Well, it does, which is why it's typically to be avoided but sometimes that's just not an option. Your health and sanity are usually worth taking a hit to your resume. The bigger problem is that you'd have to be very sure about the next company you join as you'll want to stay there for at least two years to make up for this short stay.
    – Lilienthal
    May 11, 2017 at 12:03
  • 9
    I'd add that a lawyer may suggest ways to word a resignation letter or complaint relating to this treatment that may be useful if you ever have to take legal action. I'm not suggesting you ought to take legal action or should expect to have to - I'm suggesting it's useful to keep your options open. And, yes, I did have to consult a lawyer myself regarding contract violations by an employer and I feel it was worth the money. But think of it this way : why would you want to work for people like this ? In five years you'll barely remember them. May 11, 2017 at 23:04

What I would do in your case is simply ask the clear question in all honesty (during the meeting with the directors, or perhaps later):

"Are you looking for my resignation? I'm happy to prepare a report by Friday explaining why this task could not be finished by Friday, and make a plan on how long it will take with a schedule. You're simply assigning an impossible task to me.".

I know they would be dodging your excuses, but what you gain from this is that you make it clear that you're not being fired for performance, but because you're being set-up to be fired.

Other than this, there's nothing you could do other than contacting a lawyer, and "getting fired" on Friday. Such a company that doesn't respect its employees definitely doesn't deserve you.

  • 6
    This may also be part of setting OP up for taking the blame for something else. May 14, 2017 at 13:43
  • Would you not get a huge severance pay if you'd just get fired like that?
    – Penguin9
    May 17, 2017 at 14:48
  • @RaisingAgent Depends very much on the country. May 17, 2017 at 14:49

This answer is not the most professional course of action, however, in all honesty there's a limit to what professionalism can accomplish. Also note that I have no idea what the workforce is like in South Africa, so I don't know how relevant this advice would be, culturally speaking.

Assuming everything you've said above is true, I don't see how you can possibly avoid being fired. They've set you an impossible task, with zero prior warning, and told you you will be fired if you don't complete it.

You can't complete it. Killing yourself trying is not going to do anyone any good; not you, and not them. At the end of the day, you'll be left jobless and they'll be left with nothing to show for the months of research you've already conducted.

With that in mind, I would simply write up everything you've learned about this technology in a formal report. Include any advantages and disadvantages, hurdles that will need to be overcome, etc. Make it as complete as you can with your current understanding of the tech. Highlight areas where further investigation will be required, and perhaps even what questions need to be answered. Tell them what they'll need to do next if they want to continue with this project.

Submit this report to your immediate manager, along with your resignation - effective immediately, and then leave. Forever. Walk out and never look back. They may hate you for it, but doing this is actually giving them more than they deserve given the way they've treated you. It gives them the benefit of everything you've learned so far, so that they don't have to learn it again when they decide to set more realistic goals for whoever picks it up after you.

When interviewing for new jobs, if asked why you were terminated / resigned without notice, explain the situation honestly and highlight that, even in these impossible circumstances you did everything you could to help your previous employer. Don't be surprised if interviewers are given the impression you were fired after speaking with your previous employer, even if you technically resigned first. Just roll with it and focus on moving forward. Try to avoid badmouthing your previous employer as much as possible (even though they certainly deserve it, if anyone ever did.)

  • 5
    I like this approach. In the end, taking the high road is the powerful statement, any other from-the-gut response is likely to make them look better and you worse in the eyes of others.
    – Stian
    May 11, 2017 at 14:00
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    @StianYttervik If you do have to talk about your opinion of this employer in the past tense, focus on the projects and years prior to what ended your time with them, ie. the good stuff. "I enjoyed working at that company, the projects were diverse and interesting. I am glad that I had the experiences that I did." Even a bad experience is a good experience: it teaches you what to look out for and how to avoid the same pitfalls. May 11, 2017 at 17:47
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    High road or no, the company will definitely feel the loss of an employee. If they desperately needed that project, then they just lost their best hope of getting it. If they didn't... well, then things will keep getting worse regardless. No need for revenge; the company has already shot itself in the foot. And no reason to stay, either, because you'll get the same again soon if you stay...
    – ArmanX
    May 12, 2017 at 21:44
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    @Tim: "any results you have don't belong to them"... Of course they do, he spent work time, for which he was paid, developing those.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 13, 2017 at 6:13
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    To me this does seem like the most professional course of action! May 13, 2017 at 16:33

You have the advantage of extensive South Africa labour law which includes sections on hours worked, time off, reasonable expectations, and unfair dismissals. This might be a starting point.

Wikipedia also has a detailed article on SA labour law.

You’ve already documented your situation here, so if your companuy follows through on their threat, you’re already partially prepared. I hesitate to suggest you might consider a preemptive strike and consult with SA officials, but it’s worth considering. That is, you might consult with the labour office before going into that meeting.

Best of luck!

  • 1
    I think this is really good to point out the relevant parts of labor law in his home country!
    – user66395
    May 13, 2017 at 18:44

I recall a previous experience to one of my colleagues just as you mention. It is a classic example of setting up someone to fail. Only difference is that the company had very strict policy for firing someone and he was only set as a very bad underachiever in his performance review and hence denied the bonus and any pay hike. But this basically finished his career there and is seen as a way to force him to leave.

Anyway the management had a target to punish someone and they choose someone and assigned him a major task. But he was not informed it as of any importance nor any particular deadline was assigned. It was more of a hobby project or somehow it looked like one. And he had his normal work to his full capacity or even more, so he never got around to do this special work. At the end of the year he was deemed to have failed at his only goal for the year even though it was never made clear for him. Since most of the conversation happened offline since he thought it was not official, on paper it looked like he was assigned something but he never went forward with it.

Also the management need solid reasons to justify the firing/bad performance review to HR and hence in his case they had been setting up several things for him to finally fail and hence get them enough reasons to justify what they wanted anyway.

As in his case, you too don't have much of a chance in that firm. You don't stand a future if the management doesn't want you there. Best case is to find a job and quit. Or wait to get fired, if that gets you more severance. Consult a lawyer based on the laws in your country. Good Luck!

  • 12
    Sounds like pretty much exactly the situation I'm in at the moment. General consensus seems to be that consulting a lawyer and starting to look for another job is my best option. Thank you for the advice
    – Jnthndjgr
    May 11, 2017 at 11:22
  • In the UK this is called constructive dismissal and is illegal. Just because you forced an employee to quit doesn't make it different to firing with out cause
    – Ian Turton
    May 13, 2017 at 16:18

Firstly, don't panic. No matter what happens, there are strong protections for you in law against unfair dismissal here in South Africa.

If they do decide to fire you, you have a legitimate case with the CCMA for unfair dismissal. They will probably settle rather than fight it, because it sounds like they absolutely aren't following best practice in terms of performance improvement processes. This option is available to you if you need it, but only if you decide not to quit. Personally, I wouldn't bother unless they fire you before you can find a new job.

Secondly, talk to your direct manager. If you want to stick it out, ask your manager to help you manage expectations, and give them daily feedback on your progress. If you don't have a manager, immediately ask for one. I'd say that a medium size company without managers is somewhat of a red flag though, especially if the two directors of the company are giving you work directly. This sounds like a technical-heavy startup that maybe outgrew their management capability.

Thirdly, immediately start looking for a new job. I am a senior developer in South Africa, and I keep my eye on the market - it looks to me like there is plenty of demand for mobile developers, especially those with university degrees.

I recommend OfferZen as a fantastic local tech recruitment company, and the ZATech slack group is a great way to get involved in the wider SA development community. You're just starting your career, but it's never too early to start doing career development. I recommend finding jobs through other programmers, because they are often a lot more honest about the working conditions in a company than a recruiter or HR interviewer could ever be.

  • About your second point - I don't have a direct manager. About 80% of my work comes directly from one of the directors. There are two more senior developers here, but we are technically on the same level in the company structure. The company is not a startup exactly, been in operation for 10+ years, but it did expand somewhat recently. Also, thank you very much for those two links, will definitely making use of them!
    – Jnthndjgr
    May 12, 2017 at 10:03
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    The reason I suggest talking to (or getting) a manager is so that you can make more visible what you're actually doing. If you're getting tasks assigned to you in isolation, from multiple external parties, but nobody has an overview of what you're actually doing, then it's easy for a poor perception of you to be formed. See if there's a team with an existing manager you can attach yourself to, but ensure someone knows what you did daily. May 12, 2017 at 10:11
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    You can put it to the director that you want to give daily feedback so you can demonstrate progress, but that he's rarely available - is there someone else you can report to who can give him feedback maybe? Then ensure all new tasks go through this person so that they know how much work you have on your plate. In places with a manager available, I direct all direct requests for new work to them so they can prioritize it. May 12, 2017 at 10:13
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    It also doesn't hurt when you get new work to mention "I am working on A, you are asking me to do B. When do you need B by? What should I work on first? Do I leave A for later?" Getting prioritization from the person giving the work is important to know what to do next, especially if they're a director. May 12, 2017 at 10:17
  • 4
    @GustavBertram and if it's not obvious, when you get that prioritization make sure that either they send it to you via email, or you send them an email, "Per our conversation, I will put A on the backburner this week while I frobnosticate the swizzle sticks to a cromulent level." May 15, 2017 at 17:19

First, get some sleep!

After you wake up, you should take seriously the threat that they made - you will be terminated if the project is incomplete.

Specifically, you need to consider:

  • do you think you can/think you want to force the company to keep you?

  • what options/services are available to you if you are terminated?

Disclaimer: I don't live/work in South Africa, and I know nothing about its laws on employment, nor about any social safety-net programs.

If you consult a lawyer, the questions will be around whether they can do this to you, or if you get to keep working. That, IMO, is a ridiculous position to be in, because if an employer wants you gone, you'll either be gone or totally marginalized. So I don't believe you want to go that route, simply because I don't perceive any benefit to you. (If you had worked there for 20+ years and had a pension at stake, it would be a different story. But as a fresh-out with minimal investment? No.)

Instead, I think you should be looking to either survive this (scary) situation, or get out and move on.

In order to survive, you will have to finish the project (which you claim is impossible) or convince your uppers to accept whatever progress you have made.

So I think you should prepare a progress/status report. Spend a day, if need be. Document what you have done, and what you have not done, in context of what you learned.

I set out to do X. I learned we would need Y. I installed three packages, and the one from IniTech seems to fit our needs the best.

I spoke to Peter Lumbergh, a senior product manager there, and obtained a demo version which I installed. It is set up on the xyzzy server with password 'password123'.

I then tried to get our Mistletoe system communicating with the LDAP server, but could not do so. I spoke with the Mistletoe team lead, Fred Farnsworth, but he was busy with other projects.


This is NOT a "please don't fire me" document, nor is it a rant. This should be a neutral-voiced statement of actions, events, and results. At t he end, summarize by listing the steps you feel remain to be taken, any dependencies or involvements you think are required from other people/teams/projects, and an estimate of resources and time that are still needed.

While you are doing that, document your claims. If you spoke with someone, record the date. If you have emails, make a copy of the entire email. In particular, if you have emails or chat logs or trouble tickets where you asked for help, identify them. These do not go in the status report, but you can use them as evidence if someone casts doubt on a particular date in your status report.

While you are doing that, also document what other work you have been assigned/interrupted with. This does not go in the status report. See below.

That status report is your "maybe I'll survive" package. If you deliver that, directly to the person who tasked you with the project, then maybe you can survive.

If you aren't going to survive, you need to be proactive. Make a copy (electronic, ideally, or paper if you have to) of all your emails/tickets/request/texts/whatever that you identified above. Put that copy outside the premises of your employer. Maybe on a USB drive, maybe email yourself a zip file, whatever you have to do. Make it possible to have a coherent conversation about events from outside the office, by copying your data.

Also, copy your status report, and your list of other work assigned.

If the company does try to terminate you, you may be eligible for some sort of safety-net benefit (called "unemployment" in the USA, no idea in SA). A frequent criterion is "terminated for cause" vs. "laid off". This is where the emails, and the status report, and the other work assigned come into play.

Because having this protects you from losing any other benefits, and it protects you in the future from claims about your job performance.

To be clear:

  1. Maybe you survive in your current job. The status report should help.

  2. Maybe you get fired, and get benefits.

  3. If the company wants you gone, you want to be gone.

  4. If the company tries to challenge your benefits, the documentation will help you fight back.

  5. If the company refuses to give confirmation of employment for a later job, or gives a bad reference, the documentation can help you fight back.

  6. If the company tries to provide a "bad reference", the documentation you take now would help in a slander/libel action against them.

  • 1
    Don't you mean Bill Lumbergh? May 12, 2017 at 20:55
  • Nah, Bill's a VP.
    – aghast
    May 12, 2017 at 22:24

I recommend quitting. You don't need to have this kind of treatment with other tasks, it's not worthwhile. The company is toxic. Leave.

I've had directors ask me why I am late on task B. I told him it's because you reassigned me to Task A.

I also recommend taking classes in Project management. This will give you knowledge on how to handle this scenario should it come up again (and it will many times in that company).

In summary, this is a battle / quarrel that you can't win. If you should "win", their toxic behavior will continue. They have poor project management if they require or demand that you work 24hrs/day.

  • I'm not sure why this has a negative score. The original question itself is technically off-topic, and the actual core question as asked was "Can you give me any advice?" This is advice, and it is reasonable advice. It might be easier said than done though. +1
    – Aaron
    May 12, 2017 at 14:12

I am not familiar with South African law, but if you resign over these threats now it may count as constructive dismissal and you may have a case against your employer. Purposefully setting up an impossible situation as a pretense for firing you is no more legitimate than firing you without cause or for another inappropriate cause. You should probably consult a lawyer unless you are able to quickly and easily line up a better job.


Firstly: get out, get out, run as fast as you can. They're obviously disorganised and jaded. If they don't value your contribution just move on to a better environment as fast as you can.

It's a sellers market for trained, skilled developers at the moment and you're (presumably) young, whatever happens you've got a long career ahead and this experience will mean nothing to you in a couple of years.

Though at the risk of being mightily gunned down for a contrary pov: I am an employer and currently have a problem with an extremely arrogant member of staff who we just can not get rid of. He's a complete know-it-all and grade-A time-waster. He can work fast when people are watching, but as soon as he's by himself he has a variety of things he does to avoid work. Initially we respected him and liked him, but anyone who works with him for any period of time just cannot stand him because of his combination of arrogance and personal insecurity, always wanting to be the "smartest guy in the room" yet just going off and doing his own thing even if it's wrong or even destructive, never asking for input, not standing by the team at all, not being able to handle any feedback, I could go on. All we want is for him to show some humility, pull his head in once in a while, not have to be a constant smart-arse. Perhaps have some empathy.

Having to deal with this guy has got me thinking, I'm pretty sure I've been this guy before (when I was a younger developer), I remember the expression on the faces of my supervisors/employers during the end part of jobs where I've run in to trouble. Their faces then look like how I feel now.

Though we're going through the correct process with this guy (a different story), it's worth thinking from your employer's pov whether potentially your performance isn't "all that". It sound very likely it is them and not you, I'm just bringing up an alternative view-point.

Whatever is the case though, your employer are handling this is all-wrong, you have every right to lawyer up -- though it's nearly certainly not worth the heartache: what do you stand to gain? Do you really want to keep working for people like this (as forcing them to continue to employ you would be the likely legal remedy, there's no apparent grounds to pay you out or anything else special)?

As I said originally: Just get out. Save everyone, especially you, the stress. Learn from the experience and enjoy some greener grass somewhere else stat.

  • 1
    Everything after the first two paragraphs should be deleted.
    – Tony Ennis
    May 15, 2017 at 13:39
  • I think this whole answer should be deleted. It's not really on-topic at all.
    – Joshua
    May 15, 2017 at 21:57
  • @TonyEnnis OP has been threatened with dismissal after a short period of time and we're only hearing his side of the story. They've run a business for 10 years however bad they are, they can't be that naive. Would employers be treating a stellar employee this way? It is very possible that OP should do some introspection of his own behavior and manner. It's probably irresponsible that no one on this site is willing to suggest that there might be something going on on OP's side as well, and certainly a disservice to him.
    – Williams
    May 18, 2017 at 17:18

Keep your cool, you may be the unwitting participant in someone else's politics. I've been in a similar situation and there will be a million variables that you would not be aware of. If you can complete the task then do so and be happy to finish it.
If you cant or need extra time, could it be finished on the weekend for first thing Monday etc. Worst case scenario, don't get upset you must view this as part of your learning and working with other people. In the UK your not fully protected by law for the first two years and can be fired easier than if your employed long than this.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst

  • 4
    I wouldn't ever advice working over a weekend in a situation like this (unless there's a written promise of the due extra pay for working on weekend).
    – hyde
    May 11, 2017 at 12:44
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    Despite the gritty unpleasant ultimatum meeting. The questioners commitment to the organisation is being tested and it is his decision on how is seen to respond, and may well path the way forward for him, as he may in time change teams or be seen as a stronger promotion candidate. Its a poor show to throw in the towel on the first challenge.
    – Andrew Day
    May 11, 2017 at 12:58
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    "In the UK your not fully protected by law for the first two years and can be fired easier than if your employed long than this." Regardless of whether that's true or not (see HomoTechsual's comment), how is that relevant or helpful to the OP, who is working for a company in South Africa?
    – user
    May 11, 2017 at 13:10
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    @AndrewDay Whether you can work through it or not is irrelevant. Its a sign of a toxic work environment one should look to be leaving as quickly as possible. There's never a valid reason for a demand like this.
    – Andy
    May 12, 2017 at 0:22
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    You don't shoot someone in the foot and then ask them to run a faster race. You don't get a spouse to prove their loyal by having an affair and then telling them to either get over it or leave. Commitment is a two way street, and if you're not getting that as positive reinforcement, please go find something else ! May 12, 2017 at 12:32

This is in regards to instructions I received bit more two months ago where I was told to 'experiment with' the implementation of a new technology.

Okay, so complete your experiment.

They may be tired of throwing money down the drain. Fine. I haven't heard that they require that this experiment take over the world. From the little information we've been told, you said this needs to be "done". Okay. I don't see where they required that this be successful. So just finish this.

Write down the conclusions. Make sure there is no text saying "we really should do this additional work to wrap up the project". Nope. Just consider it to be wrapped up. Sloppy? Unsuccessful? That's fine. But wrap it up.

If they want quality, that's a whole 'nother problem. But you didn't say that they are imposing quality standards. They are imposing time standards. So just meet those standards.

Maybe they want to use one of their 40 employees for another task. If you can't start on the other task, they will replace you with someone else who will work on the new task. One thing they really need is to make sure that nobody is spending any more time on this 2-month-old task. That could be what is most important to them. That might be more important than whether the "experiment" task ends up achieving the possible usefulness they previously hoped for.

Also, this might be a test of resourcefulness. Did they say you must do all the work yourself? Use whatever other employees you can to help. (Actually, they might find that to be a demonstration that you have an excellent ability to use available resources. Or they might find that to be a demonstration that you have a terrible ability to waste even more resources. So that might be a great idea, or a bad idea.)

This wouldn't be the first time that someone accomplished less than what they hoped for, but still managed to meet a deadline. Sometimes when people do that, then may be able to re-visit a project later, and in the long term that can work out quite well. You can think about the long-term plans later, after you confirm that you will keep working there in the long-term. For now, just get this project into a state where neither you nor anybody else needs to be working on it.

'there are plenty of examples available online' were said', even though this is blatantly false.

They may have different goals/intents than you. The director may have seen examples of what he has in mind, which might be different than what you understood. There may have been some problems with communication. Maybe one of the reasons why you struggled so much is simply that you have been trying to do something different than what the experienced people had in mind. There might be plenty of online examples of what they were hoping you would be accomplishing, even if there are not lots of online examples of what you thought you were supposed to be working on.

The solution is to ask questions. Furthermore, many times business leaders don't want to spend a lot of time answering questions, and so it can help to ask specific questions. (Not just "Help!") If you mention the specific troubles, they may be able to see why you have problems, and set you on the right path.

Now that you are so close to deadline, there might not be enough remaining time to effectively fix this. Still, communicating, and then showing improvement after the communication, might demonstrate something positive that gives them a reason to have a bigger glimmer of hope that you may be useful.

  1. Do your best to remove the emotion. It's common for people to feel freaked out with this. This was a jerk move, and many people would find it hurts like being punched in the stomach. But as much as it hurts this is business, they are not your family, they don't need to love you. Use cold logic like they did.

  2. Once something like this happens at a company you must decide if it's unusual or if it "sounds about right" as standard operating procedure. If you sense it's an atypical manager making an unusual demand, you might have luck discussing the situation with higher executives more reasonably minded.

  3. If it feels like it is SOP, a toxic and irrational environment, then forget trying to work it out. They won't want to and you wouldn't be happy if they did ask you back. They may have done you a favor showing their true colors. Their punishment will be trouble retaining and recruiting good people over time.

  4. Don't waste time and money on a lawyer without at least a vague idea what you expect to accomplish. As I commented above, in the US you can be fired if someone does not like the color of your tie. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will_employment. So there is no way a lawyer could do anything about a unreasonable deadline. I'm just saying do a quick google search first. Ok here I'll do one for you:

    Fortunately it looks like SA may not have at-will employment standards: http://www.xperthr.com/international-manual/south-africa-termination-of-employment/9690.

    Read through that page just to get a feel for how things work. If you think they may have went out of bounds, that's the time to consult an attorney. Try to get a referral from someone you know who has hired the lawyer. Google "what to ask before hiring an attorney." as that's another minefield to navigate.

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