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7 Subtle Things Your Boss Will Say If They Don’t Think You’re Hitting Your Goals
Taylor Tobin

Any successful manager will work with her staffers to create a list of attainable goals, as well as take steps to support her employees while they pursue those results. While your manager will ideally be forthcoming about her views on your progress, some supervisors hesitate to approach their subordinates when their performances aren’t satisfactory. 

If your manager is the conflict-avoidance type, you may need to read between the lines to figure out how she feels about your work. These seven phrases may indicate that she’s less than content with your ability to accomplish your goals.

1. “Is everything all right?”

The implications of this question, like many others on this list, depends largely on context. If your manager is aware of a difficult situation in your personal life, or if you’ve just dealt with a particularly challenging work scenario, an inquiry about your well-being makes total sense from your supervisor. But if the query seems to come from nowhere, it may be your boss’s subtle way of indicating that your performance isn’t living up to her standards.

2. “I’d like you to focus on your current workload rather than taking on anything new.”

Say that your department has a new initiative in the works, and you’re especially excited about it. You go to your boss to ask whether you can join the team responsible for this project... and she replies by telling you to focus on your existing workload instead. Of course, this could simply mean that your already-assigned tasks should take priority over this new set of responsibilities...but it could also be “code” for “your current work isn’t meeting my expectations, so I don’t want you to take on anything additional right now.”

3. “Would you like to review the training materials?”

If you’re a new employee still learning the ropes of your workplace, it’s totally reasonable for your manager to refer you to your training materials when you make an error. But if you’ve been employed for well over a year and your manager still encourages you to keep your manual and training documents on-hand at all times, that could suggest that you haven’t internalized your position’s necessary skills and regular procedures in the way that your supervisor hopes. 

4. “I want to reschedule your performance review.”

Your manager’s choice to reschedule a performance review doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a problem with your work. However, if you’re dealing with a boss who wants to avoid uncomfortable situations at all costs, she may postpone your review if she’s unsatisfied with your progress, hoping that by the time she reschedules, you’ll fix the problems on your own. 

5. “Please review your work before passing it along to me.”

The majority of high-functioning managers take the initiative to oversee their reports’ progress, scheduling check-in meetings and providing the final sign-off for major projects. However, if your boss asks to approve every minute work task on your docket, that could indicate that she doesn’t fully trust you to accomplish the job to her standards.

6. “Ask [coworker name] to show you her version of this assignment.”

Junior team members can expect referrals to the work of senior team members, in order to give them a sense of what a correct final product looks like. However, if you’re senior to your colleagues but your boss still asks you to model your work after theirs, that could indicate that you’re not meeting expectations.

7. “Let’s talk about a performance improvement plan.”

A brief slump in performance or a one-off error won’t concern most discerning managers. But if your work regularly falls below company standards, your boss may take direct action by putting you on a performance improvement plan (also known as a PIP). The most clear and unambiguous of these signs, a PIP goes on your employee record and provides a delineated breakdown of where you’re falling short. Typically, if you don’t correct your errors by the end of the PIP, you’ll face termination.


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