After working many years in high-tech, I say it's not intuition because it's the same signs over and over again.
Some of the typical "clues" include:
- Your boss has just put you on a "plan" where you have to show up at work at a specific time, eat lunch at a specified time or in a specified time duration, and leave at a specified time.
- Your boss is suddenly unwilling to let you buy necessary things for your work and have the office reimburse you. This is especially a sign if co-workers ARE allowed to do this.
- Your boss has started collecting moving boxes, but you know the boss isn't moving.
- Your boss, who never makes you show up early for work, tells you that you suddenly need to be in for an early morning meeting to "discuss what you'll be working on."
- Your boss "invites" you to a pre-scheduled meeting with the HR person. (Almost any meeting your management initiates involving an HR person is Bad News.)
- You're at home, sick, and the boss says you "need to come into the office for a meeting."
- You get put on an impossible schedule. Some bosses will set you up for failure because it's the only way they can get rid of you. For example, if you are told you need to document software that doesn't yet exist and have the documentation done way before they even know for sure how the software is going to work, you're hosed. Note the date and time your work is due, as you can expect to be terminated any time after you turn it in.
- You get put on a "performance plan" where the criteria are subjective. Also note the date it ends, as that'll tell you the last day you have guaranteed employment.
- Your boss rushes you to complete a project early for no good reason.
When one of these signs happens, your first priority is no longer "holding onto the current job" but "finding a new job." Keep this in mind when the axe is falling, as it's something you can lose sight of in the process.
Your second priority is to get out anything from work you care about getting out with. Once the axe falls, your chances of taking things like samples of your work or sometimes even your personal belongings diminishes greatly. You don't want to take too much out at once if there's a significant time lag, as you don't want management to know you know what they're up to. One way to do it is to get the "less obvious" stuff out first, then package up and consolidate the items you know they won't question (your personal photos, your coffee mug, etc.).
Start keeping empty tote bags in the office. Always be seen carrying a full one around, usually hauling in something disposable to the office (a lunch or a snack), but always hauling out something solid. The chance of your being noticed will be negligible. Sometimes an employer won't even let you take your OWN stuff out once you've been axed.
If there are questionable items you need on a daily basis, try to get into your office the same day but an hour or two before you expect the axe to fall. You'll still have free access to your stuff, so nobody will question you. One of the items you want to get out is a list of the co-workers you care about (read: the ones who could provide references for you in the future), along with e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
If you're lucky, you can negotiate when and how you'll be axed. I've done this a couple of times and have seen others do it.
Once the axe falls, don't fight it. Instead, negotiate the terms as best as you can. The two things to go for are a good job reference and a note in your file saying you can be rehired by the company. Sometimes, alas, these have already been decided against you due to upper management policy. If that's the case, don't take it personally, but be sure to mention this when you look for your next job.
Sometimes you can negotiate changes to your severance package; most of the time this isn't an option, but you can always check.
Often you are made to sign something saying you won't sue the company. In most cases, just sign it and go unless you strongly feel you've been wrongly terminated and are ready to fight it in a court of law.