We’re not the only ones obsessed with layoffs these days. So is the New York Times, which has published two meaty articles on layoffs in the past few days — one in the Business section, and one in Sunday Styles.
The upshot of the business piece: Wall Street firms are increasingly relying upon “stealth layoffs” (like their brethren in the law, as we’ve discussed). Louise Story and Eric Dash report:
[E]xactly how many jobs have been or will be eliminated [on Wall Street] is unclear. In the past, banks typically made sharp reductions all at once. After the 1987 stock market crash, for example, employees were herded into conference rooms and dismissed en masse.
This time, companies are making many small cuts over the course of weeks or even months. Some people who have lost jobs, and many more struggling to hold them, say banks are keeping employees in the dark about the size and timing of layoffs.
Sound familiar, law firm associates?
Read the rest, below the fold.
This description sounds very Biglaw-esque:
To some bank workers, one round of layoffs seems to blur into the next. At Goldman Sachs, low performers were dismissed from January through March. A few weeks later, the bank quietly began letting more people go. All told, Goldman is axing about 8 percent of its work force, although incoming employees this summer will make up for some of that loss.
Who would have thought that law firms, notorious for being poorly managed, would serve as a business model for their Wall Street cousins?
Is the “stealth layoff” approach better? Not necessarily:
The steady drumbeat of bad news on Wall Street is sapping morale. Wendi S. Lazar, a partner at the employment law firm of Outten & Golden, said companies are usually better off being open about cutting jobs.
“You’re seeing a very, very inconsistent message to employees,” Ms. Lazar said. “It’s, ‘I don’t know when it’s going to happen, it may be tomorrow, it may be next month; we may be able to keep you, we may not.’ “
The story of how Paul Hastings axed Shinyung Oh just days after her miscarriage got a lot of attention in law firm land. But would it have made a similar splash if it had happened in finance? Maybe not.
In January, when [JoAnne] Kennedy was temporarily out of the office at JPMorgan because of surgery, her boss called to say her job had been eliminated. She did not return to her office and ended up asking the bank to send her the photos of her son that she kept on her desk.
“You don’t get to say goodbye to people,” Ms. Kennedy said. “It’s demoralizing.”
An interesting tidbit: unlike law firms, which tend to announce layoffs on Fridays, finance favors the middle of the week:
For Wall Street employees, the most dangerous days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Those are the favored days to fire people, so employees do not have the weekend to stew about it.
Euphemisms for layoffs are making the rounds too. Banks do not just fire people anymore. They engage in “head count reduction,” “reduction in force” and “redundancies.”
Or maybe “performance-based reviews,” followed by “natural attrition”?
Meanwhile, over in Sunday Styles, the focus is more on the social awkwardness that layoffs create:
As the economy blasts away at white-collar workers as well as blue-collar ones, the newly jobless are learning an ungainly new language: How to spin their situation to other parents on the Saturday morning sidelines. How to convey nonchalance during Pinteresque pauses in the golf-club locker rooms. How to fend off inquisitive family members at Memorial Day barbecues.
Here’s something that may resonate with laid-off Biglaw associates:
Last summer, when Diane Gelman, a single mother, was laid off as a financial analyst at a Manhattan bank, she called her mother, masked her own shock and front-loaded the spin with optimism.
“I’ve been unhappy for so long at my job, Mom,” she recalled saying. “And now they’re offering me money to leave! It’s not personal, it’s a business decision, and I am so fine with it.” She has since found a position.
It probably helped that Gelman knew it was “a business decision.” If she had been told her dismissal was due to poor performance, perhaps she would have felt differently.
Firms that lay off employees are generally regarded as kinder than those that present payroll reductions as due to performance. But even the term “layoff” doesn’t fill hearts with the warm-and-fuzzies:
Although layoffs are becoming dismayingly common, the term still has a lingering stigma. The slang for being laid off is inherently dehumanizing, notes [Anne] Baber, a career workshop leader in Kansas City, Kan. Among the coarser expressions: Canned. Getting rid of dead wood. Pruning. Fumigating. Cleaning house. Made redundant. Axed. Sacked. Bagged.
If you’d like to look at the glass as half-full, here’s some help:
The new euphemisms: “They freed me up for my future!” “I got a great severance package.” “I’m between successes!” “We’ve been a two-career family for so long that we decided one of us should stay home with the kids.” “I’ve decided to take my career in a different direction.” “I got tired of the commute so I’m working out of the house.”
We continue to follow law-firm layoff news as closely as we can. If you have info to share, please drop us a line. Thanks.
The Language of Loss for the Jobless [New York Times]
For Wall Street Workers, Ax Falls Quietly [New York Times]