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Pre-Bonus Lay-Offs and How to Avoid Them

I tend to growl when bank employees are under fire, such as the 20 some-odd managing directors at Morgan Stanley heading for untimely exits, according to one report. I have a plan for those who want to guard against culls. Read on.

From where I sit, financial services employees may enjoy the fruits of their labors, but they live under the job-cut sword dangled by their employers. They don't have much in the way of legal weaponry to cross sabres if and when their jobs are on the line.

But why should they? Whining about a financial world known to be rough, tough and unforgiving isn't going to help anyone. If you don't want to make your money as fast as possible and get out when you can, you don't have to join.

This too is true, in part - you earn a pile of money, you expect to take the punches on the chin, right? Absolutely yes. I have no problem with that at all - if those punches are administered fairly and in accordance with employment law.

Morgan Stanley's cull will come before the next bonus round, according to a leaked briefing. This is concurrent with the bank making its MD ranks sign non-competes of up to six months to lock-in the people the bank wants to keep. What isn't known is whether Morgan Stanley will withhold all or part of bonuses due to those MDs facing job loss.

The ones to go represent about 6% of Morgan Stanley's global investment banking MDs, and they are being culled on performance criteria. In fairness, Morgan Stanley is only doing what every other bank does, but an insider leaking the information to The New York Times makes it clear that the firm wants to lose some seniors to make room for younger talent hungry to fill their shoes. (Read cheaper.)

Buttons Pushed

Now, which of my growly buttons does this situation press?

Is it the 'culling before bonuses' button? If you did the business, you've earned the bonus, in my book. I wish someone could explain to me why it's considered OK, at the very moment that large parts of people's remuneration are due to be paid them, workers are pointed towards the door. From an ethical standpoint, please.

Or is it the 'age discrimination' button? Banks can assume you're past your sell-by date once you hit forty. Even if the workforce buys into the common idea that this goes with the territory, it isn't legal to cull on age grounds. So why's it still happening?

Maybe it's the 'it's a genuine lay-off' button? It can't be if you have an eager-beaver newbie waiting to slip behind your desk. A lay-off isn't about you, it's about your role disappearing. So how come your role stays firmly put, with a new, improved version of you inhabiting it, while the real you lines up for severance pay?

Perhaps it's the generic growl button I have that banks can have it all ways because they can airbrush individuals off the scene with a combination of infinite resources and the spectre of Street-wide blacklisting if they challenge such behavior.

Look Out for Yourself

My mailbox regularly hums with feedback from people who've suffered as a result of cull situations like this, asking for advice and a bit of TLC.

As a pre-emptive strike on behalf of those of you who think you might be targeted in future, I've spoken to my friends in the legal fraternity, and they suggest as follows:

  • Wherever possible, get your bonus guaranteed. You work in banking, you should be able to negotiate your contract to protect you before you take up a position. If you can't do this, you're heading into the wrong job.
  • Do not sign amended contracts sprung on you by your employers without getting them combed through by an employment lawyer. If you do, you could be agreeing to additional terms wrecking your chances of hanging onto your bonus pounds/dollars/euros/yen. Wording buried in a new contract could be that your bonus can be withheld if you are under notice of termination - a licence for your employer to chop you pre-bonus payouts. If your employer is trying to sneak these past you, see point directly above for avoiding action.
  • Get yourself a weighty sponsor (or two) who will thump the table on your behalf when these cull selections take place.
  • Be adaptable. If your area is looking dodgy, try to rotate to another. Moving targets are harder to hit.
  • Be prepared. Watch your back. Never assume you're safe. That's the way it is.

For those of you who think you might be chopped in the next few days, I can only suggest a sudden and prolonged illness which requires being completely incommunicado until after bonus payouts.

Now for the TLC: While you hide, I'll growl.

Jane welcomes feedback and guarantees complete confidentiality to anyone who wishes to discuss employment issues with her:

AUTHORAnonymous Insider Comment

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