Although 25 consecutive months of job growth suggests that the economy is getting back on its feet, that doesn't mean there aren't scores of people still losing jobs by the day, if not the minute. And perhaps nowhere is that happening in greater numbers than on Wall Street.
Of course, given that Wall Street is largely responsible for putting the U.S. economy into its unemployment mess in the first place (not to mention that many lives have recently been devastated by Superstorm Sandy), there's not a lot of sympathy to go around for job losers in the industry. But the way in which men and women in banking and trading have recently been told they're no longer welcome inside 74-story skyscrapers is worth pointing out, if only because it could be the way that you and your cube neighbors will also be losing jobs in the not-so-distant future.
This week, UBS announced that some 10,000 employees will soon be shown the door. The reason for the large cuts was UBS's decision to exit the fixed income business, an area that lost some $50 billion for the Swiss bank in the wake of the financial crisis. This meant that thousands of traders and investment bankers would soon be out of work. And, in fact, a few hours after the announcement, many of these employees found themselves literally out of work: in Switzerland, numerous employees arrived to their office buildings to find that their security cards had been deactivated. That was how they were informed that their jobs had become redundant.
Meanwhile, others at UBS, who work out of the firm's U.S. headquarters in Stamford, Conn., received phone calls at home telling them they'd been fired and shouldn't bother coming back to work—ever. This occurred while Sandy tore through the East Coast, where many of UBS's U.S. employees call (or had called) home.
Although UBS's decision to exit the fixed-income business was welcomed by the bank's shareholders as well as industry analysts (some called the decision a good one albeit five years too late), many industry observers and Wall Street insiders weren't too pleased with the way employees were fired. And others pointed out that the Swiss bank's firing tactics have become the rule and not the exception on Wall Street. However, no matter what your opinion about the industry and its workforce is, all this should have you concerned. Very concerned.
As is widely known and accepted, the unwritten (or, in some cases, written) rule is that employees must give their employers a minimum of two weeks notice prior to leaving a job. Even so, in my experience, many employees often give their employers much longer than that, believing that two weeks is not enough time to hire a replacement, not to mention train a replacement.
Likewise, it's widely assumed that employers give their employees a reasonable amount time (a week to two weeks) to wrap things up upon informing them that their services are no longer needed. Though, as recent firings on Wall Street suggest, some employers aren't even giving employees two minutes to pack up their belongings, send final emails, make final phone calls, and say good-bye to friends and colleagues. That is, employers no longer feel the least bit of loyalty toward their employees.
As I write this I can hear readers thinking (as well as one of the many voices inside my head saying), "No longer? When did employers ever feel loyalty to their employees?" Though this might be true for some employers, there are certainly others that show compassion when letting people go. I've personally witnessed fellow employees laid off with great sympathy. Though, I've also witnessed fellow employees laid off without any sympathy.
In any case, the point is this: if the firing tactics of UBS do become the rule on Wall Street—where many firms will soon be following suit and laying off thousands of insiders—it likely won't be long before these tactics become the rule in other industries as well. Which would create a national workforce filled with fearful employees and less loyal employees. That is, employees who are not likely to be very productive employees.
And so, no matter what your current level of employment, it makes sense to fight for the right to give employees (those you manage now and those you may manage in the future) a fair amount of notice when having to let them go. Which is to say to treat them humanely. This will not only improve the morale and productivity of current employees but also improve the quality of your future employees, showing prospective staff members that yours is a kinder, compassionate institution—that is, as kind and compassionate as an institution can be.
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