Keep cool - just grasp the black bag and walk

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The old rule of 'first in, last out' no longer holds sway. In fact, in some cases, in the financial services industry it looks set to be reversed. Recent liberality with guaranteed pay packages means that those clutching bin bags are unlikely to be the newest arrivals.

Ian Tucker, of the management consultancy AT Kearney, says: 'The guarantees that have been handed out over the past few years have completely changed the landscape. People will think twice about getting rid of recent hires.'

Jeremy Cooper at the Charterhouse Partnership agrees: 'People on guarantees could be the most expensive to get rid of. If an individual is one year into a two-year guarantee, banks may have to pay two years of bonus before they can let them go. I can't see many wanting to do that.'

None of the Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) bankers that Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) inherited with guarantees appeared to be among those leaving last week. CSFB declines to comment on the matter. It does, however, say that the redundancies are not indicative of the difficult economic environment but part of the firm's integration programme with DLJ.

Either way, CSFB's shakeout illustrates what has become clear over the past few years: consolidation means that redundancies are no longer merely a feature of a downturn but a familiar cloud on the investment banking horizon whatever the climate. As a result, outplacement consultants agree that redundancy has lost its stigma. Those with bags in hand are increasingly accepting their fate as a risk of the territory.

For their part, banks have also made an effort to be more sensitive in their treatment of superfluous staff. Phillip Beddows, an outplacement consultant at BG Careers, says: 'Banks have come miles compared to where they used to be. At the time of the last major redundancies in the early 1990s, outplacement to help people come to terms with their new situation was not widely offered by banks.'

In the days before outplacement, delivery of the bad news was often tactless. 'People were asked to walk down the stairs and turn either left or right,' recollects one banker. 'Right meant that you stayed, left meant that you left with your bin bag.'

In his reminiscences about life as a 'big swinging dick' in the 1980s, Michael Lewis, a former Salomon Brothers bond trader, recounts the 'massacre of the innocents' that took place as traders were first invited to meet the management and then escorted from the building by a security guard.

Nowadays, redundancies are more humane but still rather loveless occasions. 'There are three rules for making someone redundant,' says a hardened City of London executioner. 'Don't say that you're sorry. Tell them that you're letting them go and why in the first sentence. Then leave the room.' In this scenario, someone from a career management consultancy might be left behind with the victim to offer advice and sympathy.

If an employee is leaving at once, some immediate decisions have to be made. 'You have to think how you are going to behave,' says Beddows. 'Are you going to leave or are you going to go back to your desk?' In fact, the latter option is rarely available. While you are being informed of your fate, IT is often hard at work behind the scenes. At one investment bank that shed staff recently, the latter were invited for a chat from which there was no going back. When they returned to their desks their computers were locked.

Sensitive information and the danger of disgruntled traders running riot with billions of dollars mean that instant excommunication of this kind is commonplace. But it must be handled carefully.

'I would advise banks to help people maintain maximum dignity,' says Beddows. 'The way in which they react is likely to be a reflection of how well they have been handled. If you treat someone like a child, they will behave like one.'

Linda Jackson, from outplacement firm Meridian Consulting, says: 'Closing down computers can leave people feeling distrusted. Banks must explain that the action is protecting the company and that it is not a personal thing.'

Not taking it too personally is the key to coping with ejection. Rudeness and emotional outpourings are best avoided, particularly when some future merger could mean that you find yourself working alongside witnesses to any indiscretions at a later date. It is best to grasp the black bag and just go.

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