How New Yorkers’ dread of losing their jobs is leading to unprecedented rumor-mongering and other irrational behavior
By Desk Jockey
Remember New York’s Golden Era (circa 2005-2007 A.D)? Maybachs and Bentleys parked openly on the street? Restaurants “fully committed” months in advance?
In the words of a Ben Affleck film from that era, gone baby gone.
The economic downturn is alive and well in Manhattan. How can you tell? Look at the signs in the store windows along Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. Gilded, beaded ladies’ handbags reduced an astronomical 70 percent (as one friend sniffed, that’s all they’re worth.) 40 percent-off sales at Brooks Brothers which you scoff at, as 70-off has become the new 40-off.
Turnbull & Asser, shirt maker to the Royal Family, is announcing its first ever Winter Sale. E-mails from clothiers like Thomas Pink are arriving at a frequency that matches pleas from the Prime Minister of Nigeria.
About those rumors
One thing that’s never in short supply during a downturn is rumors. Did you hear the one about the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center being sold for firewood? (Not true.) New York’s finest restaurants (e.g. Craft) offering “Frugal Friday” menus? (True).
One rumor that’s probably true is the uptick in HR department activity. When downturns occur, HR managers eagerly begin sharpening their e-pencils and throwing numbers on the e-wall. These numbers, lest we forget, are connected to people, as in human beings. Men and women, with mortgages and families and Golden Labradors.
And yes, friends of Desk Jockey.
About those layoff rumors.
One of the rumors recently circulating among members of our firm’s Connecticut office was that a substantial number of people were to be let go on a certain date in January. Since this involved former co-workers of Desk Jockey, he was particularly concerned (as well as extraordinarily relieved that he was no longer on the hit list.) Desk Jockey was so certain that the layoff was going to happen (he read about it on Facebook!) that he actually called someone whose birthday was the chop date, the day before, to extend his birthday wishes.
The good news was, the mass layoff never happened. The bad news is, it still might. This leaves Desk Jockey’s former co-workers in a “sitzkrieg” position—much like London faced as it waited for the Battle of Britain to begin and the Luftwaffe to start carpet-bombing Buckingham Palace.
During this downturn, people have also begun to openly handicap the probabilities that a certain co-worker will be laid off. The country-western-music-lover manager says authoritatively, “They can’t lay off X, because he’s out on disability. And they can’t lay off Y, because she’s on maternity leave.” Then after you do the math in your head and figure out who they can lay off, you’ll hear from someone “who knows” (how do they always know?) and who says, “well, I’ve heard those rules about layoffs and maternity leave are changing.”
Layoff rumors also placed a significant damper on holiday parties last December. Desk Jockey spoke to no fewer than half a dozen people who were milling about his living room, glancing nervously at their PDAs, expecting to be asked to work on Saturday, or be laid off. (Note: a number were subsequently terminated, which Desk Jockey discovered when his e-mails to their office addresses sadly bounced back.
Desk Jockey’s Four-Step 12-Step Program
So what steps can you take in an era where you’ve actually lost more money than you’ve made in a single calendar year? Here are a few tried and true behavioral tricks Desk Jockey is not averse to pulling out of his magic bag.
- Volunteer for work projects that will have you working evenings, weekends, and holidays. Complaining vocally that you’ve worked on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve will give you serious cred, and may help convince the most heartless numbers-cruncher that you are worth keeping—as well as demonstrating that you are the most abject of creatures.
- Be obsequious to a fault. Ask your boss how her children are. Compliment her on the wonderful Christmas card she sent. Tell her she’s a “riot.” Remember, when it comes to money, have no pride.
- Do not add to the fear factor level by placing rumors of layoffs on Facebook. Very often, your co-workers, idled by the dramatic slowdown in work (for some, not me!) are fellow Facebookers, and your loose lips will certainly ruin their day, if not their whole weekend.
- Use the phone to spread any rumors you feel compelled to spread, instead of emailing them. If rumors aren’t written down, they will be more difficult to trace—unless the person you’re speaking to is wearing a wire, in which case you may hear a screeching sound not unlike the sound you get from phoning someone wearing a hearing aid.
And finally, look on the bright side of downturn ‘09. Maybe New York’s doctors and dentists will also start discounting their services by 70 percent. Perhaps President Obama will create thousands of jobs rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure—starting with the Second Avenue subway in Manhattan.
I don’t want to start any rumors. But you’d better be pretty handy with a pick and shovel.
Manhattan-based Desk Jockey is a gainfully employed corporate communications writer who prefers anonymity to unemployment any day.