Officials at all of the Wall Street firms declined to comment.
At Credit Suisse, people who were laid off recently were allowed to say goodbye to colleagues. But those who stayed responded with a combination of relief and fear — relief that it wasn’t them, and fear that it might be soon. Many people say they are too worried about keeping their jobs to help friends who are out of work.
“There were mixed emotions because this clearly isn’t the last round,” said an associate who was laid off by Credit Suisse last month. “Banks really aren’t making any money right now, and they haven’t been for a while. There’s only so long you can go and not lay off more people.”
Already, the industry cuts have moved beyond low performers to people for whom the future looked bright just months ago. Analysts say the reductions announced so far will not be enough and that more may come later in the year, before employees are scheduled to collect bonuses.
“People will try to delay them for as long as possible,” Meredith Whitney, the banking analyst at Oppenheimer & Company, said of the layoffs, which she thinks are far from over. “It cuts to the bone.”
Banks and brokerage firms generally pay out about 50 percent of their revenue to employees as salaries and bonuses. Last year that percentage leapt to 70 percent, even as business began to dry up. Ms. Whitney estimates that on average banks announced plans to reduce their work forces by 5 to 8 percent. They probably will have to cut at least twice that amount, she said.
Executives have spent months developing layoff strategies, negotiating severance packages, and carefully penning scripts. Many hire outside consultants, dispatch cost-cutting czars and establish centralized restructuring offices and career placement centers.
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.”
And gallows humor is rampant. One joke: A banker calls a colleague and asks, “Are you busy? Or are you lying?”