High-Tech Unemployment

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Pink-Slip Parties

By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Feature

Dec. 24, 2001 -- They are young, jobless, and ready to party. Once a month, unemployed refugees from the dot-com revolution gather in bars around the country for the latest innovation of the newly downtrodden Internet generation -- the pink-slip party.

Partiers are given glow-in-the-dark, color-coded wristbands at the door - pink if you are jobless, green if you're looking to hire, and blue if you are neither. They drink Bud Lights and tequilas as they network and study the message board filled with resumes and job postings. They listen to music selected as a soundtrack to the dot-com demise. Greatest hits include "It's the End of the World as We Know It," by REM, and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Some parties even include dot-comedy to help the unemployed techies laugh at their troubles.

Coping Together

Laid off, downsized, or simply fired, many erstwhile employees of failed or foundering Internet start-ups appear to be handling the emotional pitfalls of joblessness pretty well. Just two years ago, the mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings were poised to take over the world, or at least amass enough wealth to buy much of it. But that was a different millennium.

Now that the dot-com bubble has exploded in their faces, many are dealing for the first time with the psychological strains that accompany job loss. And they seem to be coping in uniquely public ways. In addition to the pink-slip parties, job-loss support groups and group therapy sessions are common. In San Francisco, where a large portion of the population works in the tech sector, laid-off techies can even go to camp. Recession Camp offers regular outings like golf and movies. Campers also volunteer time to area charities.

Allison Hemming, who organized the first pink slip gatherings in New York City in July of 2000, says the mood is more subdued and less defiant these days than when the parties began.

"A year and a half later, people are more humble," she says. "But they are not embarrassed that they were laid off. That is what the parties are all about. I have talked to people in their 40s and 50s who are veterans of corporate layoffs and they say, 'Where was this in the late '80s and early '90s?' Back then they just went home and felt lousy."

Hemming, 33, says she started the parties after realizing that people would feel better about themselves if they got together to share their experiences. She worked for the online magazine POV until it went under two years ago, and now she runs The Hired Guns, a marketing consulting firm. She is also writing a book on coping with job loss in the post-tech-bubble era.

Hemming says while many displaced dot-commers have moved on and are coping well, others are struggling with anxieties and self-doubt.

"Some people do take it extremely personally, even if they are laid off because of a company closure," she says. "They go into a state of what I call pink-slip paralysis. It is a psychological feeling that has everything to do with inertia. Here in New York it is so easy for people to go home to their tiny study apartments, pull down the shades, turn on the TV, and shut the world out."

Should Have Seen It Coming

San Francisco therapist Joan DiFuria specializes in counseling tech-sector executives dealing with sudden wealth. But these days many of her clients are facing the sudden loss of that wealth.

Though many have lost millions in stocks and stock options, she says she is seeing more resilience than despair.

"Some feel that the money wasn't theirs anyway. That it came too easily," she says. "And there is the sense that 'I blew it, but I can make it back.'"

As a group, she says, those in their 20s and early-to-mid 30s appear to be coping better than those over 35 who are more likely to have families to support and more experience with job loss.

"The younger ones have the energy and drive, and the sense that they can come back and do it again," she says. "Many of the 29-year-olds that I see are going back to school. They are going back for the MBAs that didn't seem important before, realizing that they need more substantial resumes."

Older workers are more likely to experience depression, self-doubt, and fear, DiFuria says. They are more hesitant to take the next step and are more likely to blame themselves for their failures.

"There is a lot of second-guessing and Monday-morning quarterbacking," she says. "People in their 40s and 50s who have had tremendous successes and have fallen are more likely to feel responsible. There is a sense that they should have seen it coming and should have gotten out sooner. There is a lot more fear and a lot more humility."

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