First you hear the rumors; it always gets out. The meeting rooms upstairs are all booked. HR staff seem to be everywhere, often deep in conference with the line guys. Then people start getting calls. They leave the trading floor - and never return. It's brutal, but there's probably no other way to do it.
And our gallows humor aside, it's awful to watch. The guys who have been selected usually know that it's coming. We all work out where we are in the pecking order - a 10% cut and I'll be fine, a 15% cut and I'll just make it, a 20% and I'm vulnerable. And when the layoffs actually start, word goes round the trading floor like a wild fire.
No one does much work when the 'body count' starts; you're either a victim, or an interested spectator. And it's always the same MO. The phone rings, and the guy receiving the call (it's always a guy on our floor) stops dead in his tracks. He lets it ring for a while, before slowly lifting the receiver and bringing it up to his ear. He never says anything, just listens. He grunts in acknowledgment that he has understood his instructions, replaces the receiver and slowly stands up from his desk.
He keeps his head down, avoiding eye-contact with the rest of us; he's ashamed; he's failed; he didn't make the cut. He quickly puts on his jacket, then furiously rifles through his drawers, taking anything of importance and throwing it unceremoniously into his open briefcase. He then takes one final look around his desk, and will usually (rather bizarrely) turn off his screens. He knows he'll never be back. He's done his final trade.
He heads for the elevator, but there are no 'goodbyes'. Still he avoids eye-contact, while the rest of us pretend to be busy, but watch every step he takes until the elevator doors close and he is finally whisked away. From that moment on, he's history. It's all eyes on his desk now (and one chancer will always run over and nab one of his screens), and after a quick glance at his empty chair, we take in the whole trading floor, exchanging eye contact with those who remain, but seeing fear in the eyes of those who know that their number will soon be up too.
Even after all these years, and witnessing events like this many many times, I still get sick to my stomach watching it all unfold. But there's nothing you can do about it, except thank the Lord that it was some other guys that got canned this time around - and not you.