Editor's take: Goodbye to gardening leave

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Forget redundancies and a shortage of jobs, the real shock from any slowdown in hiring will be the sudden demise of the three-month break.

Once upon a time, gardening leave was precisely that - an opportunity to get up close and personal with the dahlias. Of late, however, bankers between jobs have been more likely to use periods of exclusion from work for more intrepid endeavours.

Rumour has it that bankers in legal limbo can be found doing anything from cooking in high-class restaurants to traveling the world in the guise of impoverished backpackers (albeit with Gore-tex undergarments) or studying yachtmaster courses in the South of France.

"It's become a lifestyle decision," says one ex-banker. "People think of resigning purely because it will give them time off to go traveling. I know a guy who left his job in the summer and is midway through a tour that started in Samoa and has taken in Fiji and Melbourne."

Circumnavigating financiers have Merrill Lynch to thank. Back in the day, notice periods were as little as one month. But the US bank increased notice periods to three months in 2005, prompting others to the same. Managing directors at Morgan Stanley have been on notice periods of six months for the past few years, while Soc Gen increased notice periods for its derivatives staff to five months in 2006.

With most houses a) imposing restrictions on a leaver's ability to start a new job until his or her notice period is up, and b) preventing them from carrying on in an existing role for fear they'll be party to strategically sensitive material, notice periods have become a rare opportunity for doing no work (and, dare we say it, having fun).

Not any more. Now that layoffs are back on the cards and new jobs are set to become less easy to come by, gardening leave is liable to become a rare luxury. For those who don't get axed, a period of hard slog is around the corner.

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