The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Needs a Hankie

anovick 009 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Needs a HankieA couple of weeks ago, Ridgewood, N.J., lost power after a weekend of heavy rain and wind. Not far from the front entrance of St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church on Fairmont Road, several trees had fallen across the road like leafy corpses. Inside, two meetings were going on in the dark: one, a prayer group reciting Our Fathers; the other, a support group for men. It was 9 in the morning.

Ridgewood’s Men in Transition group—not to be confused with a Men in Transition support group for teenage fathers in Minnesota or Men in Transition for jailed inmates in Texas or Men in Transition for men going through divorces in Seattle—is for men who have been laid off from their high-paying Manhattan jobs in business and finance.

On the second floor, in a plain room with gray carpeting, six men pushed smaller tables together to form one large conference-room-size table and took a seat. Usually, there would be more, explained the group’s founder, Paul Anovick, guessing that a few members had awoken in their dark homes and assumed the meeting was off.

Mr. Anovick (or “Coach Anovick,” as he calls himself on his Web site) is a Man who Transitioned a few years ago from a career in TV broadcasting to become a motivational speaker. Coach Anovick, dressed in a cheery yellow cable-knit sweater and jeans, is a man of medium height with arched eyebrows, a sharp nose and a round face. He is 64 but looks 54 and has the energy of a 44-year-old. “So Rob, why don’t we start with you today?” he began.

They wouldn’t be comfortable speaking with women in the room.’ —Coach Paul Anovick, TV broadcaster–turned–motivational speaker

Rob, 44, sitting across the table from Coach Anovick, was also wearing jeans, and a light black jacket. (The men asked to be identified only by their first names so that potential employers would not find this during investigatory Googling.) “I went last week,” Rob said, but then began talking anyway. A year ago, Rob was laid off from a marketing job and has since been consulting for a California-based e-commerce company, but he’s growing frustrated; his new employer keeps extending his contract but won’t give him a permanent position.

“So why are you negotiating with these guys?” asked Coach Anovick. “You’re negotiating because you don’t have options. But even when you don’t, you have to believe you have options. Negotiating from a position of strength is often in our heads and in our hearts.”

Phillip, 66, who, like Rob, is from the nearby town of Saddle River (median family income: $152,169), and who used to be the CEO of a small Manhattan bank, had a question for Rob: “Let me ask you: What is your family prepared to sacrifice?” Phillip was the only one dressed in a suit and tie.

“I’ve thought about all of what you all just said, and I think I have a tendency to make things look worse than they are,” Rob said. “To answer your question, I don’t want to move my family out to northern California if it’s not going to work out.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” said Coach Anovick. “Sometimes by identifying what you’re not going to do, you can focus on what you will do.”

 

IN THE FALL of 2008, shortly after the fall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns, the pastor at St. Elizabeth’s began to pray for members of his congregation who had lost jobs. Coach Anovick, a member of the church, suggested he could provide more than spiritual support. He scheduled the first Men in Transition meeting in January 2009, right around the time experts reported that 82 percent of those laid off were men, while the proportion of working women had barely changed. Three men showed up. “A lot of that catharsis took place in the first half of ’09 with the finance guys,” Coach Anovick said. “They had this shared experience of losing the routine of their lives, like not going to the train station or standing in the supermarket at 9 a.m. and then not knowing what to do.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has barely moved in the past month, but the objective of the group has become more optimistic: to look ahead, get jobs and, one hopes, become men who are no longer in transition.