Christopher Morgan spent 18 years with Shell in a career which took him from London to Holland, Surinam, Peru, Morocco and Ghana. On the way he picked up Dutch, Spanish and French, not to mention a wife and three kids. But the tough life of a project manager, setting up a gold mine in Ghana, finally decided Morgan that it was time to end his nomadic existence. He was based in Accra, earning a handsome salary, but was constantly having to abandon his family to travel up-country. "My three-year-old boy would tug on my trousers as I was leaving and say 'You're not going again'. It was very hard."
So Morgan resigned from the project in Ghana, in the knowledge that his contract with Shell required the company to offer him alternative employment. But three months in the London office produced no opportunities. "They were fair to me," says Morgan, sitting in the elegant offices of outplacement consultant Drake Beam Morin. In addition to professional counselling, he walked away with two years' salary.
That was last September and since then Morgan has had a number of interviews but no job offers. Part of the problem in Morgan's view is a stereotype perception of "the multinational guy". "People think 'Oh, he's a Shell guy, he may be pompous or arrogant.' And you have to say 'I'm a hands-on man and I'm willing to learn'."
Another attitude creeping in is a bias against service with a single employer. Moving too often used to be seen as a bad sign; now it is considered aggressive and go-getting.
But Morgan remains optimistic, living with his family in a two-bedroomed flat, waiting for the next move. Of his former employer he reckons: "Shell is a bit top heavy now. They got rid of a lot of the bottom people."
Sam Vernon (not his real name) spent 23 years at BP. He worked his way up through the organisation, from graduate trainee to managing director of a BP subsidiary on a salary of £45,000. Things seemed to be going fine, until the summer of 1990 when Vernon's company was sold to a competitor. As MD, he was closely involved in the sale and knew that he was effectively negotiating himself out of a job. But in a company as large as BP he fully expected to find something else.
"One of the reasons why you join BP is the prospect of being looked after all your working life," he says. "The company effectively developed my career for me. I've never chosen a job; they've put things to me every two to three years."
But this time round, after six months of doing other things around BP, nothing emerged. "The hardest thing is the feeling that it could go on and on. We gave ourselves a time limit - 31 January - and when nothing turned up I was asked to leave. it was a mutual decision," he says. "But there's an inevitable disappointment and it's a bit of a blow to the ego."
Three months later Vernon is reviewing his options with the help of outplacement consultant Sanders and Sidney. He seems remarkably positive. "I've felt a degree of liberation," he says. "I want to explore fresh opportunities. Behind the trauma of losing a job, people welcome the imposed opportunity."
Life has been made easier by a generous settlement from BP. But with a wife and three young kids, Vernon is not free of financial worries. Little things create tensions. "Our fridge-freezer is breaking down. When you have a regular income you just go out and buy another one but now maybe we'll just have a 'fixit' job done to keep it going another few months."