Since the announcement of our imminent hostile takeover by Swiss Heritage, things have been decidedly testy at Integrity Asset Management’s HK offices. I almost took a trip to Singapore just to escape the gloom, but then Cindy, our loveable Asian equity PM, made a trip here to get away from the same misery over there. Much to the increasingly demanding April’s chagrin, I took Cindy out for lunch.

I hadn’t expected scintillating conversation – some people are best seen and not heard after all – but for the entire hour Cindy sat and fiddled with her smartphone, occasionally laughing out loud (LOL) or audibly expressing disbelief (OMG) at whatever her textual partner was writing.

How rude, I thought, n msgd April re my annoyance >:O.  Then I glanced around the busy restaurant, one of the city’s more salubrious venues. Almost everyone sat at tables for two; almost everyone was concentrating on their phone and thumbing vigorously; three people picked awkwardly at salads, seemingly unaware of the fervent virtual networking going on around them. An eerie silence fell across the room, the only noise the click-clicking of BlackBerry buttons

This, dear diary, is the new sound of job-seeking. All of these people are on the market. I know because it’s exactly the behaviour I’ve seen in most of my colleagues in the past couple of weeks. If I were CEO, these are some clues I’d look out for to see if my staff are about to do a runner.

LinkedIn requests
Seen a sharp increase in LinkedIn friend requests recently? I’d bet dollars to donuts that every headhunter in Asia has since the start of the year. People you’ve never spoken to in years coming out of the woodwork, with incredibly detailed statuses, employment histories? They don’t just want you to ‘like’ them – they want you to pay them!!

Business attire – on a Friday?
Ties and jackets, skirts and heels – noticed an increase in formal business-wear on dress-down Friday? They’re not dressing to impress clients or their current bosses, but rather for that all-important 8am interview or that 3pm coffee and chat. Friday afternoon is the obvious time to slip out unnoticed for an hour, but you can’t do that in jeans and a flowery shirt. On the plus side, those interview skirts are getting tighter and tighter.

Early-morning scrums for the FT/WSJ/AI
Finding it harder to get your 15 minutes with the office copy of AsianInvestor? Pages ripped out by the time you get your hands on FTfm? It’s intelligence gathering on a grand scale. If you can get anywhere near it, check out the browser history on that non-networked PC in the corner of the office – it will be a treasure trove of job-sites, web-based email accounts and competitor’s online addresses.

Disappearing USB sticks
Remember all those 4GB thumb-drives the dummies in marketing ordered last year, supposedly to give to clients but which ended up gathering dust in the cupboards? You go try finding one of those little puppies today – all gone, no doubt loaded up with client lists, internal memos and strategy plans. It’s only stealing if it’s work that someone else had done, right?

Pacific Coffee profits through the roof
Try getting a seat in any coffee shop in Central (and I’d bet it’s the same in Singapore’s CBD, downtown Seoul, Taipei, KL and Shanghai) between the hours of 8am and 7pm – those places are jam-packed with anxious-looking execs, smug-looking headhunters and harassed-looking baristas. Four times this week, I’ve had to fork out the extra $20 and take Mimi to the more up-market Italian place. It’ll be worth it, she assures me – her client is very interested in my profile.

Cough
Excuses, alibis, pretexts and rationalisations: people get very creative at this time of the year. It’s those who use their children as an excuse that I have the most trouble with. ‘Little Timmy had to go to the doctor’, ‘my baby turned a funny colour’ – have some respect, people, this is what maids and nannies are for!

At the top end of the spectrum, look out for brief and hastily arranged international trips. High-fliers like yours truly might be summoned to New York with very little notice – these arrangements take real imagination. In fact, as I write this, I’m wondering if Cindy really came all this way just for a social-networking lunch with her favourite sales-guy…?

Delays and deferrals
I’m a lot closer to the top of the corporate ladder than the bottom, but I’ve even noticed some concerning behaviour in those ranks above me. This is far less of a worry – I’d much rather take on work from above me than from below. But you will no doubt witness an increasing sluggishness in management activity, difficult decisions being put on hold and awkward conversations being pushed back. And, as a corollary to the previous point, nobody is making business trips to those less glamorous spots at the moment – I think you all know where I mean…

So with bonuses being paid out this month and next, these are the signs you need to watch out for, or possibly to avoid creating yourself. I get back to the office and head directly for April’s desk, but there’s no sign of her. Even the ubiquitous L’Occitane handcream is missing. I check my BlackBerry and there’s a message: Went 2 starb w friend – c u l8r.  When will that girl ever learn?

William T. Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in “RFP Diary”. Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will’s adventures continue fortnightly.