Working for nothing isn't always good for the soul

26 June 2009

When British Airways asked its 40,000 staff to work unpaid, by yesterday only 800 had accepted the unwelcome invitation. I don’t know if the 800 included Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, who agreed to forego his £62k - but whether it’s 799 or 800 - I’m not going to split hairs.

At least five per cent of BA’s employees have read the signs - the most obvious of which was the £401m annual loss posted in March this year. And a further 6,000 workers have signed up to one of the company’s euphemistically labelled ‘cost-saving schemes’ to plug the gap partially left by the executives who have been dragged kicking and screaming out of their seats in business class - to join the rest of us listening to the baby screaming and kicking in economy.

And yesterday, in the criminally insane world of football, Southampton was the latest club to give its staff unpleasant news on payday. But again, this was hardly surprising as the football club’s holding company, Southampton Leisure Holdings, went into administration in May.

In this new reality (PR speak for recession) we find ourselves in we are going to have to make tough decisions for some time to come. Whether the new reality is ‘L’ or ‘W’ shaped there will doubtless be more bloodshed. But the businesses that prosper will invariably strengthen on the back of committed and motivated people.

But cutting salary costs without putting the wind up your employees needs to be carefully executed.

  • Start early. You need to manage your money on a daily basis, but understand your cash flow for the next twelve months.
  • Communicate your plans to your people with transparency and honesty. They will stay loyal and motivated if you discuss their contribution to the company’s sustainability before they read about the business in the press, or take a call from an angry creditor.
  • In a unionised environment engage with the union representatives in meaningful consultation.
  • Have a clear strategy to ride out the storm, and always with a plan B.

And if you get to the stage where you’re asking people to work for nothing, it might just be too late. Goodwill is one thing, expecting your workers to forage for berries is quite another.

….. And speaking of frugality - was anyone else tutting at those cheeky scamps at RBS scoffing £300k worth of (our) strawberries and champagne in the hospitality suites at Wimbledon this week? A spokesman for the belligerent bankers said that the corporate jolly was for customers not staff – and anyway it was a contract that they couldn’t get out of …. yeah right.

I thought selling a deal on at a discount, or collapsing it and taking a loss was standard banking practice these days. Silly me.

Posted  26 June 2009


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