by Magnus Shaw.
This week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a scheme whereby employees will be invited to give up some of their employment rights in exchange for company shares. You may think this is a tremendous idea or the most cynical labour relations policy in modern history. Either way, it does throw a recent email into sharp relief.
Keiran Allen was a senior account manager at media agency MEC. He joined in May 2010 and immediately made rapid and happy progress. His work was commended, his sales figures were impressive and his clients satisfied. Unsurprisingly, he soon caught the attention of a rival agency and decided to move on to further his fast-moving career. MEC obviously thought very highly of Allen, because they persuaded him to stay with a promotion and substantial pay rise. All deserved, all good. For a while.
As Keiran reports it, this was the turning point. When a few colleagues actually left, he was handed their accounts to look after - initially as a stopgap. But, as is so often the case, this drifted into a permanent arrangement. Essentially his workload had trebled. This impacted his health so severely he was forced to report to his GP, feeling himself on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Equally concerned, his doctor signed him off work indefinitely. Luckily, it only took two weeks for Keiran to feel rested, stronger and ready to return to the office. But he wasn't welcomed back. Quite the opposite.
His immediate manager blocked his bonus and put him on a warning for poor performance. He was told he was being 'monitored' because of his ill-health and his reputation was questioned. Concerned about other aspects of his manager's behaviour, Allen soon found himself isolated and distressed. Reluctantly he resigned.
Read his resignation letter.
A turn of events, largely outside Keiran Allen's control, had resulted in the loss of his job with a firm he respected and enjoyed. More importantly, the actions of one senior staff member had ruined his professional life.
The resignation letter soon found its way onto the internet and has since been read by millions across the world. This may have provided some moral satisfaction, but is hardly adequate compensation.
An MEC spokesperson has said: "We are sad that one of our employees has chosen to share their personal views in such a public way and has left the company with such bad feeling. We are taking this issue seriously though given the highly personal nature of the email, we cannot comment further."
I'm willing to bet a good few Creativepool readers have experienced or witnessed something similar. The creative industry can be overburdened with large egos, envy and power struggles. It's all too easy for the politics of a business to overshadow its creativity - and when this happens, people get hurt.
Fortunately, the UK carries robust, progressive employment laws. Hard-won over many decades, these are the rules which ensure employers treat their people with fairness, dignity and compassion. They entitle us all to fall sick without losing our jobs, to take a holiday without losing our income and to expect support and justice in the workplace. Should our employer fail to maintain these standards, we have the opportunity to seek redress. These regulations exist to afford us protection when things go wrong, as they did for Keiran Allen.
When I began to accept staff roles in the advertising business about twenty years ago, nobody imagined we would ever be without these rights. I took them for granted and so did my employers. They didn't interfere with the profitability of the company and simply allowed me to do my job with confidence and peace-of-mind (essential when your role depends on your ability to think clearly). But now there are rumblings, and indeed solid proposals, to undermine these basic safeguards. To my mind, offering employees shares in the company for which they work is an admirable idea. It provides a stake in the firm's success and an incentive to be productive, involved and loyal. However, to make those shares dependent on the surrender of those important rights, isÂ conniving, underhand and self-serving. It has nothing to do with co-ownership and everything to do with an unhealthy shift in the balance of power.
The exchange is a poor deal too. On accepting the shares, most employees will have little or no idea of their value and certainly no way of predicting their future performance. The shares may become almost worthless but those protections are unlikely to be re-instated.
Of course, you may disagree. Perhaps you feel your employment rights are an anachronism, irrelevant to your career and somewhat unnecessary. Possibly a handful of shares in your workplace are considerably more attractive than the chance to take action should you be treated unfairly by those for whom you work. Fair enough.
But if Keiran Allen ever thought that way, I doubt he does now.