First casualty of war is the staff

13 November 2001 by
First casualty of war is the staff

Don't treat employees like light switches and turn them out, says Gordon Campbell Gray.

I feel bound to express my outrage and disappointment at the speed with which so many companies have announced redundancies after the tragedies of 11 September.

The rescue work had scarcely begun when the announcements started. Such brutality seems unfitting. All roads simply cannot race like an autobahn to the bottom line. There has to be some moral fibre in what we do and how we do it.

Staff simply cannot be treated like some commodity and turned on and off like a light switch. When you employ someone, you have to assume great responsibility for them, their careers and their future. There is enormous accountability and power which come with ownership or top management. These must be used well, and I am afraid that in too many cases they are not. There is too much fear - fear of not making budget, of not producing the right profits.

Is it too much to ask a CEO to have the courage to stand up in front of his shareholders and explain to them that profits are reduced because there is a war on? And is it too much to ask him to then assure them that they have invested in a firm which has maintained its workforce, has treated everyone well and, when the climate turns around, will be stronger than ever?

Perhaps they also need reminding that, for most companies, there have been many years of profit and success. Why can't more companies be honorable, and operate under a code based on honesty and integrity? Without these, you have nothing.

At One Aldwych, we took an immediate decision that there would be no redundancies at this time. The entire staff was advised of this very quickly. Our first desire was to have everyone feel secure at a time when there is so much uncertainty and fear. What else matters?

It was our unequivocal obligation to make such an announcement. The staff in turn have come up with a wonderful reinforcement of their loyalty and some amazing ways in which we can make savings as we batten down the hatches for the coming storm.

There is certainly a time when a company has to take drastic action to remain in business. But it is important that the people at the top look to their souls to check that they are behaving, I repeat, with honesty and integrity.

At the time of writing this, we are doing reasonably well. Business is down, but not too dramatically. The atmosphere is superb, the guests who come are happy to be here, and our flower arrangements are bigger than ever.

This is not in any way intended to be smug. I am only too aware that, first of all, we are lucky, and second, how easily the situation could change. Until such a time I see it as our moral responsibility to look after our staff. It is also our pleasure.

Gordon Campbell Gray is managing director of One Aldwych, London

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