For most commentators, Carillion’s liquidation was about how a superficially successful company could accrue such large debts or dwelt on the politics of how the government kept awarding Carillion contracts to deliver public services when it had already issued a profit warning.
If the impact on workers was considered at all, it was linked to Carillion’s failure to maintain its pension schemes, though again this was framed more in terms of political consequence than concern for the workers directly affected. Yet the most immediate impact of the collapse will be on the thousands of workers who might lose their jobs, those suppliers and contractors who rely on Carillion for work – including those connected to schools, hospital and prisons – and who will all now be fearing for the future as pensions are threatened.
Of course, financial worries are not isolated to this case. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) survey Financial Well-being: The employee view (2017) found that 19% of respondents are losing sleep at night because they are worried about money; more are making uninformed financial decisions, and even more face barriers to managing their finances, including lack of time and difficulty in understanding financial products and services.
Top of the CIPD’s suggestion is for employers to spend time in assessing the financial needs of their workforce. Those who are picking up the pieces of Carillion should look at factors that can impact on these needs, including the age of the workers, their salaries, their employment status, whether they have children or financial obligations. The worse thing will be to simply walk away.
With Carillion though, there is something more than financial worries to be considered. There is the sense of betrayal that will undoubtedly arise from the discovery that the company you thought you worked for, is not what it seems. It is one thing to work for a company that honestly ‘fails’ to survive in a competitive and tough market. It is another to believe that your company might have brought destruction upon itself.
To commentators, some of Carillion’s problems are not that surprising, with ongoing questions about blacklisting practices, the quality of employee relations or how it treated its suppliers and contractors. To many workers though, it will be a shock.
There are still nearly 20,000 Carillion workers whose fate is uncertain, as well as the many contractors who rely on them. The Official Receiver has still not set a date for an auction of Carillion’s assets, and the process to transfer contracts could take months. Given that evidence shows that the fear of losing your job is more damaging to your health than the event itself, it is hard to imagine how difficult this must be for all concerned. But even if Carillion is lost, it must now do the right thing by its workers to ease their fears.
Part of the liquidation process must include supporting workers to assess vulnerabilities and provide support. Its leadership team must step up to ensure that workers don’t feel driven to self-destructive behaviour in order to ‘prove’ themselves to be ‘good’ employees and save their job. If there has been a breakdown in trust, leaders must redouble their efforts to repair it.
With worrying ripples extending to other companies that have grown in tandem with the growth of public contracts, we can see again that the quality of these employee relationships – and crucially people’s safety, health and wellbeing – is a strong indicator of an organisation’s health. People must be at the heart of any business model; and the better people think and feel about their workplace, the more likely it is that the business will be successful. Investing in people’s welfare is something that the British Safety Council has always believed. It’s very disappointing that not everyone seems to get the message.
Mike Robinson is chief executive of the British Safety Council
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