Having your cake and eating it

It’s my birthday this week. Nothing unusual about that. I tend to have one around this time every year.

Also celebrating a birthday this week was a Mr Yaya Toure of Manchester. In case you don’t know Mr Toure, he is a professional footballer of some repute and plays for a team just crowned champions of England. Mr Toure is apparently the highest paid footballer in England earning in excess of £220,000 a week plus bonuses based on success. He’ll be getting a big bonus this summer I fancy.

Now, let’s just let that hang there for a second.

£220,000 base, or around $430,000 New Zealand dollars per WEEK. Just to put it in context, that’s more than our Prime Minister and many CEO’s here earn over a year. Giving

Mr Toure has now decided he might like to leave his club because he feels unloved and disrespected by his employer. Why does he feel like this? Because no one from the club gave him a hug or a birthday cake on his birthday if his Twitter stream and agent are to be believed. At the time he was on a celebratory club trip to Abu Dhabi where he no doubt travelled first class and stayed in a luxury hotel.

This is the same disrespectful employer who gave him a new extended four year contract just 12 months ago.

Mr Toure and many of his ilk are the reason I no longer feel the same obsessive love and passion for football that I used to, and why the badge kissing antics of these appalling mercenaries leaves me cold. And why I can’t respect or admire these people despite their undoubted talent.

But isn’t this just an extreme example of what is now prevalent in our workplaces? Are we not making a rod for our own backs by providing more and more to employees in the way of benefits that never used to be provided?

Amidst all the fuss about Mr Toure and his cake, no one has mentioned that actually a man who earns 12 million quid a year should probably be shouting the whole club and all its employees to a piece of cake or even a party, or think it odd that he should react that way. Is it really an employer’s job to recognise the birthday of a very expensive hired gun?

Most companies in this country now provide free fruit for their staff, they might have monthly or weekly Friday drinks, they provide wellness programmes, they offer paid volunteer leave, perhaps an extra day of leave on your birthday, subsidised or reduced health insurance. Some provide many more and increasingly attractive benefits.

We’ve done it over the years to create a competitive edge, but the more employers give the more employees take and it becomes an expectation. So by doing all this have we just created a culture of entitlement? Are we getting a return on our investment? Staff are arguably less loyal than they’ve ever been.

I have worked in both the public and private sectors. I know what it is like to pay for my own work Christmas lunch, buy a ticket to the staff party, hand over any freebies given to me by a supplier because it is unethical to take them. I know what it’s like to bring my own tea and milk to work because my employer didn’t provide that. I also know what it’s like to have all that and more provided for me, including an on site barista.

The world of work is generally a much better place than 20 years ago, and I’m all for employers treating their staff in a more humane and respectful way. After all, we demand and expect a lot more of them these days than we did back then and we try to create more of an inclusive family culture in our workplaces.

But have we gone too far? Have we crossed the line between not giving enough and giving too much? Are the lines between work and home becoming too blurred, or are we simply doing what we have to do to attract an increasingly mobile workforce not retain them?

Most would argue that football has created an obscene culture in which this sort of behaviour is not considered unacceptable and where the best players often hold their clubs to ransom. Common sense, loyalty and ethics disappeared with terracing, rosettes and black football boots.

Are we now busy creating the same legacy for business? Will we look back in ten years time and wonder we why offered so much to those who come and go in the blink of an eye?

I would love to know what you think. Go on, it’s my birthday. Show some respect.

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11 thoughts on “Having your cake and eating it

  1. Love it Richard and you’re right, of course. I couldn’t believe the Toure saga, but it got me thinking the same thing. He shouldn’t be whingeing about the cake (although a good leader would have known it and recognised it), he should be thanking the owners for being allowed to be part of such a great set up and to get paid a ridiculous amount to do so! Ultimately I think that it’s down to the people you are dealing with. I can’t imagine James Milner reacting in the same way…

  2. Hi Richard
    Great post, as always.
    I won’t comment on Toure or professional football as the whole edifice puts me in such a towering rage, I fear I might write something intemperate.
    On the subject of employee benefits, I do think the pendulum may have swung too far. There is a gulf opening between the haves and have nots, a focus on the latest wheeze at the expense of something infinitely more important but much harder to achieve. If motivational posters the world over are to be believed, happiness lies in meaningful work. Employers struggle to define true meaning in the work it provides to their employees. As an alternative, they try to inject happiness through other means (free fruit, massages, slides, concierge etc). Employees are not so dumb that they can’t see the trade off but over time, meaningfulness shifts to the fringe benefits and they become an expectation and in some places a de facto contractual right. A wellness programme costs a lot but its cheaper than actually looking after your employees. And free donuts on a Friday ain’t really what looking after your people is all about.

    1. Thank you Simon and you have beautifully expanded on and articulated a key point about meaningfulness at work. Employees (if you ask them) will often tell you money is way down their list of priorities for happiness at work. A fair deal yes, but the amount is almost secondary to enjoying and loving what they do.

  3. Great post Richard…I’ve been wondering the same of late as I’ve documented and reviewed what my company provides to employees. In doing so, we’ve cut back on a few areas, and streamlined others. I’ve been amazed by the response from some employees and pleasantly surprised by others!

    And agree with your sentiments Simon!

  4. Happy (belated) birthday!

    A few years ago I was working for a company in the UK that provided employees with free fruit. Needing to find some cost savings, the CEO decided that the fruit had to go (the management team warned him that this would not be a popular decision, but he went ahead anyway). The result was a near revolt, with employees outraged that the company had so little value for them that it couldn’t stretch to a few bananas here and there! To his credit, the CEO responded by asking employees to find the equivalent cost saving elsewhere – and he was over-whelmed with responses that included things as simple as switching the automatic coffee machines off each night (it was a market research company, hence our employees were mostly youngish number crunchers!). Fruit was subsequently reinstated and employees felt their voices had been heard. Once the furore over ‘banana-gate’ had subsided, the management team sat down and had a good discussion about what it was we thought our employees valued, vs what they actually valued and it was a useful navel-gazing exercise that made us rethink how we coached line managers to show their appreciation. It wasn’t the fruit, so much as the feeling of being valued and cared for that employees were up in arms about.

    A couple of months later, the global crash happened and the fruit program was finally made redundant (as were quite a few employees!). But the lesson learned about expressing geniune appreciation for employees efforts stayed… well, at least for a few more months after that – until I too was handed my notice!

    1. Interesting point about the feeling of being valued. And perhaps it doesn’t matter if you earn $100 per week or $100,000 per week everyone just wants to feel appreciated?

  5. I have very similar feelings towards The Beautiful Game as you Richard and I think Yaya Toure is a wonderful player. I think he should stop and think about his roots if these reports are to be believed. I found this quote which sums up his childhood:

    “I just had a normal African childhood: We played football a lot, but it was always in the street and always without shoes. Boots were very expensive, and when there are seven in your family and you say you want to buy a pair, your father wants to kill you.”

    It’s sad what the money in the game has done to some individuals.

    You make some excellent points in your blog in a week where I have been debating with more than one client on whether a car parking space is a benefit or is just expected now in a package. I’m sure Yaya Toure gets one.

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