Reckless, feckless and feral employer is all talk, talk


The British broadband company’s ‘Brighter Basics’ values is in stark contrast with its treatment of workers

WHOSE PARTICULAR splodge of corporate bullshit is this?

“Our people are central to the success of [the company] and we have embarked on a program to make the business ‘A Brighter Place for Everyone’. We want our people to feel included, respected and most importantly enjoy their jobs and be passionate about the great culture we share within our work environment. We want to recognise our people for doing great work and helping to drive our business forward.”

Have you guessed already? No? Here’s another hint: “Successful delivery of our strategy is not just about what we plan to do, it’s also about how we do it. The way people work together and the culture we develop is a crucial element to our success. Through the course of this year, we have developed our Brighter Basics – five core values that define what kind of team we aspire to be. They define our aspirations as a way of daily life, they capture what makes [the company] unique, and will guide us in implementing our plans to make [us] a brighter place for everyone.”

You surely recognise this wonderful company by now, but here’s one last hint. The Brighter Basics number four is “People: We encourage honesty, ideas and action.”

Number five is “Community: We believe that our people and our products can make our community a better place.” The company expands on this latter principle: “We aim to use our position to engage, empower and support the communities around us”.

You’ve got it now. It’s TalkTalk, the delightful British broadband company that made Waterford a better place last week by dropping a large bomb on it in the shape of a redundancy notice for 575 workers. It didn’t have the courtesy to give the Government any notice of its intentions. It didn’t try to soften the blow by pulling out over a reasonable period of time, so that workers could try to make plans and State agencies could try to come up with alternatives. It just curtly announced that it’s shutting up shop in four weeks. Some workers learned of their fate on Facebook, others on the radio. As Barry O’Leary of the IDA put it, it was “as bad as it gets in terms of company behaviour”.

But there must be some mistake here. TalkTalk is all about engagement and communication. Its corporate and social responsibility review tells us that “employee engagement, the extent to which employees are psychologically and emotionally attached to their work, positively influences customer satisfaction and productivity. Our last survey results registered an engagement score of 74 per cent.” Furthermore, “keeping our people informed of developments and the company’s progress, whilst enabling them to engage in two-way communication, has been a strong feature this year at TalkTalk.

‘Dido’s Blog’ [Dido is the chief executive, Dido Harding] has become a weekly personalised account of the chief executive officer’s experiences, with key messages to the workers. Employees are free to post comments on the blog anonymously should they prefer not to include their details. This is reinforced by ‘Team Talk’, a weekly set of messages designed to enable managers to share information with their teams in a consistent manner.”

We now know that behind this nauseating bilge, TalkTalk didn’t give a fiddler’s fart for the workers who, as it acknowledged, had “shown huge dedication and care in serving our customers over the years”. It couldn’t care less if Waterford and its “community” crumbles into the sea. Even if it decided that its bottom line was better served by closing the Waterford call centre, it could have made some effort to work with its employees, the Government and the city to mitigate the damage – but it simply couldn’t be bothered. It is reckless, feckless and feral.

Yet this epitome of irresponsibility is also a paragon of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). Suppose you are an investor with a conscience and you want to put your money into a company that behaves decently towards the environment, employees and the community – one of the main ways of doing this is the FTSE4Good Index, a version of the FTSE that focuses specifically on the most “socially responsible companies”.

Guess who has all the merit badges of this scout troop? TalkTalk proudly proclaims itself a “valued member of . . . the leading global responsible investment index”. This company may be “as bad as it gets” but it has managed to convince investors it’s as sweet as Little Orphan Annie.

This is why bullshit isn’t harmless. It’s evil. There are companies who really do try to behave responsibly. Why should they bother, though, when, as our aptly named friends have shown, TalkTalk is so cheap? There’s a whole industry in the corporate newspeak of CSR: people, empowerment, community, inclusion, team, communication. Its sole point is to dress up disempowerment. It is not accidental that it often functions as a substitute for trade unions: who needs a union when you can play for the team and read Dido’s Blog? It’s all perfectly lovely until it suits them to WalkWalk.

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