I have been instructed to slash costs in my department. Last week I put out a memo detailing cuts, among which was axing free biscuits and coffee at weekly bonding sessions. Since then I have had a succession of people marching into my office complaining that morale is being destroyed and that the tea and biscuits were a vital part of the culture. It makes me extremely angry that they should be so petty about biscuits when people are going to lose their jobs. Yet this really seems to have hit a nerve. What can be done to rectify it?
Manager, male, 42
Oh dear. It sounds as if you got it the wrong way round. You axed the biscuits but kept the weekly bonding sessions, whereas what you should have done was keep the biscuits but axe the bonding. To insist that people bond at a particular time each week is a mad idea, especially as now your underlings are so aggrieved that any bonding will be an opportunity to make effigies of you and stick pins in them.
As for the biscuits and coffee, you have made the classic management mistake of assuming that trivial things are trivial and therefore don’t matter.
The reason all hell always breaks out over biscuits is not in spite of their triviality, but because of it. Biscuits are an emotional issue. In one place I worked, there were free biscuits; and even having them caused some resentment, as one colleague always used to get to the plate first and snaffle the chocolate ones. But getting rid of them caused a revolt.
The thinking of your “petty” staff goes something like this: if management can’t even fork out for a few grammes of fat and sugar per person per week, then it evidently doesn’t care.
So you have screwed up badly on the symbolic front. Worse, you have screwed up strategically, too. Now every single benefit that you have yourself – every cab ride or lunch out, and lord help you if you have a company car – will cause massive resentment.
You have a choice.Either cut absolutely everything and put the company on a survival footing. Or bring back the biscuits.
Some readers think that it looks weak to change your mind. This is ridiculous. It is much weaker to stick to a bad policy for the sake of it. And when you perform your U-turn, don’t communicate by memo. Tell them the good news face to face over a weak brown brew and a Jammie Dodger.