Posted on 12.11.14
Regular readers of my Downton “employment law” blog will recall a sense that, as the latest series meanders on to its conclusion, the Downton estate employers upstairs have been getting ever more dewy-eyed in their approach to the staff downstairs. In the final episode of the current series, we saw Lord and Lady Grantham dashing to the defence of just-arrested lady’s maid, Anna, and offering to get their lawyer on the case. We also saw Lord Grantham going out of his way to ensure that a fitting Remembrance Day memorial was made to Archie (nephew to head cook Mrs Patmore) who had been shot for cowardice in WW1 after he had deserted his post with shell-shock. So, although the servants may well be at the beck and call of their lordships and ladyships, they do sometimes benefit from a certain – discretionary – generosity of spirit. And when we look at the more senior serving staff it seems that they also benefit from a job for life.
These days, it’s still possible to occasionally come across a “paternalistic” approach to employees, perhaps in certain long-standing family-run businesses and sometimes even in the public sector (I have seen it!). But does anyone really have a job for life anymore? We all know people who may think they have a job for life only to have that illusion shattered when the order books can no longer support them or when the next round of public spending cuts brings in the restructuring teams. For most employees these days, there is no such expectation.
Similarly, employers’ expectations have also changed over the last 20 years or so. It used to be the case that you would turn up for an interview and try to impress your interviewer with your commitment to staying with them for decades and working your way right to the top. The more sophisticated employers in today’s market recognise that employees are likely to move on, maybe in 3,4,5 years, through no fault of either party. Those employers will seek to engage and retain the best talent, at the same time recognising that the market has changed and that if employees move on they should leave with positive memories of their time with them. Some employers are very active in pushing their official alumni groups and I’m a member of one such group. Alumni can, after all, make very cost-effective advocates for somewhere they’ve been treated well!
Don’t get me wrong, there are still many organisations out there who pride themselves on the longevity and loyalty of their employees and quite rightly so. Take the example of the Vernon Building Society, a business local to us here in Stockport and South Manchester. They are regularly to be seen in the local press handing out awards to long-serving employees. Long-standing customers like to have relationships with long-standing employees, especially where they are looking after your finances! But, just as the world of Downton Abbey is seeing rapid social change, employers in 2014 are having to address the new cultural norm whereby employee mobility has become a fact of life.
Finally, with series 5 having come to an end, someone here at Gorvins has suggested I blog live through the Downton Christmas special. I’m off to have a look at my contract….