We recently employed a nanny and it did not go well. Firstly, she turned out to be economical with the truth which is never an endearing quality for someone you invite to live in your home. Secondly, although her main duty was to look after the needs of our newborn baby son whilst his mum recovered from surgery, she had a strange habit of leaving the baby to wail whilst she chatted on her mobile phone with her friends or surfed the internet.
Initially we dropped hints then we became more direct in our comments to her and finally after weeks of tolerating this kind of behaviour, my wife reprimanded the nanny and told her that if she wanted to stay, she had to change her ways. It turns out that she did not want to do either and with no notice she packed her bags and walked out literally leaving a convalescing mother holding the baby.
Morph forwards a couple of weeks and the anticipated letter from the ‘no win no fee’ lawyer landed on the doormat outlining the reasons why we owe the departed nanny the balance of her contract. It turns out, according to them, that it was in fact my wife and I who had been unreasonable in our behaviour and expectations which had led to this poor nanny having no option but to leave. The episode loses momentum thereafter but I am left with an over-riding sense of déjà vue.
Having been an employer for over 15 years now I cannot help but feel that during that time there has been a very noticeable slide in what can only be described as ‘work ethic’ and standards. Sure, there have always been bad apples around and I have know my fair share but the employers I talk to (and I speak to a great many) have an ever increasing number of war stories about bad behaviour in the work place.
For a while now sociologists and HR practitioners alike have been coming up with explanations. Sadly, whenever I hear them talking about for example, ‘generation Y’, I am left unconvinced. Why? Because when they list the needs and wants of the current generation it is basically the same list I made when I graduated in the 1980’s and doubtless would be similar to that of a graduate of the 70’s or even the 60’s. Sorry to disagree with the perceived wisdom of the ‘inteligencia’ but I have a different theory.
Standards in any organisation are set from the top down and sadly our track record in this country does not shine out as a beacon of best practise. Some years ago the press referred to it as ‘sleaze’ and now it is ‘standards in public life’.
Looking at recent examples let’s start with MP’s expenses. What is now dismissed as a problem associated with a ‘few bad apples’ actually resulted in around 10% of MP’s effectively losing their jobs and more than 80% having to make repayments of one sort or another. It was in fact systematic and widespread abuse of what was a very generous expenses scheme in the first place.
We were told that it was a way for long suffering MP’s to bolster their low incomes but the fact that the basic salary of an MP already puts them in the top 15% of UK income earners even before you consider the additional earnings which many secure during their term in office, seems to have washed over the MP’s themselves.
I was also left wondering when it became the ‘done thing’ to become a Member of Parliament with the objective of personal gain being on the agenda ahead of ‘public service’. Like lots of other people who spend time away from home because of work, I wondered why the rules on expenses set out by the Inland Revenue seemed to apply to all 60 plus millions inhabitants of the UK apart from the 1,000 or so PM’s and Peers who occupy the palace of Westminster.
How about the exploits of our senior bankers who at no point have said ‘sorry we messed up and thank you for £15,000 of debt each and every UK household has taken on to keep us in business.’ Instead, they have looked to pass the blame on whilst continuing to argue their case for paying massively inflated reward packages to people who basically make money using our money as their asset base.
And finally what no doubt will become referred to as something like ‘Wappingate’ in the future. So far two of our most senior police officers have been forced to resign over and countless others are implicated. We now know that some newspapers editors were prepared to go to literally any means to chase a story and day by day we are learning that for many years the people involved right at the centre of this affair, have been walking the corridors of power in this country hand in hand with our most senior politicians being entertained at the taxpayers’ expense.
Corruption, bad practise, cronyism and at the very least, turning a blind eye seems to be at the heart of the power broking community and this has been happening in our own backyard rather than in some third world country. It seems to me that the example being set at the top of the organisation in recent years suggests it is OK to be self serving and to bend the rules as long as you don’t get caught.
So should I be surprised at the actions of my nanny or am I really in her and others just seeing the fruits of a society led by a few at the top who seem to have become confused about where the line between good and bad behaviour really sits?
I have been running a training workshop for years now helping to equip managers with better skills to recruit their own teams. One of the exercises’ involves hypothetically finding a sum of money in the street and asking people whether they would take it or not.
The results never fail to interest me. Most people will pocket someone else’s money but they have an emotional and moral threshold beyond which they will not go which is normally somewhere between £5 and £10. They see it as just being their lucky day. Others are less concerned about the fact that someone else has lost the cash and might feel it is OK to pick up say £100.
Very occasionally you come across the mercenary who sees it as their personal lottery win and shows no scruples regardless of the sums involved.
I am pleased to share that this very arbitrary little exercise has been producing the same kind of results for years now which suggest to me that there are no real signs of the common man and woman becoming more lax about their standards of right and wrong.
As for the political and economic elite of this country, perhaps they need to reflect on that oldest of sayings, ‘all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We really are bored of hearing them tell us that they are taking steps to get their own house in order. Actions in this instance really do speak louder than words ladies and gentleman so please, stop talking and start doing.
And what about the nanny? Let’s just call her a bad apple and leave it at that.