Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just another day in Britain PLC


I've always hated that term - "Britain PLC". I think the people who use it think they're being cool, like it's a hip way to refer to the country. Business and branding are sexier than dull old concepts like statehood and nationality.

That's one reason I hate it. The other is that it strips us of something very important. PLCs have stakeholders, workers and customers. Whichever one you are, the relationship you have is purely a financial one. If you're a shareholder, you can buy or sell your shares and your influence in the company is directly proportional to how much money you've spent on those shares. If you're an employee you get paid for the work you do. You can leave the company if you wish, or you could be fired. And if you're a customer, you have a choice of companies from which to buy.

When we talk about "Britain PLC", I'm not sure which of these relationships is meant to be the parallel of being a citizen, but none of them are suitable. A PLC answers only to its shareholders. A country has other responsibilities that go way beyond the financial. Citizens have rights that are nothing to do with financial clout. And I worry that we forget that by trying to sex the whole thing up.

The trouble is, we see everything in financial terms. I just received a press release that talks about how it's all very well chilling out over Christmas, but if we're not careful it could take as long as a week to get back up to speed in January, and this would of course be a bad thing for the economy.

I wonder how many surveys there are each year that warn of days lost due to hangovers, or long lunches, or duvet days? When it snowed in February all we heard was how much it was costing the economy because people couldn't get in to work. I've seen surveys of how much nicking post-it notes and paper clips costs the economy, how much using personal e-mail or twittering or booking your holiday at work costs the economy. And every few weeks there's a new calculation of how much drinking alcohol costs the economy.

You know the calculation I've never seen? Anywhere? How much profit the economy makes from people having a sandwich at their desk instead of taking a lunch hour. How much profit we make from people with Blackberries and mobile phones taking work calls and answering work emails 24/7. How much Britain PLC has profited this year from people working unpaid overtime because they fear for their job security.

I once did a job where I had a contract that said my working hours were 9am to 5pm. Most people rolled in about 9.30 but worked till 7. I got in at 8 and left at 6, so I was working longer hours than most people, who were in turn working longer than the stated hours on the contract. But most people weren't there to see the work I did in the morning. I was called in for a chat in which I was told if I continued to leave a mere one hour later than my stated working hours, I'd be given more work to do. Clearly, I was expected to do this extra work for free.

I think it's fascinating that when an industrial dispute escalates, one of the measures unions sometimes take is 'work to rule' - that is, workers stop doing all the work they do for free, make sure they take all their benefits, coffee breaks, full lunch breaks and so on, and follow health and safety rules to the letter. Employers consider this - only doing the work you are paid to do - as being almost as bad as a strike.

So what is our generosity towards Britain PLC worth then, eh? Come on, let's have a figure for that.

I'm no economist, but I imagine it more than pays for the time we take off when we're hungover or when we twitter from work.


  1. Welcome to the real world of work!
    Try looking at the Asian work ethos and despair

  2. Completely agree Pete - like you, for a while I started at 8, but the govenors minds only start when they cross the threshold.....maybe that´s why I´m self employed now :)
    (in between reading PB´s books)