'Not a laughing matter' | Royal Mail 'pay rise prank' makes a mockery of staff money worries

Royal Mail 'pay rise prank' makes a mockery of staff money worries

Royal Mail has apologised after an April Fool’s Day prank suggested employees were being given a pay rise.

Postal workers who are members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have been locked in dispute with bosses over pay and unagreed changes to terms and conditions, which has so far led to two strikes and ballots being held for further walkouts.

Amid the ongoing dispute, a poster appeared at Royal Mail’s Gloucester North delivery office, stating that the company was “pleased to announce” that an agreement had been reached with the union to instate an 11% pay rise, backdated to April 2022.

A new fleet of delivery vans and 10,000 new employees were also among the promises said to have been made by Royal Mail’s top brass.

Of course, the ‘news’ turned out to be nothing more than an April Fool’s Day prank, and in truth no such deal has been reached. The company has apologised over the stunt after it sparked outrage online.

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A spokesperson for Royal Mail said: "We apologise for any upset caused by this misjudged April Fool’s joke at one of our delivery offices. The poster was removed and the local manager has apologised.”

One worker dubbed the manager responsible as a “horrible human being”, while many called for them to be sacked.

The CWU said: “Throughout the postal workers’ strike, Royal Mail workplaces have seen managers engaging in unprecedented levels of intimidation against postal workers.

"For many employees, the workplace is now a completely toxic environment where nasty, tone-deaf ‘jokes’ such as these are considered culturally acceptable.”

Believable or not, pay rise prank risks making a mockery of workers’ worries

Many have pointed out that the timing of the ‘announcement’ should have been an immediate giveaway about its veracity, and that argument is more than fair. The news about hiring 10,000 new ‘telegram boys’ was enough to raise eyebrows – the role went out with the discontinuation of telegrams in the 1980s, and furthermore the company is actually planning to CUT 10,000 roles by the end of August 2023.

However, whether workers fell for the prank is neither here nor there – the bigger issue is that managers deemed such an important issue worthy of ridicule.

Indeed, one frustrated employee commented online: "It isn't a f**king joke, it's people's livelihoods. that manager should be f***ing sacked. I don't think it's a laughing matter. DO YOU?"

Another said: "Very unprofessional given the amount of stress the situation is putting people under."

And it would behove leadersat Royal Mail to realise the impact that financial stress can have on the workforce, for recent reports reveal that almost half of employers (46%) believe financial pressures are one of the main external factors affecting employee underperformance.

The survey conducted by employment law and HR consultancy firm, WorkNest, has also revealed that homeworking (17%), childcare responsibilities (14%), and time management (13%) were also cited as key factors affecting employee performance.

The survey also found that mental health and work-related stress were significant internal drivers of underperformance, with almost a third of employers (30%) identifying it as a cause for concern. In addition, ineffective leadership (28%), poor conduct (20%), and lack of formal training (15%) were uncovered as additional factors affecting employee performance.

“Employers must recognise that financial pressures due to the rising cost of living are now a major factor in employee underperformance,” said Danielle Scott, Employment Law Adviser and Solicitor at WorkNest. “By prioritising open communication and building relationships with their employees, employers can identify and address the real issues that impact their team’s performance, ultimately improving productivity and reducing the risk of grievances and absenteeism.”

Where challenges exist, employers also expressed concern about their line managers’ ability to handle conversations about underperformance, with 27% reporting they had provided inadequate training. If mishandled, the impact can be significant, with 25% of employers finding that grievances crop up out of the blue or see an increase in sickness absence.

Scott added: “With over a quarter of line managers struggling to handle conversations about underperformance, employers must take action by providing them with training and guidance on how to address these situations.

"Conversations can be awkward if they don’t know how to approach them. By having regular reviews with an employee on performance management, line managers can increase employee engagement and motivation as well as provide clarity on individual and team objectives. Line managers also have an opportunity to identify training gaps and development opportunities through regular conversations for those team members that might require extra support.”

How HR can ease employees’ financial burdens

Pay rises, above the rate of inflation, are an obvious way to mitigate fears about the cost of living – and the most straightforward - but many firms themselves are struggling financially now, and this economic uncertainty makes it hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Even if pay rises are a viable option for some firms, it is worth HR’s time to consider other financial wellbeing options. In fact, research published in 2022 from global life insurance provider MetLife found that one in two employees would sacrifice more of their basic salary to get a personalised employee benefits package.

The research was conducted as part of MetLife’s Re:Me report, which looks at how the pandemic has shifted attitudes in the workplace. Among its findings was the discovery that 69% of employers said they’d work harder for an employer who provided benefits that were tailored to their individual needs.

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And they’re not looking for 'soft' perks like gym membership or employee discounts (many of which, in any case, became obsolete during lockdown and the peak of the pandemic). Income protection was the 13th most desired benefit prior to the pandemic; MetLife’s research discovered that it now stands at 3rd, with a further 58% of employees stating that they’d like their benefits package to cover all their dependents, including their spouse.

There are also other steps that employers can take to help employees make their money go further. Below, Towergate Health & Protection suggested:

Salary sacrifice

Offering a salary sacrifice scheme enables employees to maximise their pre-tax income. Employees can pay a comparatively reduced price on things like childcare costs, commuting to and from work, and even their pension. If an employee is close to the higher rate income tax band, a voluntary increase in their monthly pension contribution could help them to stay within the 20% basic rate tax band.

Expert guidance

Expert guidance is often more easily, and freely, available than people realise. In fact, it may already be provided as a cost-free add-on to other health and wellbeing support. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) often form part of the offering within other employee benefits, such as group risk benefits, and can provide confidential advice to employees on a number of concerns, including money worries.

Employee discounts

Employee discount schemes can help employees’ money to go further. Cashback cards can be made available for everything from the weekly grocery shop to clothes, DIY items, and days out. These come at a variety of costs, depending on the offer, or are sometimes even free to encourage store loyalty. Some employee discount schemes also provide access to a free credit-checking service, and money advice lines, to help employees to keep on top of their finances.



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