Making ill-judged decisions under pressure are perhaps inevitable. Nonetheless, anyone advising Liverpool Football Club on how to manage their reputation would hopefully not have recommended that they seek to furlough ordinary staff while its playing staff remained on full salaries.
Get your priorities right
Similarly, while supermarket retailers are recording bumper sales, one might have assumed that neither trying to save on salaries; nor requiring workers, who are self-isolating because either they, or members of their family, are showing symptoms of coronavirus, to make up their hours once they are back at work, would be a priority for Waitrose.
Surprisingly, both Liverpool FC and Waitrose both went ahead with these decisions, or applied existing policies to that end, and not unsurprisingly both faced a backlash.
However, having made a poor decision, with the accompanying reputational damage, both businesses woke up to the criticism they were receiving and avoided repeating the mistakes of, for example Wetherspoons, by responding positively to justified complaints.
Liverpool reversed their decision a day or two later and did so with some grace and humility in a letter from Chief Executive Peter Moore.
Waitrose appears to have acted even more quickly, advising staff that their policy had changed and all self-isolating staff would be on authorised paid absence from day one (in line with government advice).
Goodwill takes years to build, and seconds to lose
Any business that treats its employees well will surely see the rewards and, even allowing for football tribalism, the goodwill that Liverpool Football Club has built up over the years will probably survive its mis-step as result of reversing its initial decision.
What will happen in regard to other businesses who have taken other controversial decisions however remains unknown.
Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, for example, had announced they would take advantage of the Government funding scheme and furlough some non-playing staff. Whilst entitled to do so, the optics of paying footballers hundreds of thousands of pounds a week while asking the Government to pay 80% of the salary of other members of their staff is not a good look by anyone’s standards.
In a less reported decision, Glasgow Ranger’s Manager, Steven Gerrard, his staff and the first team squad have volunteered to defer their salaries for three months as have the Executive Directors of the club. Although they have furloughed a number of employees, they will top up their wages so that all other staff are paid in full. They will undoubtedly reap the rewards of that decision in the form of increased loyalty from both their staff and the wider public – with the possible exception of Celtic fans!
In contrast to Waitrose, other supermarkets appear to have been more generous in supporting staff. For example, Marks & Spencer has said that any colleague who is self-isolating for 7 to14 days can do so on full pay.
Think first, act second
As businesses hopefully become more attuned to crafting their external communications carefully to avoid the sort of criticism as received by Liverpool FC and Waitrose, they also need to be aware of how they are communicating to their own staff and what will then be communicated on social media.
Thoughtful internal messaging is key. Whether explaining internal policy regarding sickness absence, or self-isolation, or the requirement not to cancel booked holiday, the messaging must be clear but sympathetic. Anything else is likely to generate ill-will among their staff who will, in turn, report their unhappiness to the wider world. Nowadays it is not only what a business chooses to say to the outside world that matters; all communications matter as they can, and will, become public.
For advice and assistance in managing your reputation please do contact us.