This coming year is likely to see continued difficulties in most companies. Recovery is on its way, but it will be slow, and profits are likely to be low. In this environment, many companies are going to ask staff to forego salary increases (and even possibly accept decreases) and bonuses.

Unfortunately, their bosses are unlikely to do the same.

In the past two decades or so, a two-tier system of reward has emerged, where people at board level and in senior executive teams are treated differently from general staff. When cuts are made, they are asked to contribute much less. Paradoxically, this often happens precisely because the senior executives “pretend” to be treated equally. But let’s be honest: to ask someone earning £ 1,000 a month to take a 10% cut is not the same as asking someone earning £ 12,000 a month to do the same. The more you earn, the more you should be expected to cut. That would be fair.

Worse still, senior executives are not rewarded for the health of the company (which affects long-term growth), but rather for short-term results. They typically attract performance bonuses for cutting costs out of the system – and that can involve pay freezes and redundancies for general staff.

In some companies this year, the basic salaries of all staff will be frozen, including the CEO and senior Execs. But the Execs will have access to bonuses, whereas most other employees cannot look forward to the variable performance pay available to their bosses. Their rewards are not treated the same. This, too, is not fair.

I read a recent report on a particular company that is experiencing just this, and the conclusion was succinctly stated: “Equity is a quality rather like justice. Justice must be seen to be done; equity must be experienced; it must run through an organisation from top to bottom.” I’d put it this way: A good leader shares the pain with his or her followers. If you don’t, they may just stop following.

I still believe that the real people carnage of this recession lies ahead of us, not behind us. What are your thoughts?

TomorrowToday Global