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Colborn’s Corner: Dual loyalties

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Quentin Colborn

Few will have escaped the press coverage the banks have been given recently regarding their charges and their fairness or otherwise. The public perception probably falls in two camps; banks are either seen as ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. This week Quentin Colborn questions what effect controversies such as this have on those who work there – especially when they are also customers.


I have no particularly strong views on the current controversies surrounding banking charges; on one hand, in theory at least, the charges are known in advance. On the other hand, there is a distinction between charges and penalties, the allegation being that the payment deducted are in reality penalties.

Of course most of the issues surrounding this topic are legal and contractual issues. What is of interest to me, however, is the impact on employees.

Rightly or wrongly, I think the banks have taken a fair degree of flack for their stance on this issue. So how does this reflect on those who work for the banks? Traditionally there was prestige in working for a bank, allied to the concept of having a job there for life. Of course that has all changed now, but I believe there is still a perception that banks are places of honesty and integrity and so, by association, that will apply to employees as well. Has this changed? Is it likely to change?

Shifting perceptions

I think the public perception of banks is shifting and so will the perception of their employees. But how is that handled internally? How well are individuals able to defend and represent the interests of their employer when there is negative external publicity? I can’t comment specifically on the current furore facing the banks but would be interested to hear the views of outsiders.

The issue spreads elsewhere though. How good are employers in general at ensuring their staff are able to represent them when the going gets tough? Many employers in the public eye face PR difficulties at one stage or another and while effective external PR is key, how good is the internal PR?

How often are employees left trying to handle negative publicity without being properly equipped? Too often organisations will focus on the external PR and neglect the fact that their staff may be excellent ambassadors as well.

Dual relationships

The issue of the banks flags another topic that I don’t often see addressed and that is the management of dual relationships. Many people work for an organisation and that’s it. At 5pm they walk away having no contact until the next day.

But what happens if you are also a customer of that organisation, perhaps it’s a shop, insurance company or bank? All works well while both relationships are working okay, but what if one goes sour? You have a dispute about a product or service complaint, do people really feel able to enforce their consumer rights?

Putting this in the bank charges context, what happens if a bank employee feels they have had wrongful charges deducted from their account? How far do they feel they can complain, perhaps feeling they may be placing their employment relationship at risk? What, if anything, can or should be done about this? Should HR care about it anyway?

It would be very interesting to hear the views of those who have been placed in some of these dilemmas. Have you had a dual relationship problem, if so how did you handle matters? Alternatively, if you have to manage these issues how do you do so, trying to be fair to both aspects of the relationship? Share your experiences and let us all understand how it’s done!

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]

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