Simon English: Now it’s the turn of Horta-Osorio to show sympathy


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The Independent Online

“I’m not going to work any less but I am going to work differently. As we move into the second phase of the turnaround of Lloyds I can detach myself from the day-to-day running of the business and focus on strategy.”

That’s Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio unveiling his return to the hot seat yesterday after a period off for a mystery illness the bank still isn’t quite calling stress.

Focus on strategy. That sounds nice. Around here that means: watch other people do stuff; make disparaging remarks. I can confirm it is a lot less stressful than working.

In nearly all ways it is good Lloyds has been so sympathetic to its star hire. It’s not so long ago that the stock British response to anyone complaining they weren’t coping was: Have a pint. And have a word with yourself.

If Mr Horta-Osorio’s commendable openness makes it easier for others to come clean and get help, that’s a result. A better one would be a complete overhaul of the way large employers treat staff.

Lloyds got some ribbing recently for sending 10 executives to clowning classes. By attending The Comedy School, the executives would improve their communication and leadership skills, reckoned the bank. As total wastes of money go, well, there are worse. They could have bought HBOS. Oh, yeah, right.

The thing is, none of these well-meaning ventures now in vogue – the team-building exercises, the departmental days at the beach – is devised to make work more reasonable. They are devised to help people cope with what is unreasonable.

From the outside, and indeed according to inside accounts, Lloyds looks like a dysfunctional organisation. To get new pencils requires memos in triplicate.

Want next Wednesday off? We shall hire a team of external consultants to do a feasibility study.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last month, one former executive offered the idea that if a mad professor wanted to conduct a cruel experiment in the psychology of stress, he should replicate the corporate culture of Lloyds Banking Group.

In all likelihood, if the people at the top feel lousy it can only be worse at the middle and bottom. If you are on or near the board of a company like Lloyds, money has stopped being a necessity. You could quit and live well.

That’s not an option for most of the bank’s many thousands of staff, for whom crying stress looks like a seriously bad career move at a time when positions are being axed all around them.

Lots of people’s jobs are miserable at the moment. Over the summer, drying-out clinics reported record numbers of inquiries from finance types coping, or not coping, with stress by resorting to drink or similar. There’s a lot of it about.

Mr Horta-Osorio was well looked after. His board was sympathetic. Everyone wished and wishes him well. He now has a duty to behave this well to the rest of the staff. A few of them are feeling the strain too