New Year work means big bucks - right?

Not necessarily. Millennial moolah madness might just be a myth. Kate Hilpern reports
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The Independent Online
You've read about it - and heard about it from friends. Working over the millennium means earning major bucks, with several employers rumoured to be paying out up to pounds 1,000 a shift. But the response from a new survey commissioned by the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) is "dream on". The reality is, according to the report, that a mere 6 per cent of UK employees have been offered extra incentives and of those who have, the most common payment will simply be double time, which is in line with most bank holiday arrangements. Indeed, just one person surveyed by the IPD has been offered over pounds 1,000 to work through the night.

And yet more than a quarter of workers in the UK are insistent that they want to work through the night on Millennium Eve - five times the number that worked into the early hours last New Year's Eve.

"It is likely that media stories, about the lucrative bonuses and hourly rates being paid by some employers, have encouraged people who ordinarily wouldn't work on New Year's Eve to consider doing so," explains IPD's Melissa Compton-Edwards, who conducted the research.

So will they be in for a shock when they learn the truth about their penny-pinching pay-packets? Absolutely, says Ms Compton-Edwards. "If the media stories fail to materialise on a wider scale, it's likely that employees' enthusiasm for working that night will also wane."

Colossal hand-outs, however, are not the only rewards which are tempting hoards of UK employees to work over the Millennium. Extra time off in lieu tops the list of non-financial reasons for working over New Year 1999.

Indeed, a mere 9 per cent claimed they would work only if offered a large bonus. These results confirm similar research by Hay Management Consultants which found that extra holidays or stand-by payments averaging pounds 268 for the weekend were more common than high-incentive, one-off payments.

The entertainment and information technology industries appear to be the only exception to this rule. BBC staff, for instance, can collect a series of extra payments totalling up to pounds 600 according to the hours they put in. Meanwhile, IT specialists at Nationwide Building Society, who are contracted to be on call over the four-day holiday period, will receive overtime payments of around six times the normal rate. Similarly, at Barclays Bank, they have been offered a pounds 750 attendance allowance for working a shift that goes beyond 5pm on 31 December, and a similar payment for work done on 1 January.

Indeed, while public sector organisations reckon the weekend will cost them 77 per cent more than a normal bank holiday break, and the retail sector anticipates a 66 per cent increase, the finance sector predicts a staggering 198 per cent extra.

"In addition to people needing to be on stand-by in case the millennium bug bites, the financial services sector is also anticipating calls from customers demanding statements as documentary proof of the money they've got, just in case the computer systems go down in the first second of the new millennium," explains freelance IT analyst, Chris Adams.

Health service organisations are showing the most signs of concern when it comes to incentives because most claim they simply cannot afford to offer more money to staff.

The NHS Confederation's chair of human resources, Andrew Foster, recently warned that trusts would have to fund extra payments from existing budgets and the government has advised the NHS Executive not to enter a national deal with staff.

Surprisingly, however, some health organisations - such as the Doncaster Royal and Montague Hospital NHS Trust - are offering five times the basic hourly rate, as well as time off in lieu.

IPD's research also found that a large number of UK adults are opting to stay at home or visit family and friends rather than paint the town red on Millennium Eve. Of those who have made up their minds about what they will do, only 15 per cent plan to be out and about at pubs, clubs, restaurants and street parties - 11 per cent less than on New Year's Eve 1998 when 26 per cent hit the town. So if the public really is putting up so much resistance to "party like it's 1999", those who want work through the night can only be left wondering if they will be needed at all.

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