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17 January 2019
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Outweighing the negatives

28 January 2016 | Martin Read

The potential negative implications of the National Living Wage always tend to steal the headlines, but the positives were debated and highlighted at this year's Women in FM conference, writes Martin Read.

It’s easy to feel sorry for January. If a league table were formed of people’s favourite months, the first of the year would surely struggle to avoid the wooden spoon. OK, so it starts with a bang as we herald in the New Year – but that ritual of renewal is soon forgotten as the hangovers set in. Those with January birthdays and fans of Burns Night doubtless talk up the positives, but the rest of us just see how it’s cold outside, that there’s no big annual festival on the horizon and that it remains dark and dangerous at both ends of the daily commute.

Obviously it’s been ever thus – but January 2016 does seem to be setting new lows. A toxic combination of celebrity deaths, raging floods and stock market jitters have conspired to add further bleakness to the midwinter picture.

And because of that traditional bleakness, January is often when we really appreciate the extent to which bad news sells. Newspapers long ago began exploiting our natural tendency is to accentuate problems, fears and concerns. And of course, there are plenty such stories to go around. We react instinctively to bad news when, by contrast, good news is typically experienced just fleetingly before it is replaced by the next terrible crisis.

This tendency towards the negative came to mind at the recent BIFM Women in FM conference, a welcome January highlight. Good news was reported on the number of women serving on boards of FM companies, (albeit some would understandably like to see further and faster movement towards parity); good news too in some truly extraordinary stories of personal progress in this most welcoming of professions; and good news in the potential for the National Living Wage.

This latter topic does indeed have the potential to be good for the quality and capability of facilities services. But it’s the potential bad that steals the headlines: the problem of additional supervisor pay rises to ensure pay differentials are retained; the need to cut jobs to accommodate the new pay rate; and fears that the NLW, like the minimum wage, will end up as a ceiling rather than a floor.

All of this ignores the potential upsides: less staff turnover; clients obliged to engage with FM departments to truly understand and ensure operational efficiency; greater staff loyalty and stronger team cohesion. KPMG’s Guy Stallard, 10 years a champion of the living wage, detailed all of this at the conference. He’s seen it work.

The NLW debate is hugely significant, and it’s not the only source of hidden good news. To take one other random example, there’s the dramatic drop in the cost of renewable fuels, with LEDs and solar panels in particular a fraction of what they cost just five or 10 years ago.

Talk of innovation in FM often focuses on how it is manifest in a myriad small yet important forward steps. That’s as it should be for a service focused on constant efficiency gains; but with the National Living Wage – and plenty of other issues besides – there’s potential for FM to own, explain and disseminate more significant stories of considerable positive progress.

Good news may not sell so well, but we need to continue selling it.

Martin Read is managing editor of FM World