Man Utd staff must return to the office... or resign with an early bonus

Steve Bridger

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Community Manager

29 May, 2024 16:21

So, we've been discussing the decision of many employers to shift back towards a form of pre-pandemic 'ways of working' over in this thread... Compulsory Return to the Office 

We wondered what you thought of the latest move by Manchester United (off the pitch)...

Manchester United staff have been offered early payment of an annual bonus if they resign by next ­Wednesday, as part of Sir Jim ­Ratcliffe’s edict to get all employees into the club’s offices and his push to trim the workforce.

United have made it compulsory from 1 June for staff to work from their offices in either ­Manchester or London rather than at home. Staff were informed in an email on Tuesday that anyone who does not wish to ­conform can quit and claim their bonus early for this season.



  • That would certainly make me think twice about working there, no matter how big the bonus! His management philosophy seems to be "do as I want" no matter how nonsensical, whilst riding roughshod over evidence and employment legislation (thinking the bonus will stop people from complaining). Although he would probably characterise it as "cutting through the bs". To be fair to him, I'm thinking the approach of ignoring the law and chucking money at any resulting problem must have worked in the past for him and that's why he does it?
  • To an extent, I admire the clarity of the position. Assuming that Sir Jim and his staff have a clear, well-evidence business case for a "100% office based" approach (which might be giving them too much credit, but let's be charitable), then I think the binary attitude of "my way or the highway" has some value and, to their credit, they are prepared to put at least some money where their mouths are.

    It's a level of decisiveness that is largely absent from many businesses and all public sector bodies which I find professionally refreshing.

    However, I fear their lawyers might be nibbling nervously at their fingernails at the prospect of the scale of claims for constructive unfair dismissal that may arise, along with the potential for claims of unlawful discrimination if they *don't* have a really well-evidenced case for refusing all considerations for remote working. As long as Sir Jim has made financial contingency for this eventuality and the club can afford it... Well, it's still not what I'd call good practice, but if you work in an industry as morally bankrupt as professional football, did you really expect anything else?
  • In reply to Robey:

    I agree, at least there is clarity on what is expected and if you don't like it then don't apply to work there! And if they lose staff who decide it's not for them and are unable to subsequently recruit replacements for the new office working requirement, then they'll have to re-think, and likewise if the club suffers any legal consequences. Sometimes the only way to prove/disprove something is to do it. Given the state the club is in generally, maybe this is needed in the first instance! (Saying that as a MU member!!)
  • In reply to Nicola:

    I read that one of the reasons Radcliffe is doing this is that he believes there's been a drop in productivity, based on the fact that apparently there's much fewer emails being sent on a Friday. I can't even describe how ridiculous I think that is! Most of my colleagues I think would say they could be much more productive if there weren't so many emails; also surely the reason for being in the office is so that you can just speak to people without needing to send emails... I also wonder exactly what impact, if any, this move will have on the bottom line, which for a football club can surely only be defined as on-field success! www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/.../man-united-boss-orders-workers-back-office-20-per-cent-drop-emails-–-best-measure-productivity
  • People Management are covering this today/tomorrow and I'm commenting there for them, so I'll restrict myself here other than to say that I am VERY conflicted as a) a Man Utd fan, b) a remote / hybrid working advocate and c) an admirer of Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

  • My understanding is that with regards to working in the office there are three things in his thinking (as far as he's spoken)
    (1) Its a football club and football cant be done at home. People should be part of the team and mixing is part of that. (interesting how this reads across to businesses with factories and office workers)
    (2) He believes standards at MU have fallen very low (he's also made some interesting comments on litter, general tidiness etc) and this is a way to shake things up and introduce a different culture
    (3) Emotionally and intellectually he believes office working is simply "better"

    Not sure he's that bothered what the rest of us think :-)

    I think its interesting that some of teh organisations that feel "brave" enough to force a return to office working are the destination brands (which I guess MU still are?) and aren't google etc doing similar? (although not every day) and those who aren't are far less confident in their employee engagement or colleague retention?

    On the bonus I read it slightly differently. Many bonus schemes have clauses that say if you aren't here on X date or are working notice you lose it. I just saw this as a way to avoid that silliness in these circumstances.

  • Steve Bridger

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    Community Manager

    30 May, 2024 14:15

    In reply to Gary:

    There's a book in there somewhere ;-)

  • Reminds me why being Head of HR at a football club has been the only role I've worked in where I resigned before getting another job! We used to have a HR Leads network and I remember one person who received instruction from the overseas owners (club shall remain nameless), to remove everyone's annual leave entitlement as they didn't believe in people taking time off from work.
  • In reply to Teresa:

    Reminds me of trying to explain TUPE to someone overseas who insisted I was not allowed to use the word "transfer" in my dealings with the affected employees.
  • Here’s a link to the PM article.

    And although I’m briefly quoted in it, due to space reasons they couldn’t publish my entire comments. But here they are for your delectation. Five minutes of your life you will not get back!

    The ONS did a similar move in 2023 and are suffering industrial action about it but there are statistics that show the impact of the move to mandate onsite attendance. See picture.

    Seemingly people may not leave in great numbers but staggeringly large numbers of people simply do not want to join such a company. Therein lies the danger for United, in that retention may remain broadly the same but talent attraction is going to become an awful lot harder.

    Morale for those who remain is likely to suffer.

    United are a luxury employer whose football and consumer brand is enough to make it prestigious to work for them and for many, particularly employees who are also supporters of the club, will tolerate a negative culture and remain as employees simply because they wish to show loyalty to the club. Much like they wouldn’t support another club when results are poor but may grumble and moan about that club, the same is likely to apply to them as employees. Some employees will feel trapped and unable to do anything about that because of their love for the club itself.

    In a way they are trying to mitigate the impact by offering terms for what equates to a severance but those may not be attractive enough. Certainly it will make people feel there is a way out of an unhappy situation and that they can take it or leave it.

    They could also make it enjoyable and worthwhile to remain employees and be onsite. Ratcliffe has taken steps to do this by enforcing a tidy up but there will need to be more than just this. There are many employees who do have some choice where to work - United must work hard to engage those. Simply bringing them back onsite to a tidy office is not enough.

    People with choice - talent and skills valued elsewhere, and with no loyalty to United as a club - will already be thinking about taking the severance offer.

    In short this is a high risk approach by United but Ratcliffe and Ineos clearly see problems they want to address both on and off the pitch, and want to do that quickly. They are unlikely to want to waste time with slow cultural change.

    Sometimes cultural change is equated to turning a battleship around, something that takes a long time. United’s approach is more like the turning of a fairground waltzer - fast, furious, some people won’t want to be on the ride and others will be turned off by the experience - but there’ll still be those who will be fine with it.

  • Steve Bridger

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    Community Manager

    31 May, 2024 15:07

    In reply to Gary:

    Gary said:
    United’s approach is more like the turning of a fairground waltzer - fast, furious, some people won’t want to be on the ride and others will be turned off by the experience

    ...and some will be thrown from the ride, but management seem OK with this 'collateral damage'. As  says, there will be "clarity"... but I like your point about retention vs attracting talent. 

  • In reply to Gary:

    Gary said:
    United’s approach is more like the turning of a fairground waltzer - fast, furious, some people won’t want to be on the ride and others will be turned off by the experience

    Or clear decisive leadership. as we pivoted quickly to remote working there's nothing to say that some organisations with a clear vision cant pivot back just as quickly. We in HR too often see hybrid working as simply a "good" no questions asked. It's surely for each organisation to set its own path to create the unique culture it wants and having clarity on that destination is far better than (to extend your battleship analogy) bobbing around on the choppy open seas for a while with no clear destination in sight as so many organisations are currently now doing on hybrid working. Reverting back to the historic norms "may" be far easier for some destination brands than we think

  • In reply to Keith:

    As with so many things, it's about communication of the 'why' surely? My sector is education, so when the pandemic hit almost all staff became instant remote workers, and created wholly new ways of working to keep the education of children going during a pretty awful time. It was clear to 99% of the staff involved with that exercise that it wasn't in the best interests of 99% of children to be educated remotely, so the logic of returning to a school environment when it was possible to do, really didn't need a hard sell.

    For most organisations the clarity about why office=better is much more opaque. Depending on your personal lens, you may see remote working as the best possible way to motivate, retain and engage people - or you may see genuine leadership and interaction with colleagues as needing to be in person, without the barrier of a screen. Neither is absolutely right, but if your view is for remote and your organisation is fuzzy about why their view is different, it's only going to lead to frustration.
  • In reply to Nina Waters:

    Nina Waters said:
    Neither is absolutely right, but if your view is for remote and your organisation is fuzzy about why their view is different, it's only going to lead to frustration.

    And one thing this approach cant be accused of being is fuzzy :-)

    Its clear and decisive

  • In reply to Keith:

    Correct. Clarity of purpose is more important. And you are right that so many organisations have little clarity of purpose around hybrid working. Someone should write a book about what to do about that. ;-)