William Wiles talks to Ebenezer Scrooge about how a little Christmas spirit transformed his company.
Cost consultant Scrooge & Marley has recently instituted a Respect for People initiative. Senior partner Ebenezer Scrooge tells Building about what the company has learned about caring for its workforce.

What were conditions like before the initiative was launched?
Perfectly adequate. In common with my competitors, I endeavoured to maintain a high morale, low turnover culture by ensuring that staff enjoyed conditions that were one notch better than the poorhouse. The result was a determined, hardworking group of men who were profitably employed from the crack of dawn until their eventual exhausted return to tubercular wives and polio-ridden children.

How did the firm celebrate Christmas?
Generously. Staff were provided with an extra lump of coal to eat – a whole lump, mark you! – and even given the morning off. Unpaid, of course. I'm not a charity. I was often asked if this was entirely in keeping with the so-called Christmas spirit – to which I would reply "Bah, humbug".

What caused you to change the policy?
After a while, my staff made their feelings felt in the normal way, by having me visited by the ghost of my former partner and a succession of moralising spectres. It became apparent to me that not only was the sordid condition of my workforce causing charming, innocent children to suffer malnutrition and untimely death, but that I was in grave (pardon the pun) danger of dying a hated miser and burning in Hades forevermore.

How long did it take to overhaul staff relations?
A change as big as the one I was contemplating couldn't just be implemented overnight. Well, actually, it was.

What did you do?
I promptly tasked a street urchin to go out and buy the biggest turkey in the shop for my least work-shy employee, a Mr Bob Cratchit. I then attended his Christmas dinner and issued a new company mission statement about brotherly love, the true meaning of Christmas and God blessing us every one.

And after Christmas?
I circulated the new mission statement on the company intranet, and made Cratchit a partner.

How much did all this cost?
One pound, 12 shillings and thruppence ha'penny.

Did morale and productivity improve?
Did they hell! Once I changed what had been a consistently successful human resources policy and showed a shred of compassion, it suddenly became sick leave this, holiday pay that, inhuman working conditions the other. The ungrateful scroungers just won't shut up. I'm absolutely deluged by paperwork and European directives, three former employees are suing me for constructive dismissal and I'm really rather worried about this Human Rights Act.

So you won't be sticking with the policy?
Not on your nelly. I've a good mind to sack the lot of them. Productivity's down, margins are lower than ever and the entire thing's costing me far too much money. I mean, it's all well and good making an effort for Christmas, but I'm afraid humanity on this kind of scale is simply ruination by another name.

But what about Respect for People? Benchmarking? Best practice? Key performance indicators? Cluster groups? Partnering? Surely, Christmas is time for the Egan spirit?
I'm firmly in support of all these valuable and worthwhile initiatives – as long as they don't have any effect on the way we do business.