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Post Office executive threatened to resign over “intolerable” pay, HR claims

The former HR director of the Post Office previously accused the chief executive of bullying, but the claims were cleared

Jane Davies, former HR director of the Post Office, has claimed that chief executive Nick Read was so obsessed with getting a pay rise that his multiple requests and threats to resign dominated her work.

In an email dated December 2021 to Davies, Read described his "bonus situation" as "intolerable”.

Read earned £2.28m since he took on the position in 2020, according to reports from the Post Office. This included a £455,000 bonus for 2021/22.

In a letter released by the business and trade committee on Tuesday, Davies alleged that Read’s demands became a “huge distraction” from her role, part of which was attempting to get compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal.

Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, explained that requests for higher pay from senior management put HR in a difficult situation.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Demands for higher executive pay place HR professionals in an invidious position. 

“There's an obvious conflict of interest associated with staff, feeding into the pay setting process for senior management. 

“This case highlights how an anarchic approach to pay setting, where individuals barter for their pay around the proverbial water cooler, creates all sorts of problems that can be averted with a proper, formalised policy involving HR, trade unions and a remuneration committee with designated responsibilities, processes and objectives.”

Read more: What to do as pay expectations skyrocket

Henry Staunton, a former chair of the Post Office, has previously alleged that Read threatened to resign numerous times over his pay. Read denied the claims. Davies explained that she wrote to the committee to verify Staunton’s claims.

Jenny Winstanley, head of HR consultancy at employment law and HR firm AfterAthena, said that, when dealing with an employee's pay request, HR should consider if there is merit to the request before granting it.

She told HR magazine: “When dealing with unreasonable pay requests, a business needs to understand the basis of the employee’s request. Has the employee been undertaking additional tasks above or beyond their job description? Or do they feel that they are not being paid the market rate?

“Gleaning this information will allow the business to consider the request, potentially by undertaking a benchmarking activity to assist, and respond appropriately and thoroughly, to prevent repeated requests.”

In August 2023, prime minister Rishi Sunak said that pay rises should only be granted as a reward for increased productivity.

Read more: Sunak: pay rises must follow increase in productivity

Jeanette Wheeler, chief human resources officer for the HR, payroll and finance company MHR, told HR magazine that it is important that HR ensures that employees feel their request has been listened to.

She commented: “When dealing with requests for pay rises, both reasonable and unreasonable, it is critical that the employee feels like HR has listened to their request and taken time to understand why they feel they should be paid more.

“Once this has been done, the best tools that HR professionals have at their disposal is openness and honesty.”

Wheeler added that HR should communicate why a request might not have been granted: “If the request is completely unreasonable, there will be good reasons why a pay rise cannot be granted at this time, whether that be budgeting issues, pay equality or the employee’s performance. 

“Whatever the reason is, it should be clearly explained to the employee and, where possible, backed up with factual evidence. 

“If appropriate, it can also be helpful to explain what the next pay rise might look like for the employee, and what they can do to attain it.”