Overtime and incentives | RBS Remembers

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Overtime and incentives

Staff at work in Manchester King Street branch of Manchester & Liverpool District Banking Co, undated © RBS


Traditionally, bank clerks worked all day on Mondays to Fridays, and Saturday mornings. At busy times of year, such as the six-monthly balance when all the books had to be checked and updated, they were expected to work late to get the job done.

The extra hours became more onerous in the war, when staff shortages made it harder to get through everything. Work was rearranged so that staff concentrated on serving customers in the daytime, and did the paperwork after hours. When it came to six-monthly balances, staff had to work through weekends or bank holidays to process everything. In recognition of the extra time staff worked, some banks introduced overtime payments. Regardless of the worker’s normal salary, it was paid at a flat rate of 1s 6d for each evening worked after 6.30pm – a relatively modest sum, intended not to pay the worker for his or her time, but to cover the extra costs of being away from home all evening, for example to pay for an meal in a café. It was not payable to managers, and was intended for use only at exceptionally busy times, not throughout extended periods.

Later in the war, another form of extra payment was devised. This time it was proposed by the government, and related to the sale of war bonds. These bonds were a product that enabled people to lend their savings towards the national war effort. Banks were responsible for selling them to their customers, and in recompense for their time and costs, were granted a commission of 2/6 per £100 (ie, 0.125%). In May 1918 the Chancellor of the Exchequer was keen to increase sales of the bonds, and proposed a scheme whereby the commission would be split between the bank and the bank clerks themselves. In effect, the bank workers would be given a sales incentive.

The English clearing banks collectively agreed to comply with the Chancellor’s proposal, although a number of them were reluctant. It was a significant departure from traditional banking values, potentially setting a precedent that would turn bank clerks into salesmen. In addition, some banks were offended by the suggestion that their clerks weren’t already doing everything in their power to sell war bonds. Williams Deacon’s Bank’s directors, for example, went along with the resolution, but put on record that ‘they considered it wrong in principle and in the case of our bank, unnecessary.’

The Scottish banks went even further. They were appalled by the suggestion, calling it ‘a childish idea’. They defied the Chancellor’s wishes and refused to participate in the incentive scheme. 


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