KPMG UK chairman told staff to ‘stop moaning’ about work conditions

KPMG UK chairman Bill Michael has apologised after telling consultants to “stop moaning” during a discussion about the impact of the pandemic on their working lives.

In a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, members of the 1,500-strong financial services consulting team told Michael of their concern about potential cuts to their pension contributions, pay and bonuses, according to a senior employee. They also raised an issue about KPMG measuring staff performance against a “forced distribution curve”, where individuals within a team are ranked from best to worst. 

Michael, a 52-year-old Australian who has run the Big Four firm since 2017, told staff to “stop moaning” and to stop “playing the victim card”, according to two employees.

An app that enables staff to submit anonymous comments subsequently stopped working for at least some employees after on-screen comments accused the chairman of lacking sensitivity and highlighted his recently announced £1.7m pay package. KPMG said the app was available throughout the entire meeting.

“We are all a bit frayed due to Covid,” said one of the employees who attended the meeting. “If someone tells you to stop moaning in the middle of a recession and when people are dying, that tells you everything. It’s incredibly insensitive.” 

Another person who attended the meeting said “the language he used was not in the best taste and far too blunt” but said Michael’s “motivation” was good.

“He was trying to stress that if we are struggling we need to do something to reach out to people, which is how a number of us interpreted his meaning,” the second person said.

In an apology email to the staff, Michael said: “I know that words matter and I regret the ones I chose to use today. I think lockdown is proving difficult for all of us. I am very sorry for what I said and the way that I said it.” 

“Covid has hugely impacted the way we all live and work — many of us very deeply,” added Michael, who was admitted to hospital last March after testing positive for coronavirus. “I can only imagine what you and your families are going through and what you’re continuing to contend with each and every day. Having endured my own experiences, I should have appreciated the impact it’s having on all of us.”

He told the FT: “I am sorry for the words I used, which did not reflect what I believe in, and I have apologised to my colleagues. Looking after the wellbeing of our people and creating a culture where everyone can thrive is of critical importance to me and is at the heart of everything we do as a firm.”

KPMG said the firm had put in place several support measures to help staff throughout the pandemic, including new mental health resources and a special leave code that enabled employees to take unlimited time off to care for family and friends.

It added that hiring was taking place “as usual”, bonuses would be paid out in March and pay rises had been given to employees who had been promoted or had progressed after passing exams. There were “no plans” to cut pension contributions, a spokesperson said. 

When it announced annual results last week, KPMG UK said partners were taking an 11 per cent cut to their pay to protect other jobs and to support the hiring of graduates and apprentices.

In the results, which were delayed for two months to assess the continuing impact of coronavirus, the business reported a 2 per cent fall in like-for-like revenue in the year to September 30 to £2.3bn.

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