Byline: John Cranage
There's a bad joke doing the rounds in Wall Street.
It goes like this. One shellshocked stock broker says to a colleague: 'heard the latest scandal? There's a rogue corporation out there that isn't cooking the books. The auditors are trying to explain how they let it happen.'
Black (or downright cynical, according to your sensitivity) humour is the way most battle-hardened equity market pros manage use to keep their sanity in the face of devastating market conditions seen in New York and London over the past few weeks.
The bad news has flowed like a unstoppable tidal wave across the Atlantic.
First there was Enron. Then there was Global Crossing Telecoms, WorldCom Telecoms, Tyco, Xerox, Qwest and then AOL Time Warner.
In every case it was found that company accounts, the Holy Writ upon which investors throughout the capitalist world decide where to put their (or, more significantly, their clients') money were riddled with black holes.
The amounts involved are so astronomical as to be almost meaningless to the average man or woman in the pension fund. But the net effect has been to wipe many billions of value off market values and, as a consequence, the value of funds upon which millions of people rely for a reasonably comfortable old age.
And now there is evidence that the boardroom skullduggery is having an impact on the attitudes of employees - who, after all, are paid pittances compared with the huge salaries pocketed by executives presiding over the corporate debacle and the fees paid to their accountants/auditors/advisers.
According to the Washington DC office of Watson Wyatt, the global employee benefits specialist, worker trust and confidence in senior management have fallen over the past two years.
And unless the rot isn't stopped, it could pose a major threat to future corporate competitiveness.
Watson Wyatt Worldwide says that a global survey of nearly 13,000 workers carried out earlier this year found that fewer than two out of five (39 per cent) employees trust senior leaders at US companies. And just to drive the point home, the survey recorded a five point drop between 2000 and 2002 in both the percentage of employees (45 per cent) who say they have confidence in the job being done by senior management and the percentage of workers (63 percent) who believe their companies conduct business with honesty and integrity. …