Nationwide workers are driven by our basic need to survive

AT first glance, the insistence by staff at Irish Nationwide that they be paid bonuses and salary increases is baffling.

But from a psychological point of view it isn't baffling at all and we can expect more of the same in the future.

The building society for which they work has had to be rescued by the taxpayer and its name, to put it mildly, is synonymous with failure.

Therefore it is hardly surprising that their threat to disrupt the planned merger with Anglo Irish Bank is seen as a bit of a cheek.


But their actions are entirely understandable when you look at the human drive to survive and at the fact that human beings can cut up rough when that survival is at stake.

We have all heard the stories of people in lifeboats using the oars to beat away other people who are threatening to sink the boat through their frantic efforts to get out of the water and onto the vessel.

And we know that in some great fire tragedies, most of the deaths were caused by the stampede to escape and not by the fire itself.

But what has this to do with people working in financial services? In psychological terms, survival isn't only about saving your life. Keeping a roof over your head, putting food on the table, being able to get healthcare -- all come under the heading of survival.


Few people in the financial system can be sure of having a job a year from now.

And according to the Irish Bank Officials' Association, the workers concerned typically earn between €22,000 and €30,000 a year -- so they are living pretty close to the bone when it comes to survival.

The loss of an expected bonus makes that survival even tougher. Presumably they, too, have mortgages to pay to unforgiving lenders, children to educate, escalating utility bills and so on.

That said, to demand bonuses and pay increases from an employer in the state Irish Nationwide has brought itself to is like whacking a golf ball in the general direction of Jupiter and hoping for a hole in one -- it's not going to happen.

But survival thinking doesn't see things that way. When you need to survive you lash out, often to your own detriment.

And we will get more of this. We are motivated, as humans, by certain needs. We need connection with other people, a sense of control, enjoyment and so on. But we are prepared to ditch all of these if survival is at stake -- because without survival, the other needs become irrelevant anyway.


Much of the success, while it lasted, of the Celtic Tiger was built on people working for fairly low pay.

Obscene property prices meant that even people on good pay felt as poorly off as those on low pay -- a remarkably perverse achievement.

In other words, an awful lot of us are in survival mode. For many of us it may only take another pay cut or mortgage rate increase to make us come out fighting -- even if we have little hope of winning. That's the way it is with survival.

Anger at the behaviour of fat cats who will never, for the rest of their lives, have to worry about survival but who expect large bonuses and perks nonetheless also drives those whose shoe leather is wearing thin and the Fingleton watch and bonus have been mentioned by Irish Nationwide workers.

Under the circumstances it is understandable that the rest of us 'tut tut' and shake our heads at the demands of the Irish Nationwide workers -- but if things continue on their current downward spiral we ourselves could making demands in our workplaces that look irrational but can be readily explained by our deep-seated need to survive.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy