Rival firms question decision

Willis has offered its staff unpaid leave as it seeks to slash costs across the business.

Rival brokers criticised the global giant’s move, adding that they did not intend to take similar action.

Joe Plumeri, Willis Group’s chief executive, has asked employees to work four-day weeks for less pay or to take a “partly paid sabbatical”.

In a statement, Willis said it had offered staff the option to take unpaid leave and/or the sabbaticals.

“This fits with our policy of moving toward more flexible working and benefit structures,” the statement said.

“It also gives us another tool that allows us to manage our costs as we, like all other professional services firms, navigate these times of economic turmoil and uncertainty.”

Willis said the programme was not compulsory and client service would not be compromised.

“It has been extremely well received by our associates,” the statement said.

Aon said it had considered a nine-day working fortnight – without a pay cut – for staff who wanted to work harder and squeeze their work into a shorter timeframe.

It did not go ahead because of fears it would affect client service.

An Aon spokesman said it would watch the reaction of Willis staff “with interest”.

Marsh said it had no similar plans. “We are a bit surprised by Willis’s move. In the current economic climate we feel clients need all the help they can get,” said a source.

Both Aon and Marsh last year announced plans to cut hundreds of jobs.