Could HR solve...? Downton Abbey: The Movie

A newly promoted butler’s wellbeing is put at risk when his predecessor returns

The problem

King George V and Queen Mary visit Downton Abbey, causing pandemonium among the staff. When newly appointed head butler Thomas Barrow stumbles under the pressure of preparing for the visit, Lady Mary temporarily reinstates his retired predecessor Carson, with Barrow taking a leave of absence instead.

The solution

Barrow is likely to see Carson’s re-emergence as a threat to his job security, which will affect his ability to carry out the role when he returns, says Dr Zofia Bajorek, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies.

Re-recruiting a predecessor without explanation, even temporarily, could cause a breakdown in relations at a time when Barrow is already likely to have lost confidence following his botched handling of the royal visit.

“Poor communication can lead to a slow erosion in organisational trust, the psychological contract and employee wellbeing,” she says.

Employers should communicate decisions effectively, Bajorek adds. If Lady Mary had framed the move as a development opportunity, she could have avoided Barrow complaining to Lord Grantham. “This would allow him to understand where he went wrong and to learn from Carson, while reassuring him he would have a chance to take the reins at the next formal event,” she says.

“Had the Crawley family outlined their expectations of both butlers at the outset, neither would feel their toes were being trodden on and both would feel they had played a part in the exciting occasion."