Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid goes to an internal conference

Confessions

Big Bad Boss has news: our chief people officer (CPO) has a crazy idea to improve morale. Is it an extra holiday? No. Is it a bigger bonus? No, it is a conference. Yes, really.  An internal conference, so not even an external jolly with free gifts and biscuits. It is going to be held right here in the European head office. Woop.

Big Bad Boss tells me that Caroline (our CPO) believes that given these post-lockdown times, we now need to reconnect as a company. Well, I do not know about her, but I am connecting with people here every day. That is the main reason why I have a headache when I finish work. Perhaps in the ivory towers of C-suite things are different.

He shows me the deck outlining the event that she has signed off with the Higher Beings. The conference will be called ‘Inspire’ and has three main objectives: to inspire to us to make new connections, to inspire health and wellbeing, and for us all to be inspired by leadership. This last makes me choke on my coffee. The purgatory outlined is due to last an entire week, with most things happening here in the UK along with smaller local events all over Europe. I suddenly feel rather heavy and truly uninspired.

Aside from having to come into the office every day for a week to listen to this nonsense, I could not care less. But then Big Bad Boss points out that the wellbeing part is technically our remit, and that they are looking for volunteers on the project team. It can hardly be called volunteering if your manager tells you to do it. Sigh.

Caroline kicks off the project team by taking us through her ‘Inspire’ deck. By now I have seen the presentation three times: once directly by Big Bad Boss, once in her HR leadership meeting, and once during a regional generalist HR meeting that I regularly attend. I struggle to look inspired. Mind you, I don’t want to look too interested, because I don’t want to get any more involved than I must. I illl let the fresh-faced enthusiasts in the training and development team take over.

Wellbeing training sessions

Luckily, we already have a couple of online wellbeing sessions scheduled for that very week, so all I really need do is provide the links to the project manager for the overall event schedule. The online training is free from our employee assistance programme (EAP) provider, and the videos are truly awful, but they are all I have; I am not allowed to spend any cash on wellbeing from our budget, despite it being one of our core values. Still, at least this event will increase the viewing statistics on the videos.

Our local UK wellbeing associate is very excited about the event. I am pleased for her. She is arranging for on-site massages on one of the days and I will admit that might be nice. She is also talking about allowing people to bring pets to work on another day. I am not so sure about that idea. Fluffy is a rather aloof cat and I can’t see him ‘connecting’.

The ‘Inspire’ project meetings take up a few hours every week, but at least I do not gather any more actions. I lose a bit of a sleep when they decide to hold a live Q&A session on reward as part of the ‘inspired by leadership’ section, but I manage to convince Big Bad Boss that he would be a much more inspirational leader than I would. I do not mind presenting but fielding questions from a couple of hundred people is just asking for trouble.

In fact, Big Bad Boss handles the session very well, far better than Caroline, who takes quite a bit of heckling over the hybrid-working policy from our technical guys. In fact, I have not seen them so animated and vocal since the coffee machine was moved to another floor.

Naturally, we had a long session led by the Emea president, which went something like this: blah-blah-blah-profit-blah-blah-blah. It went on and on like that for the best part of an hour. I could see people’s eyes rolling back into their heads, and there were little snuffling noises coming from the back of the room. So much for inspirational leadership. Thankfully, this session was rapidly followed by some wellbeing activities including artisan coffee tasting. Inspired scheduling if nothing else.

Bring-your-pet-to-work-day

The pet day was a laugh. There was a massive bark off in the middle of one of the town hall sessions and the all pet owners just stood by and watched; it was far more interesting than the speaker who could not be heard over the noise. Lazy Susan’s cockapoo snapped at Big Bad Boss’s ankle, and to add to the excitement, the HRIS guy’s lab ran off and left a wet patch in workplace development. That dog knows a thing or two.  Fluffy, I am glad to say, worked from home that day. In fact, I rather wish I had worked from home myself, because we had to do ‘speed-friending’, spending three minutes telling a colleague from another department about our job. I got paired with one of the tech guys who just kept complaining about his pay review. Speed-cringing if you ask me.

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It is such a relief now all the efforts to ‘inspire’ are over. I very much wish I could unsee it, but I did glimpse how much the event cost the HR budget. It is so frustrating because the unplanned spend has meant that two reward projects have been pushed into next year to fund the event. I cannot help thinking employees might have been more inspired by a decent benefits package than being forced to sit listening to the Higher Beings bang on insincerely about connection.

Next time…Candid has leadership training.