Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid applies for her own job


It’s hard to tell exactly how well things are going for the company. One minute the executive Higher Beings are congratulating us on a fantastic, record-breaking quarter and the next they are shaking their heads and demanding budget cuts.

I have a feeling I know where we are heading: another cull. Turns out I’m right. Big Bad Boss is shaken to hear from an external source – one of our healthcare providers – that our company is putting together a severance programme to cut out the ‘dead wood’. A great way to find out.

Reducing headcount

Even in the good times, it is typical for the Higher Beings to have a little headcount declutter, taking out an under-performing sales team and the odd out-of-favour department head. Big Bad Boss and I are usually part of the discussion – not actually deciding which heads will roll, but working out how much it will cost us to let them go versus how much we will save in the long run. It looks like we save a lot when I add it up: a reduced payroll, along with associated allowances and benefits, but in reality, the company hardly saves any money at all as almost all lost headcount is hired back within a year.

I wonder why they bother. I think it comes down to the fact that restructuring costs are ‘below the line’, so finance can stuff a lot of costs away, making it look like we are doing much better than we really are. Very creative, that team. A more insidious reason is the Higher Beings in C-suite like to keep everyone on their toes. Knowing our jobs are only as safe as the last quarter’s results, we al keep on working super hard towards the next.

What’s different about this time is that I am not involved in the process. Even Big Bad Boss doesn’t have the detail, but we both know there is something going down. A secret list is being prepared with code name Orange – not that secret, clearly, as we even know the name of the project, but we don’t know who is on there. I can almost see our Highest Being, the CEO, waving an airy hand over a list of names, saying: ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’. It is all very stressful.

The application process

At length, we get a communication from David, the HR business partner for the European headquarters. All of the HQ jobs are at risk. Yes. All of them. We’re all going to have to reapply for our own job. David, the dastardly little sneak, has already prepared a comms pack using external advisers. They send us a bunch of forms to complete. Paperwork. How charmingly retro. With typical HR data accuracy, the letter is riddled with errors; my name has been spelled wrong and my job title is incorrect. At least it wasn’t written in Comic Sans font (this time).

As I fill in the form to apply for my own job, it seems clear to me that no-one else could do my work – Big Bad Boss just bosses; he doesn’t actually do anything. If anyone was properly at risk, it would be my colleague Lazy Susan as she struggles with numbers (and words come to that). She hasn’t even understood the what the forms mean, so she’s not worried. I think I’m safe, but you never know. When severance it is a top-down exercise like this, some crazy decisions get made. You might think that employment law provides strict rules for letting people go, and it does, yet I’ve seen some very partial and unfair actions take place all carried out quite within the law. I also know from previous cuts that the Higher Beings generally have a notional savings figure they are working towards. I realise Susan is a lot cheaper than me. Gulp.

David the Sneak sends me an email. Can I produce a list of all HQ staff with their salaries and benefits? Oh, and can make sure it includes everyone’s notice period and start date. So, I am to provide the costing for my own potential termination. This is too much. Dastardly David also tells me to prepare a calculator for people to see how much redundancy pay they would get when they leave. I need to show the statutory redundancy pay separately, along with additional severance per the policy, and to show the value of benefits continuation and employee share scheme concessions where appropriate. I’ve done this before, but our policies and benefits package have changed so I need to revise it. When the calculator is complete, I put in my own numbers to test it. I check it again. And again. Wow, my potential payout is quite substantial, and a large chunk would be tax-free. Maybe this severance thing wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

Decision time

While we are waiting for the fickle finger of fate to poke us in the back, I start planning what I could do with my redundancy payment. I could pay off a chunk of my mortgage, or I could finally redecorate. I could even plan a little sabbatical. I am getting quite excited about leaving now.

There is no big bang communication, but it is clear when the decisions have been made. A few people look upset; others seem relieved when they finally learn they are going. Most elect to leave immediately, so there is the usual panic among remaining colleagues as they realise their workload just doubled. Luckily, my team is unaffected. Somehow, once again, Lazy Susan escaped unscathed. Big Bad Boss is still big and bad and here. And so am I, suddenly wishing I was somewhere else.

I am cheered, though, to learn that David is a casualty of the severance programme himself. How like our Higher Beings to hang the executioner along with the prisoners.

Next time… Candid drowns in email.