Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid battles email deluge

Just when I think I have my email under control, I am deluged by another wave of wretched market updates. The worst offender is Mercenary Brokers: it regularly sends me an executive review, an executive summary, an HR briefing, a reward update and a global market report. These documents all pretty much say the same thing but in a slightly different format.

I have to confess the whole lot goes into a folder marked ‘research’ and only gets looked at if there is something I need to find out, if then. I don’t know about you, but if I need to find out about something, I research it internally or through my network first. It that fails, I’ll seek to extract the information from a Smarmy consultant before they can think of charging for it.

To add to my growing ‘research’ folder, Big Bad Boss sends me all his updates to assuage his own guilt for not reading them. Occasionally, he catches me out by getting all excited about some report neither of us has read properly and he demands a heap of work as a follow-up. It’s such a complete waste of time.

Industry publications

Before you conclude that I may be too shockingly ill-informed to do my job properly, I do read a few industry publications in a vague attempt to keep up to date. I tend to go for the glossy industry magazines, because they are a much more interesting read. I learn just enough to sound like I know my stuff, and to be aware of what topics to raise next time I am speaking to a consultant. I can hear some of you sniff that I should be more enthusiastic in researching my chosen specialism and I could easily read such publications on my phone or tablet while commuting. All I can say to that is: when would I catch up on the stuff that I actually want to read?

Social media

I did sign up to a whole slew of industry groups on social media, thinking that would be a way to keep abreast of any changes without really trying. What it really did is create another whole raft of emails. Each time anyone posted anything, LinkedIn would kindly send me an email to tell me so. Aaagh. It took an hour of my life before I could figure out how to stop these email notifications, and still a few seem to sneak through. Perhaps the writers pay extra for that.

Now I can look at these posts at my leisure, it is shaming to note which ones I actually read. Titles such as ‘How to make your organisation’s benefits stand out’ are swiped over in favour of ‘Five ways to look better than your colleagues’ and ‘Top tips for asking for a promotion’. I hope no one is tracking my browsing history, for it is easy to see it is all about me.

Market reports

Smarmy Consulting also sends me a list of market reports, both in hard copy and online. It sends fat glossy reports described as ‘thought leadership’ and ‘strategic insight’, but really they are more about flashy graphics and marketing copy, and rarely contain any actual data. Most of the reports I receive are just hooks to try to catch a consulting fee; we must contact our Smarmy benefits consultant to make any sense of it. Useful data is never given away, only the stuff that we know already.  When it comes to industry insight, my cat is just as informative.

At the other end of the scale, Smarmy’s trustee emails are enough to keep me awake at night. It regularly sends me 20-page pension legislation updates absolutely rammed with facts. These updates are so heavy with close text, they are even more obtuse a read than the government guidelines themselves. Smarmy’s trustee updates are written with the deliberate intention to alarm, containing dark threats of penalties and scary investigations if you fail to act appropriately (by consulting it). It is quite like the mob asking for protection money.

It may come as a surprise that I do take my responsibilities as a trustee seriously, and I try to read these updates diligently. The burden is quite overwhelming. It can take 20 minutes of an already busy day to figure out if just one particular change applies to any of our pension schemes. Usually by the second-to-last page, I realise that it does not apply. I have even been silly enough to check in with Smarmy for help on interpretation, but I won’t make that mistake again. Several chargeable hours of my life later I still find that no action is required. I’ve learned that anything really important gets raised again in our trustee meetings (along with a whole lot that isn’t really important) so I can probably get away with skimming the headlines.

Consultation papers

And then there are the consultation papers: Smarmy sends out thousands of words on potential legislation changes. Often these are disguised as actual changes so you have to read through to the end before you find out there is a date when the changes may or may not apply. At that point, I am annoyed to discover that even though a change may indeed apply to my scheme, it doesn’t apply definitely yet and so, apart from worrying, there is nothing I can do about it anyway. Aaagh.

The irritating thing is: Smarmy does know all about our benefit schemes. It has helped us with inventories and most renewals. It certainly knows our pensions inside out. What I really want is for our consultant to send me only those things that I actually need to do something about, along with a summary of what to do. Is that really so much to ask?

Next time…Candid gets in earlier and earlier.