Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid battles with meal vouchers


It is always nice when we enter a business-as-usual phase. Bonuses have been paid and pay reviews proposed, the main benefit renewals have taken place, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. That is usually just when some unexpected fire alarm sounds, like the mystery of the missing meal vouchers.

I did not know there were meal vouchers to set up for a new acquisition, but someone said they were provided through payroll and it was all set up, so as far as I was concerned that was that. Then, when the transferring employees get their first payslip from us, a chorus of complaints flow into HR services about a lack of meal vouchers.

It takes some investigation to find out why the Belgians are going hungry. Checking in with payroll, they have deducted employee contributions and set aside employer contributions, so we have paid right? No, we have not paid. Why not? Erm, well the provider has not been set up. And why not? Erm, well we thought it would just be part of the payroll provider’s invoice, but it turns out it is not; the payroll bureau just acts as an intermediary.

Setting up a new supplier

The problem with this latest discovery is we now need to set up a new supplier. When I started here that was easy, but these days the bean-counters are in charge. Before we can do any business, the supplier must fill in a four-page document; we ask for every number imaginable, not just the usual company registration and VAT number but all sorts of other data which is completely irrelevant outside the US. Nine times out of 10, the supplier misses out a box, and the form is rejected by supply management. I do not have time for that, so I scan the form for possible mistakes before sending it over. This is the kind of detail I would really rather not get involved in. Sigh.

Next, I have a call with our head of payroll provider and supply management to make sure all is set up to get the vouchers to our employees. Inexplicably, the payroll manager has invited one of the Belgians, Moany Max, to the meeting. I am outraged. We do not discuss benefit setup in front of the employees concerned, that is wholly inappropriate. Worse, supply management tells him it could take three months to get a new supplier set up. Really? This is so embarrassing. Quickly, I jump in and say that is not what our employees want to hear, they want to hear that we are working to set things up as quickly as possible. I do not think she gets my hint because she carries on detailing the worst-case scenario.

Signing contracts

The next step in this process is we need to sign a supplier contract. That sounds so easy, but I no longer have delegated authority, even on small amounts like this. Oh no. Now, any new benefit cost is approved by Big Bad Boss, supply management, the chief people officer and the chief financial officer. Seriously. It’s a wonder these C-suite guys can do anything strategic, the number of documents they must be signing off. In this case, the documents are in French and very confusing. It’s not just one contract, but also a complicated order form that even I do not know what to do with, and various other documents which look like terms and conditions. I decide to send just the contract and omit the rest. I translate the contract itself using good old Google. The translation is rough, but at least it gives them an idea what they are signing up to.

When I chase the contract a week later, the contract still has not been approved. I enlist Big Bad Boss to make some calls and escalate the priority. Honestly, all executive time on this for a few Euros a month. It would have been cheaper to send me to buy Fortnum and Mason packed lunches, fly to Belgium, and hand them out in person.

When the contract is finally signed, I think I can now relax. Oh no. The payroll provider, our intermediary, says the voucher portal will not be set up until we pay the invoice. I ask the obvious question: why haven’t we paid it? After all, the employer contribution was set aside as part of the payroll run so we have the money ready to go. Well, we have not paid it because we have not had an invoice. Is there anyone involved in this transaction, both internally and externally, who can actually do their job without being harassed to do it. It seems not. Meanwhile, Max is pinging me daily to find out why he does not have his meal vouchers. It is a wonder he finds time to do any work with all the complaining he has to do.

Chasing payroll

Having chased down the invoice, I need to chase down the payment from our payment team. Finally, the provider has no excuse not to set up the portal. Max lets me know that it still has not been done. Deep sigh.

I ping our payroll again. They say they have not heard back from the provider, so I demand their direct contact details. When I finally get through, they tell me it takes at least five working days to set things up. They have had two months by now I protest. Ok, so we hadn’t actually paid but no-one their end chased us, so I still think it is their fault.

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Finally, when the meal vouchers arrive, I send a personal note to Max to let him know the good news. The vouchers have been back-dated to the date of acquisition, so you know what, Max, lunch is on you.

Next time…Candid helps with the car policy.