Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid cannot swerve company cars

Confessions of a benefits manager

I try to have as little to do with company cars as possible. That is because to get involved in cars is to be in the wrong, and I just hate that. You see in the US, company cars are a super special perk way beyond the reach of an ordinary American. A senior government official may have a company car, a particularly well-regarded CEO of large technology company perhaps, but a middle manager, no, that just does not happen. Not ever.

My colleagues get so worked up about the company cars in Europe you would think we were offering online gambling allowances. In fact, that would be preferable. I try to explain that in many European countries company cars are as prevalent as say 401K in the US, but the message does not get through. Cars are seen as the work of the devil. It really is that bad.

On the other side, when you talk to local managers about the car policy, you are still in the wrong because all our competitors offer much better cars, and they are ashamed to be seen at our client’s office in the low-spec BMW they are forced to drive because of our penny-pinching policy. This is particularly true in Belgium where even the tax system still favours cars.

We have recently transferred in a small team from another company in Brussels, and we are bound by Tupe to keep them in a style to which they have been accustomed. There are only a dozen employees, but 11 of them have cars including the receptionist, all Mercedes and BMWs. My US colleagues nearly suffered some sort of cardiac arrest at that. They want me to get rid of their cars. I explain the nature of Tupe is that we cannot change anything at all for 12 months. Then we must get rid of their cars after that, they say. Unfortunately, after that they are still protected by employment legislation, and we would have to compensate them for any loss of benefit as well as getting their consent. I have now gone through this so many times, I feel like recording a speech and pressing play every time someone asks me to take away someone’s car.

Ordering new cars

To make matters worse, some of the existing leases are coming to the end of their term and we will have to order new cars. We do not have a fleet manager in Belgium, and the EMEA supplier management team refuses to touch it because they have been told to get rid of cars too. Finally, one of the HR business partners, Iria, is nominated to sort it out. I suspect she will need help because we do not yet have a car policy for this new location in Belgium. Iria will also need help because Iria is an idiot. I have told her we need to adopt the policy from their last company while under Tupe but she does not seem to be listening. I have dealt with the employees from Belgium and I know what they are like. We need clear rules when ordering company cars so it is not a free-for-all; we cannot have everyone driving round in Lamborghinis, it is seen as bad enough they have cars at all. I have provided a car policy from the company they transferred from, but I have the sense Iria has already filed it under deleted items.

Sure enough, we have a call with supply chain to find out what we need to do to process the orders. Iria in her infinite wisdom, has invited along the two employees whose cars are up for renew. That means they get to hear discussions around budget which they should not be hearing. Awkward. I take Iria to one side afterwards, but she invites them again at the next meeting. What is wrong with the woman?

Exceeding budget

Finally, she emails details of two new cars to supply chain to approve for order. I am only on copy, but I check the numbers anyway. They are significantly above the budgets we provided. Iria tells me it is because they can no longer order a diesel car and they must now order a hybrid. This is true, but it does not mean they get to spend so much more. What about the budgets I gave you, I ask her. Oh, the manager said they are not correct and the budgets should be 50% higher. Really? And you took his word for that?  Then, Iria tells me she had the car policy from someone else. Oh yes, and who was that? Iria can’t remember. This happens a few times and I realise that not only is she an idiot, but she is a liar.

These new cars are not signed off and Iria is tasked with getting new quotes. She is never online and later I discover that she has simply asked the managers to find new cars without giving them any guidance. This is wrong on so many levels. We cannot ask employees to sort out their own benefits and we cannot trust them to create their own policy.

Finally, I hear that Iria is leaving. She tells us that the lease renewals are all complete and there is nothing left to do. Iria has only been gone a day when I get a call from supply chain complaining that even the revised orders are still wrong. I sigh. Much as I try to stay away from cars, I just keep getting dragged back in.

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Iria sends me a little note on LinkedIn. She hopes we will see each other again. Not if I see you first, I think. I accept the connection request though. It is worth knowing where she ends up; that way I can avoid it.

Next time: Candid works on annual leave.