Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid considers the future of work


Big Bad Boss tells me (as though it is an honour to be asked) to join the Future of Work Committee.

Why I would think being co-opted to do more work is a good thing, I don’t know. Big Bad Boss always thinks exposure to the Higher Beings in C-Suite is a privilege. From my perspective, the less exposure I have to our rather toxic executive team, the healthier I will be. I prefer to keep my head down and do my job.

The Future of Work is a global team, pulling in people from all grades and departments, across multiple time zones. The organiser, Cheryl, says she picked the best time to fit all parties. It is 4pm US time, evening for me, and the middle of the night for the poor souls from Asia. Well done, Cheryl. So glad you are on it.

The head of strategy kicks us off with a presentation on changes in the workplace. He presents, without irony, that there has been a global pandemic which has caused seismic shifts in the way we work. Really? Did he think any of us had missed that? He goes on to talk about data analytics and robotics continuing to change the way we work.

He has a point on analytics. As an organisation, we are behind the times in looking at people data beyond very simplistic measures of headcount and attrition. I think I know why: our HR team gets a bit stressed when numbers are involved, so there seems little to be gained in presenting more of them.

Robotic process automation

We also hear that robotic process automation is already being used to streamline customer service administration and logistics. Well, we should; we are a technology company. I have noticed we have more than our fair share of robots in the HR team; people who can slavishly follow processes to fix things but are not able to think through how to prevent problems in the first place. Yes, I can see we have quite a lot of artificial intelligence throughout the organisation, only without the intelligence bit.

At length, we get to the real point of this project. We need to come up with a methodology to define the work terms for each department worldwide, whether that is on-site, remote, hybrid or on the road. It is clear to me what is driving this: the Higher Beings want people back in the office where they can see them. There is nothing they like better than watching people hard at work. It is almost a fetish.

In fact, we hear that workforce planning has already put together a proposal, and our CHRO has already decreed that the whole of HR will be hybrid whether we like it or not. Thanks.

I suppose hybrid is marginally less awful than full-time on-site, but still there are significant downsides. First, we all must drag our laptops about, which will lead to backache and increased medical claims. Secondly, the office desk setup, monitor height and so on must be adjusted each time.

Everything is supposed to be sterilised each night, but do I believe that? The keyboards are often dusty and sticky. Ew. Worst of all, in a bid to save office space, we now operate on a hoteling process, which means each day we must book our own desk, not knowing if we will sit with colleagues or not.

I wouldn’t mind sitting in a hot, virus-laden train if I knew I was actually meeting with colleagues at the end of it. No, wait, I do mind.

A traveller, passing through

The desk-booking thing feels so impersonal. It is not like I really work for the organisation, more like I am just some sort of traveller passing through. I cannot be alone feeling like this. I try to articulate that in the project meeting, but it is clear the objective is not to make employees feel better, it is to get bums back on seats.

My role is to help with the policy around home-working allowances. Until now, payments have been agreed on ad-hoc basis location by location, so it is a bit of a mess. I need to collect the practice across my countries and put together a harmonised proposal. It was on my list to do anyway so I am glad to get focus from the business to help me complete it.

I think the other thing we need to address, as the way of work changes, is mobility. Since employees have been working from home, the number of employee-initiated requests to relocate has quadrupled. Employees are suddenly deciding they need to be near to their aging relatives, or to return to their birth country, even if their role is on the other side of the world.

From a work perspective, it seems no problem; if you have an internet connection and do not mind strange work hours, you can be based anywhere. But, from an HR perspective it is a mess.

People are expecting the same salary even when moving to a low-cost country, arguing they are doing the same job. And if they do move the other way, to a higher-cost country, it is increasing cost for the business. And then there are benefits, which are dramatically different from one country to the next.

One way or another, we will need to limit these moves to those that make sense. If we wouldn’t recruit someone that far away, why would we approve a transfer? Even within a country, there are loads of employees moving away from the office out to the suburbs and beyond.

They will get a shock when they realise our execs still want to see their face at least three times a week.

Next time… Candid tries to educate the talent team.