Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid focuses on employee engagment

Confessions of a benefits manager

I am on the new employee engagement board. Sounds pretty fancy, eh? Little do they know I am possibly the least able to provide positive input; I have been here too long to do much more than convincingly pretend to be engaged. My nemesis, Nasty Nancy, from the employee development team has also been co-opted, along with, inexplicably, one of the business partners called Mona. The board is headed up by a new HR director, Patsy, who is passionate about employee engagement. She is new and so her pretending skills are more current.

We are to meet weekly until we have a new employee engagement plan. Patsy wants to meet in real life and on a Friday, so that means shifting around my hybrid days. I guess she wants to make sure we are all engaged, but a day in the office is hardly likely to help that for me. Predictably, Mona is not too happy about the meet time either, but unlike the rest of us, she gets quite vocal about it. Mona by name, moaner by nature.

Patsy has already prepared a presentation on the Five Keys to Employee Engagement. I wonder if that was the assignment she had to do for her interview or has she just recycled it from her last company. As she presents, I wonder why we are here. It seems she has all the answers already. We are only on key one: offer great rewards, and I am bored already. Nasty Nancy chips in on the second slide, wouldn’t it be great if we could offer bonuses twice a year instead of waiting to year end. Nasty. That gives all the managers, including me twice as much work to do. I point out that finance won’t let us do that because their budgets are annual. It is not strictly true, but I know that the finance guys would back me up if questioned. They will not want to do the accounting twice a year either. Nancy also complains how there is a never enough budget to differentiate higher performance. Welcome to my world, I think. Again, I point the finger where it belongs, firmly in finance. I am sure we could do a lot more on most things if we had more budget.

Development opportunities

I get my own back on key two: provide great development opportunities. Wouldn’t it be great if we offered on-demand leadership career training, and if it was available to grades below manager? Yes, I think, let’s just multiply Nancy’s workload exponentially. Nancy does not want to look unengaged in front of Patsy so she says nothing, presumably hoping the idea will just go away. Some organisations are offering budget to spend on personal training, even for hobbies and side hustles, I add. I am going to spend Nancy’s budget if she is going to spend mine. Patsy puts her head on one side as if she is giving it full consideration. I hold my breath.

Sadly, she moves quickly onto the third key which is all about recognising good work. I sigh inside. This is going to be down to me. I quickly offer to do a presentation on the recognition platform next week and say I also have lots of ideas for improvement. I don’t, but I will have by next week. Luckily that is enough to move us on before Nancy can get her knife into me again.


Patsy gives us her thoughts on the next key: getting feedback. We do have an employee engagement survey, and while I can talk to the questions on reward, which we have gone around a million times to where I can now recite them verbatim, the rest of the survey is a bit of a blur. Luckily Mona steps in to tell Patsy where the survey data is stored and even offers to bring a summary to the next meeting. Mona does not stop there; she goes onto to say what a nuisance the survey is for the HR business partners as they must chase everyone to complete the survey and then help disseminate the results. The results are so confusing, HR end up spending a lot of time fielding pointless questions, she complains. My heart sinks. If Patsy is listening, I can feel a major rewrite of the survey coming on, which means yet more time spent on the reward questions. I do not want to come across as another moaner, but I do point out that having some consistency of questions allows us to track trends over time. Patsy looks thoughtful but says nothing.


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The fifth key is communication, oh yes, that old one again. It does get raised by employees as a comment on the survey every year. Patsy has also found a load of comments on Glassdoor. We need to be more transparent about company results and any significant changes such as acquisitions and redundancies. That said, we all know that nothing can be shared until it is public knowledge. Transparency is a relative word and it gets bandied about with little authenticity here. I am trying to work out if Patsy is yet another HR spin-doctor or if she really does want to make a difference.  I dare to point out that our leaving survey has identified some issues with manager communication. Patsy gets all passionate again as she moves on to her next slide. She has data showing that the manager-employee relationship is key to employee engagement and retention. By now, I am pretty sure her presentation is coming from her last company, but if it gets some attention on good management here all well and good. I note that the action for addressing the issue is manager training. Nancy does not look too pleased. Ha.

Next time…Candid helps divvy out shares