Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid helps out on a global wellbeing project


It is not often I put my hand up for extra work; I have plenty. But when I heard there is a new global project to look at wellbeing, I knew I wanted to get involved.

I reach out to Kirsty, who has been elected in the US to run this project. She says she is very keen to have me on board as she is mindful the project needs to include all regions around the world. However, I notice the rest of the team are all in the US, so it seems there is a limit to her mindfulness. I am invited to join the kick-off meeting, held, conveniently enough for the US participants, at 8pm my time. I decide not to say anything, after all, I am the interloper here.

Kirsty presents her vision for wellbeing, starting with the project team and corporate sponsors, then she gives details of the ongoing management team and oversight committee. It is rumoured that Kirsty is out to be promoted to VP, and the words ‘building’ and ‘empire’ spring to mind.  I start wondering if the project team is actually going to get round to doing anything. Her next slide calls out the three parts of wellbeing: physical, mental, and financial. In my mind, the financial part falls under mental as worries about finances cause mental stress, but I keep quiet. Kirsty is just warming up. However, when she starts to move on to the next slide without mentioning anything to do with social connections, I cannot let that go. Where do our employees’ emotional and social needs fit in? Kirsty bats me away, dismissively. Mental is the same as emotional, she says. Not quite.

Time contraints

We spend quite a lot of time talking about the results of the recent employee engagement survey, in which there were many complaints about long hours and back-to-back meetings. Kirsty declares that we need to guide managers to limit meetings to under an hour and to be within employees’ normal work time. This is said, rather ironically, during a mandatory two-hour meeting starting well after my contractual day ends. I can see this project is going to be very little about doing the right thing to help employees and a whole lot more about saying the right thing.

Kirsty has already defined a wellbeing calendar for the year with a theme for each month. The themes line up with special days like International Yoga Day, and on that day employees all around the world can tune into a special desk yoga session led by a health insurance vendor. I click on the link and see that the sessions will not be convenient for many countries outside the US. I ask if there will be regional sessions? Kirsty huffs audibly. Perhaps I can research the regional requirements and bring them back to the next meeting? That will teach me. I do not mind really; I volunteered because I do want to make the company a better place to work. I have a feeling it is not going to be that easy.

After a long discussion about the employee assistance programme (EAP), which is only partly with one vendor, other countries being happy with their existing provider and refusing to move. This, of course, is going to make it more complicated to do central reporting and to utilise supplier benefits consistently.


The next meeting is again two hours on a Friday night. Why exactly did I ask to get involved? Once again, Kirsty puts up the slide with the different aspects of wellbeing. She tells us she has expanded the mental category to include emotional wellbeing and she has added a new social connection category. I wait for her to acknowledge this was my suggestion. Nope. Ah well, I did not come here for glory. Just as well, as it is clear this is Kirsty’s show and she is going to take all the applause.

Under the physical category, this month Kirsty has set up virtual posture assessments to help employees to avoid back pain. Back pain is one of the highest claim areas, so she hopes to demonstrate savings as a result. There are links to local therapists, but I see they are all in the US. I am not going to take on all the regions outside the US again, so I offer to research equivalent links for Europe. I know that similar networks exist through our local insurers so it should not be a big task. I feel a bit guilty that Latin America and Asia Pacific will be left out. One thing is clear, Kirsty is not going to think about them, nor are any of the team. I wonder if she has run a global project before.

I begin to dread the wellbeing meetings; they are proving bad for my health. I can honestly say Kirsty is the most difficult leader I have worked with. She dismisses any suggestions as unworkable and then introduces them as her own. Her condescension to me, and other members of the team, borders on disrespect. I mention this to Big Bad Boss, and he says I could always use the EAP if I am getting stressed. He is joking. I think.

The sad thing is: these are the behaviours that flourish in the Higher Beings, our executive team. Sure enough, it is not long before I see the announcement congratulating Kirsty on her promotion to VP. I realise, once again, that I simply do not have what it takes to get to the top in this organisation. Locally, however, I can make a difference. I work on rounding out the global programme to be relevant in EMEA where possible. Our local health providers have been great, one even sending me a freebie to try out a UK massage therapy centre. Well, at least one employee has benefited from this project.

Next time…Candid considers the future of work.