Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid reviews voluntary benefits.


It all came about because of a mini disaster with the national minimum wage. We offer certain voluntary benefits under a salary sacrifice arrangement. In theory, employees are only able to select things that do not take them under the national minimum wage (NMW). We think they should be able to select core pension benefit and we round up our lowest pay range to allow for a certain level of voluntary benefits to be selected. All well and good, but when the rate changed in April, we had not applied the same amount of ‘top-up’ as we had in the previous period which has led to some NMW breaches. Luckily, we do not have many employees near the minimum wage, and the cost impact is minimal. However, the impact on my workload has been non-trivial.

Big Bad Boss keeps telling me I should not be working on it as it is an issue for payroll. Payroll say it cannot go around deciding what to pay people. My colleague in compensation hasn’t a clue, so it is left to me to sort things out. I am stuck in the middle because Big Bad Boss likes to make sure we are working on things that bring him glory. Uninteresting admin issues like NMW will not get us any kudos, but that does not mean I can walk away from it.

Just when I think it is all sorted, the tiny increase in costs (there are only about three people impacted so it really is tiny) has poked the finance Higher Being into wanting a complete review of all the voluntary benefits we offer. Something has clearly been lost in translation. What we offer has not caused the issue; it is just a case of timing.

I do not think we need to review anything. It cost me many hard hours to negotiate rates with our suppliers, to seek approval from the Higher Beings, and to get things set up with our flexible platform. Any changes now, are unthinkable. Sadly, what I think counts for very little.

Luckily, I have kept all the original salary sacrifice presentations. All I need to do is combine them to have all the arguments in one place. I do need to update all the costs as they have increased since introduction, and I need to update the market data as time has moved on. It is nothing difficult but it will take time. It is tempting to ask my colleague Lazy Susan to help, but it all involves numbers so there is a high risk of errors. There are some words to update in the presentation, but Susan is not all that hot on spelling either. I will just have to do it myself. I include the most recent statistics on take up of each benefit to create a nice chart showing the popularity of each voluntary benefit.

Big Bad Boss wants to review the presentation before taking it to the Higher Beings. He also does not think we need to change anything in our offering but we could drop some of the less popular options like will writing assistance. I was going to put that in my recommendation, but, call me morbid, I am one of the few people who just has not got around to choosing it yet. I had even changed the scale of the chart to make will writing look a bit more popular than it is, but I am not sure it will help enough. Big Bad Boss tries to anticipate the dumb questions that will be asked. At least I think that is what he is doing. Or maybe they are just his own dumb questions.

Sure enough, the Higher Beings suggest that we drop will writing assistance from our benefits offering. Naturally, this will make absolutely no difference to future national minimum wage breaches. By my calculation, some breaches are inevitable, for example if someone has selected a benefit before the benefits renewal increases the price of that benefit. We have already decided as a company we will need to ‘top-up’ those cases to the national minimum wage until the benefit level selected can be changed, or it naturally goes away with a pay increase.  Still, the executive management team are not paid to make logical decisions, only to make arrogant pointy decisions. I have checked their job descriptions on that point.

They have also suggested that we reduce the number of optional health check selections to one provider. I remember, with irritation, that a single provider had been my original proposal, but one of the Higher Beings had a mate at the alternate provider so we were required to include it on the list even though it was more expensive. He has gone now, but has not been forgotten. At least not by me. It is strange the way things in the benefits world seems to cycle in and out of fashion depending on random factors such as who is playing golf with who.

What I have learned, is not to argue, particularly if Big Bad Boss is on their side; it is a waste of breath. If the Higher Beings want something, I give it to them. I will have the list of options amended on the platform before the next benefits window. I get my own election for help with my will in quickly before anything changes.

Next time… Candid attends team planning meetings.