Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: I am minding my own business when Big Bad Boss comes rampaging out of his office. He jabs a stubby finger at a document and yells: “This hasn’t been updated for three years”, in a most accusing tone. He is waving the sheet around so much I can’t see what he is referring to. Eventually, he thrusts it in front of me and storms off to the coffee machine. 

Well, I should have guessed what all the fuss was about. Only the car policy can produce this kind of testosterone frenzy. It’s quite true that the policy hasn’t been updated lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t looked at it. Conscientious, even when it comes to cars, I review it against the latest market data as a matter of routine. It’s just that rates haven’t moved.

The problem is Big Bad Boss has got his sights on the new-super-deluxe executive-mobile and his budget doesn’t run to it. I heave a sigh of relief and take another look at my analysis. I know a career-limiting budget when I see one, and realise the policy might just need to change after all.

Having set the policy and posted it to our intranet site, you might think that would be the end of it. But no, like Angelina with Brad, my name is inextricably linked with the car policy, for better or for worse. So when anyone wants to know what car we offer to sales guys in Hungary or wherever, rather than looking it up on the handy table I’ve provided, they phone me up instead. Not having committed such tedium to memory, I have to go to the intranet site and look it up on the handy table myself. I try to remember I get paid to do this.

Some people do get as far as reading the policy but they lack confidence, and seem to need my reassurance that they are looking at the right document. One HR manager actually went to the trouble of copying out the relevant paragraph from the policy into her email in order to help me answer her query. The odd thing was the answer was already clearly spelt out, so all I had to do was copy it back to her. I’ve lain awake at night on this; she must have read the policy to know that part was relevant, but having read it, why did she still need to ask? Is it me?

It would be touching, this faith in my ability to solve all problems, if only there weren’t quite so many of them. We’ve got hundreds of company cars and, if at any time anyone wants a change they need to contact me, I’m going to get pretty fed up. The thing is I am not interested. I can’t get excited about whether or not someone is allowed a sunroof. Frankly, I don’t give a damn, but I can’t say that.

The one that really got to me was a guy in Belgium. He called me to ask about the car policy for his grade. I duly looked it up on the handy table, gave him the number and he rang off. A bit later, his boss called me and asked what the Belgian budget for that grade was. I told him I’d already spoken to the Belgian guy about this, but he insisted on having the data. I read it off from the handy table. It went a bit quiet but he went away. I then got a call from the boss’s boss. He wanted to know, you guessed it, what the budget was for the guy in Belgium. Perhaps they hoped I’d made a mistake and called out a number from the wrong column. But no, by now, I can recite the Belgium car policy to anyone who’d like to hear it. The big boss went a bit quiet in response and rang off.

A few days passed and the first manager rang again. There had been a mistake, he told me. Some terrible HR person had wrongly graded the poor chap in Belgium. As a result, the guy is most upset because he can’t get the same company car as he had last time. Thank goodness for that, I think; it sounds like a fiddle but at least it’s a way forward. Anything to stop people asking me about car budgets every five minutes. But no, something doesn’t add up. The rates are floating in my memory, but just to be sure I pull up the handy table. Yes, it is just as I feared: the budget is exactly the same for the new grade.

It was only a matter of days before I got another email from the boss’s boss asking me to verify that the Belgian guy’s desired car is within budget. Hello? Have I not told everyone the budget several times already? 

I make a suggestion. The Belgian can have his wretched Renault and pay the difference through payroll. They don’t like that; apparently the Belgian is already underpaid. So, how about giving him a pay increase to more than cover it? It’s such a neat solution: pay will be equitable, budgets will be met, everybody will be happy. But no, they are not. Salary is taxed heavily in Belgium, cars are not.

Ok, so I think of another option: they can simply go outside of policy budgets. It is written in the rules; they just need a good justification and a higher level of sign-off. At last, the managers are happy. I’m happy we are true to my policy. The Belgian is happy with his Renault.

There is only one downside to all this joy: they want me to write the justification. Remind me to up the rates for Belgium next year. Never mind what the data says.

Next time…Candid has a domestic on international assignments.

Confessions of a benefits manager – March 2007