Confessions of a benefits manager: Careful with that axe

Candid finds herself party to some sensitive information about potential redundancies and feels compelled to interfere

Today, I have been given a secret list to work on. Well, everyone seems to be aware the list exists, but not many actually get to look at it. It is a list of potential redundancies.

The first-quarter results are looking dismal, so the Higher Beings, our management team, are flapping about looking for someone to blame. If they can find them and let them go, they can save overheads, too. Mind you, we never actually save anything; redundancy pay is not cheap and notice periods must be paid. Then, by the third quarter, things pick up, and we will hire a bunch more people to fill the gap. So, we end up paying recruiters’ fees and sign-on bonuses for the very same jobs we eliminated earlier in the year. In the long run, the whole thing costs us more than if we had done nothing at all.

I used to think redundancy was something management did in an emergency to save the company, but here it is equivalent to the annual pay rise, but rather more likely to happen. The real reason it happens is all the costs get charged to ‘discontinued business’, so they can make it look like we are making a profit on the rest. Win-win. Except for the poor souls who have to leave.

Given the sensitivity, few people have visibility of the list and I wouldn’t normally be involved. But the HR director leading the programme gets dizzy when faced with a spreadsheet, so he has asked me to calculate the potential savings. All I have to do is add a column working out the target bonus and add that to base pay. Complex stuff. Sometimes I am astounded by the poor numeracy of my senior HR colleagues. I guess anyone with a brain would study some other discipline.

It takes me about five minutes, but I spend a bit longer looking at the names. It is quite shocking. The usual target for the annual cull is anyone with a bad performance rating. It is guaranteed that poor performers won’t be around for another year. After that, it is often anyone on maternity or long-term sick leave who is let go. We don’t carry any slackers here. Finally, they look at junior administrators and secretaries; we can always manage without one or two of those. Yes, I know there is a formal legal process to go through when examining what roles can be eliminated, but that isn’t what happens in real life.

What is so unusual about the list this time is the sweeping nature of the changes. Several Higher Beings are for the chop, including a couple of guys who have been here so long they are like bits of corporate furniture. As I am looking, Big Bad Boss swings by my desk. I see him squinting to see what I am working on. I quickly change screens. Even he isn’t party to this information.

Hidden rows of HR people

When he has gone, I notice there are some rows hidden. It isn’t difficult to unhide them; the worksheet isn’t even protected. All the hidden rows are HR people, and there are loads of them. Yikes. I scan quickly, looking for my own name. Not there. Phew. Nor is Big Bad Boss, though I am not sure whether to be happy or sad about that one. Several of my local HR contacts are on the list, including one woman who was on the key-talent-to-watch list, and another guy who just received a special recognition bonus. How quickly the mighty fall. Re-hiding the extra names, I notice one I hadn’t spotted before: Lazy Susan, my colleague and sidekick. Gulp.

Now it would be hard for me to argue she would be a great loss to the team or company. She spends most of the day on Facebook or talking to her boyfriend on the phone. But I like the way her slackness makes me look efficient and punctual by comparison. I have got used to her gormless face, and she takes most of the heat when Big Bad Boss is in a bad mood. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I don’t want her to leave.

I wonder why the names were hidden. Was it just so I didn’t see them and gossip? Well maybe, but then I won’t have done the proper calculations for them either. It could be that the HR director hid the names in the hope of saving them from the chop. Or they were originally put forward, but are now on the backburner should we need a second cull. That seems the most likely.

Despite my cynicism, I have a great deal of integrity when it comes to my job. I might be selective in my choice of market data points to suit the outcome I want sometimes, but I will never fudge data or hold anything back. But hard times require hard action, and I do something rather rash: I delete Lazy Susan’s name.

It isn’t such a great risk. The Higher Beings have such a low attention span, I doubt they would remember which names were on there in the first place. Anyway, I can always deny all knowledge. The HR director is so bad at Excel, he could have deleted the row by accident himself.

Then, having sent the file, I realise my mistake: IT will have a record of my every keystroke. If it ever came out, they could prove I had unhidden the rows and deleted the row intentionally. Gawd. I am not sure I will sleep tonight.

Lazy Susan owes me one. Big time.

Next time…Candid adheres to guiding principles.

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