Confessions of a benefits manager: World service

Candid is tasked with compiling a global summary of benefits, and is disconcerted by a surprisingly zealous response from Canada.

Big Bad Boss says he has a great opportunity for me, which is another way of saying he has a great big pile of work lined up. Apparently, my counterpart in the US is sick, and they want me to help compile a global summary of benefits.

Normally, I quite like dabbling in countries outside of my European remit, but I’ve seen the US idea of a summary. All the plans and all the local social security schemes are listed in a level of detail that nobody, not even a particularly pedantic benefits manager, could want to know. It has 2,000 rows of benefit detail and 25 columns for locations.

Call me a maths genius, but that is 50,000 boxes of data that I need to get updated. What is so silly about this list is we spent a fortune on a global benefits database last year but haven’t even started using it (don’t get me started on that one).

I briefly toy with the idea of getting my colleague, Lazy Susan, involved. The trouble is, Lazy Susan doesn’t really do spreadsheets, and I know I would spend an eternity unpicking the mess she made if I let her near this one. No, it is best to leave her to get on with her Facebook as usual.

Getting the European data is no problem. I already have it, but in a different format, so I just need to spend a dull afternoon cutting and pasting. It crosses my mind that this task is beneath me, but then I remember how much I am paid an hour, and I feel better. If they want to pay me exorbitantly to do admin, I am fi ne with that. It is quite relaxing. I fire off a bunch of emails to collect the rest of the countries’ data, and wait for responses.

Typically, China and Japan are first off the mark. Our team in Asia are amazing: they just eat work for breakfast. They never need chasing, they just get on with it, and quickly. The Latin American countries, on the other hand, are a different matter. I need to use all my powers of persuasion, plus a certain amountof bribery and threats, to get them to do anything.

Language issues

I am a bit worried about language issues. Different countries use completely different terminology. Words like ‘voluntary’ can mean at the company’s discretion in some places, but elsewhere means the employee pays. I have put an explanation against each data point, but people are trying to understand this in a second language, and who knows what I will get back. I sometimes wonder if much of our global HR data is totally suspect. I just know much of the meaning gets lost in translation.

You would think that North America, given that it is our headquarters, would be a breeze. However, the head benefits honcho is off sick, and his number two isn’t up to much. What he has sent back is shocking: he missed out several key aspects of the medical plan, and he has not even mentioned the 401K, the US defined contribution pension plan. I know the pension side of things is under a separate team in the US, but surely everyone down to the receptionist knows there is a retirement plan. I know about it, and it isn’t even my region.

Finally, the only one I haven’t heard from is Canada, so I send a second reminder. My HR contact there does get back to me, but she wants a telephone call to discuss it. Great. I suggest in her morning, given the time difference, but I soon wish I had just suggested a time. The mad woman comes back with a meeting request for 6.30am her time. That’s great for me, but isn’t that a little, er, early for her? It seems not. At 5.30am her time, she sends an email confirming the time, attaching a completely unnecessary presentation on benefits in Canada. There is something rather scary about this woman.

She starts the call by introducing herself and her background. She is keen to point out that her last role was heading up global benefits for a major consulting firm, so she is familiar with working with different time zones. She is committed to starting early to work with Europe and to stay late to work with China. She is, quite deliberately, putting me to shame with all this.

I decide to tell her a bit about my background too, trying to sound equally important, but that just makes her more competitive. She points out that she has worked in the UK and seven European countries, and is passionate about global benefits. Bully for you, I think.

I steer her back to the task in hand and explain the benefits data sheet. It is not exactly difficult, and hardly warranted a call in the first place. I think she just needed to show off to someone. She asks when the data is due. I tell her I need it by the end of next week. It is Friday, and she tells me she will work on it this weekend.

No, really, I tell her, there is no pressure. But she is having none of it; she impresses on me again that she will work on it over the weekend. I am used to this kind of zealous overtime from Americans, but now it seems their neighbours have become infected. I am not impressed; she must be a saddo with no private life, the kind of person who sleeps with her Blackberry on her chest.

Nevertheless, it is all rather alarming. People like that expect the same work ethic from colleagues like me. No chance.

Next timeCandid attends a trustee meeting