Confessions of a Benefit Manager: Adequate reward for long-service?

The prospect of receiving a pen and certificate to commemorate five years’ service has Candid consulting a US colleague on long-service recognition, after all, surely loyalty deserves a better reward than this?

It is almost my anniversary. I can’t quite believe it, but I have been here nearly five years. Five years. I deserve a medal, but what I’ll get, assuming Big Bad Boss remembers, is a long-service pen. Yes, you read that right. Five years of blood, sweat and the occasional flurry of tears in the ladies’ toilets, and all you get is a lousy biro with the company name on it.

Ten years of dedicated service and you get – guess what – another pen. That is just as well, because the last one would have stopped working within days of receipt. And after 15 years, yes, you are given another pen. Whoop-di-doo.

Actually, that’s not quite true. As well as the pen, we also get a rather dodgy-looking certificate. Long-service awards are supposed to be a recognition and retention tool. Our programme just reminds people that it is about time they moved on and found a decent company to work for: one with a proper recognition programme.

I’d like to do something about it, but the plan is driven from the US and we Europeans toe the line on corporate programmes. But I decide to ring my American colleague about it anyway. My timing is perfect because they are just about to do a review and talk to a number of providers to see what they can offer, so maybe I can help.

I hate talking to salespeople. Usually I have a pretty good idea of what we are looking for and I just want someone to tell me how much it will cost, but salespeople always want to run through their entire sales pitch, telling you about an infinite variety of options, which only serves to confuse the issue. But this is not the case with people selling recognition solutions. They are a different breed.

The first one we talk to is dialling in from hospital. He has no presentation and no sales pitch, but simply asks us what we want. I guess we have to admire his dedication to the job, calling from his sickbed, but actually I would rather have spoken to someone fit for the job.

The second one actually turns up in person, but again brings no presentation, no example gifts, nothing. Again, he just sits there with arms folded and asks us what we want. Well, the problem is, this time we don’t know what we want. We just want to know what is available. He continues to ask us what we want. We want to do what other companies are doing. Well, that moves things on a bit as he tells us he is working with two of our competitors.

Intriguingly, the third provider we see also tells us they supply the same two competitors. Digging deeper, it turns out they once worked on a sales plan for one of them, and the other uses the provider for quality awards. Not long-service awards, then? Er, no. But they do have some data on how much companies tend to spend on long-service awards, which typically stands at $10-15 per year of service. I think that is pretty stingy, but it certainly puts our nasty biro to shame.

Finally, the fourth provider comes in. They have a presentation with our logo on it. They bring example certificates that include a photo of our chief executive (how did they get hold of that, I wonder?) and they have set up a dummy website so we can see how our employees would order their gifts from a huge online catalogue. It’s a no-brainer, really. They get the job.

We will send them data every month, and they will manage everything from their end, including emailing the manager with a suggested recognition speech, delivering certificates and links to the catalogue in time for the award, and providing take-up reports to head office on the results.

They can even offer access for HR staff to manage the awards on a more hands-on basis, if we want. Yeah, right. I have far too much hands-on work to do already. I’m hardly likely to sign up for any more.

I talk to my US colleague about doing away with the certificate. I think it is naff and of little value to employees. We could save a bit of money and up the gift budget (yay). However, the Americans won’t agree to that.

Apparently, the chief executive has walked round the office and seen that people do put these certificates on their wall. Yes, some people do, but they are sad, ineffectual people who still cherish their cycling proficiency certificate because that’s about all they’ve got going for them. Is this the kind of mentality we want to encourage around here? But there are some things you simply cannot discuss sensibly with our friends in the West. I decide to keep these thoughts to myself and go with the flow.

The key thing now is timing. My colleagues are not bothered, but they don’t have a key anniversary looming. I do. I have already chosen my gift from the dummy website and want to make sure the programme is rolled out in time for me to get it. I work hard with the supplier to make this happen. I make presentations and send out all-staff emails. Big Bad Boss has never seen me so busy.

The big day finally arrives, and I wait expectantly. To my surprise, Big Bad Boss calls a special staff meeting. He clearly hasn’t read the suggested text for managers, though. He hands me the certificate and says: “Five years you’ve been here, eh? It feels much longer.” It certainly does.