Confessions of a benefits manager: Secret service

Candid gets drawn into a top-secret project involving Eastern Europe, and suspects reward outsourcing is also on the agenda

The first I knew something was up was when some woman called Princess emailed me a confidentiality agreement. Poor woman; only Americans and rock stars give their children names like pet rabbits. Princess asked me to sign that I wouldn’t discuss the details of Project Pinto with anyone. No problem. I can hardly go round chatting about something I know nothing about.

That was months ago. I had forgotten all about it, until today, when I was suddenly invited to join a Pinto conference call. There are dozens of people on the call, none of whom I know. I listen in while various people report out on unintelligible legal stuff. Towards the end of the call, I am asked if I have anything to add. Er, no. Thanks. I still haven’t a clue what this is all about.

I decide to ask Big Bad Boss. He says he has signed so many confidentiality agreements, he doesn’t know which is which any more. Is Pinto the one about moving the European HQ to Poland, or the one about outsourcing reward altogether? Moving where? Doing what? Yikes.

In the end, I email Princess and ask who can tell me more about Project Pinto. I am passed to Lance in strategic projects. Is that short for Lancelot, I wonder? Are these names for real, or have all the project staff been given codenames too? If so, I want to be called Merlin. Lance tells me we are going to sell all our Eastern European offices to one of our competitors. I want to comment that it wouldn’t make sense if we are also thinking of moving the European HQ there, but of course I am not supposed to know about that. Big Bad Boss and his big bad mouth. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see us try to move operations to a site that has already been sold to someone else. That’s the sort of high-level mess the Higher Beings (our executive management team) specialise in.

Back on the ground, I find out from Lance that my role on this project is to provide information on benefits to potential buyers. Sure, no problem, except I don’t know anything about the benefits in our Eastern European office. I must set about finding out. Actually, I have much more important things to do today, so I dust off an old template used by Smarmy Consultants in one of its benefits projects. It has sheets for all the various plans: retirement, health, and so on. That should do it. I send it to the local HR managers and get on with updating my CV.

Templates roll in

The templates come rolling in and I send them off to Lance. He then wants copies of all the plan documents to put in the data room for buyers. Luckily, there aren’t many documents to worry about, because we don’t give our poor cousins in Eastern Europe much in the way of benefits. However, the documents are all in Polish, so I could be sending the fire drill policy, for all I know. I imagine the buyers wandering round the data room, trying to sift through the mountain of largely irrelevant paperwork. I hope they have a team of translators on hand.

Lance sets up a call with me and the legal department. They want me to check an agreement they are drawing up for the sale. I still know nothing about Polish benefits, and even less about sale agreements, so I don’t seem the best choice for this job, but it seems there is no one else. And I’ve got to hang around here until the end of the day anyway, so, what the hell, bring it on.

It is just as well they did. The legal guy has transcribed things all wrong. He has included references to state benefits that can be of no interest to a buyer, and left off significant health benefits that were on another tab in the worksheet. I am glad to have been of some use.

Just as I have filed Project Pinto under completed projects and started something else, I hear from Lance. The buyer has a list of questions on an attached spreadsheet. The list goes up to row 534. Thankfully, a good portion of the questions have been assigned to other departments, but there are still rather a lot about benefits, including some on those in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t have described Holland as in Eastern Europe, but it seems the Higher Beings have thrown in the Dutch office as a sort of bonus: buy Poland, get Holland free, that sort of thing.

The bad news for me is we have a lot of benefits in Holland and there are an awful lot of questions, but I really don’t think they know what they’re asking. Although it is clearly a defined contribution pension in Holland, they are asking about absurd things like the accrual rate, and early retirement factors. We have another call and I point out the questions that are irrelevant. Then, on a follow-up, I get another list of questions, with the same things asked again. And then there is another call with Lance about the same ones I haven’t answered. This is getting boring.

Back at my desk, Big Bad Boss drags me into his office. What is Pinto all about, he asks. I want to know about the outsourcing project, I counter. He looks shifty and says he can’t say. Well then, if he thinks I’m going to tell him about Pinto, think again. I’m not spilling the beans.

Next time..Candid answers everyone’s queries.