Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid gets an apprentice


I’ve been aware of a new presence in HR. A tall skinny girl has been spending a lot of time by the coffee machine. She’s also been spotted in the ladies, making adjustments to thick black eyebrows and unnaturally long lashes. I didn’t realise she worked here, because, well, I hadn’t seen her do any actual work. That should have told me she was in the learning and development (L&D) function. Now I know: she’s with them for work experience and they’ve asked me to babysit her while they are on holiday.

It makes sense not to leave the poor girl unattended for a whole two weeks; she is supposed to be learning something while she is here. So, Melissa is heading over to me to add reward to her skillset. She is considering what aspect of HR to specialise in, so this stint may help her to decide course options for next year. I feel the weight of responsibility on such a decision. I’d love to give her some really good insight into strategic benefits management, but the truth is I rarely get the chance to do much myself. It couldn’t be a worse time as we have a whole list of rather dull administrative things to do right now. And do them we must.

Benchmarking benefits

One straightforward thing I can involve her in is a benefits survey. Rather jumping straight into the task, I explain the importance of benchmarking our benefits against similar companies and describe how we submit our data to a consulting firm which then summarises the results back to us in aggregate. I have the feeling I don’t have her full attention as she is texting with one hand while I speak. My peripheral vision is good and I realise she is looking up the meaning of the word ‘aggregate’. Bless. I don’t suppose it has helped her much because the search has come back with an ad for pebbles and stone chippings. Oh dear. I don’t really have time to do this, but I go through the explanation more simply taking care not to use any big words.

I ask Melissa to fill in an online form with data taken from our benefits portal. Yes, it is a boring administrative task, but it is a real-life one that I have to do. I think it is actually quite interesting to see the variation in benefits offered across different countries and how that seems to follow the extent to which the local politics are paternalistic. However, that’s probably just me.

The importance of accuracy

After about an hour, I check in to see how she is doing. Well. I might as well have given the work to my colleague Lazy Susan for the mess she has made of it. My colleague has a blind spot for numbers so she is rarely much help. Melissa at least has the excuse of being new and inexperienced, but still I think my cat could have done a better job of the survey. She’s missed out two countries altogether and added an extra zero in a few places. Decimal points float around out of place. I point out the bigger errors and set her to double check all the numbers before we submit.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that we place great reliance on published market data, yet how do we know if it has been input at source by someone as inaccurate as Lazy Susan or Melissa? Even the fact that benefits data is fairly consistent from survey to survey doesn’t give me much comfort. All our benchmarking data could be off, due to the same innumerate HR people submitting to multiple surveys. Is that just my guilty conscience prickling? Certainly, I have done my fair share of dodgy survey submissions myself. Not out of malice, but simply because our own internal data has been unreliable. Submission made, Melissa goes off to comb her eyebrows and post a few more updates from the coffee machine. Her friends will be thrilled. I enjoy a moment of calm.

A solution that works

After lunch, I introduce Melissa to Big Bad Boss. He suggests we get Melissa working on an insurance renewal. Most of our renewals take place in December, but there are a few scattered over the summer too. It will take me as long to explain it to her as it will to do it, but don’t complain. We work on it together, looking to see if we can place the business with another insurer this time within our pooling arrangement. I give Melissa a quick overview of how pooling works, but I don’t think it has made any sense; she is texting fiercely all the while. I can’t see if she is looking up new words, or just messaging friends. Later, Big Bad Boss praises her fastidiousness on the task. I am a bit miffed because he never compliments my work, but then I don’t have eyelashes two inches long. It’s comforting to know that Melissa won’t have a clue what he meant, as she is too respectful to consult her phone in front of him. Pity I don’t get the same treatment.

Two weeks drag on, but finally the L&D crew are back tanned and rested. Even more rested than usual. Melissa is pleased because she can go back to hanging around the coffee machine. I can get on with my work unencumbered, knowing I had at least tried to give some insight into benefits management.

Later, I bump into Melissa in the ladies. She says she has decided to specialise in training. I feel sure she has made the right choice.

Next time… Candid receives support by chat.