Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid conducts staff consultation


Much of my time is spent in an endless cycle of the same-old-same old: benefit renewals, surveys, pension reports, not to mention the tedious meetings about all of it. However, every now and then I get thrown a brand new ball to play with. This time it is from Bill, a guy who has been hired to manage the integration of a new subsidiary.

My company’s usual response to a new acquisition is to lavishly share all our policies and standard templates with the acquired company, and then to fire anyone who doesn’t whole-heartedly adhere to them. Bill has another approach altogether: before wading in and making any changes, he wants to know how the new company does things already. Naturally we will do a benefits inventory to add its data to our benefits portal, but in addition to the usual integration processes, Bill wants a staff consultation. I discover this is not a mere legal obligation, as it would normally be, but to actually to find out what employees think. How refreshing. I can’t imagine what the Higher Beings will make of that.

Consulting with staff

I have a confession to make here: I have never actually done a staff consultation. I am ashamed to admit it, but there it is. Of course, I have been involved in consultations, such as when we closed the defined benefit pension scheme, but they have been mostly driven by our advisors so I all had to do was send out the relevant notices. This time, Bill is looking to me to run it single-handedly, and I don’t actually know where to start.

The funny thing is I want to please Bill. There is something endearing about someone who has made it to executive status without being a complete sociopath. He actually seems to care what people think, and so I care what he thinks of me. I consider tapping Smarmy Consulting to help, but I don’t have any extra budget. No, I decide to consult a better advisor: Professor Google.

Happily, I find a number of helpful questionnaires online, including some employee engagement surveys and some legal consultation documents. I am saved. I select the best questions to create my own list, making up a few of my own, along with some follow-up questions to draw people out. I plan to run a series of structured sessions and I wonder if I can trust my colleague Susan to take notes. Unfortunately she isn’t very good at anything involving words. She is not very good at anything involving numbers either, worse luck, but I am stuck with her.

I meet with Bill to agree the questions for the consultation. He is so lovely. He says that they are exactly what he was looking for. But then he does drop a bit of a bombshell: he wants me to talk to each employee individually so that they can express their views in confidence. Really? My interest in this work is beginning to ebb. Just how many people are we talking about? I panic, knowing nothing about the new company. Luckily it is only 25. Phew. That’s just about doable one-by-one.

Face-to-face interviews

It is time-consuming to run individual staff consultations, but actually quite enjoyable. I feel like some kind of agony aunt. One lady tells me about her secret plans to retrain as a nursery nurse. Another confides he is overpaid for what he does. Most are happy with their existing benefits package even though it is even less generous than ours. They all have a bit of a grumble about their annual leave policy and I haven’t the heart to tell them that ours is worse still. I find myself wanting to counsel them. Get out while you can, I want to shriek; you will come to hate it here.

All I can do is reassure them that their individual answers will remain confidential and that all data will be summarised for the final report. Indeed, even in my own notes I refer to each of them as numbers so I nearly forget myself who said what.

Bill is thrilled by my report on the consultation, and goes so far as to thank me for my professionalism and structured approach. I don’t think anyone has ever said anything so nice, certainly not since I’ve been here.

New annual leave policy

He is concerned about the leave policy and wants my help to put together a proposal to increase annual leave across the board. Bless. I remember the last time we tried to improve the benefits offering in any way. Honestly, he has a better chance of changing the company name. It simply isn’t going to happen and worse: it will damage his credibility with the Higher Beings who see pandering to employees as a sign of weakness. As for taking any leave, well, it is actively discouraged. While our written reward policy may say otherwise, the real objective is to get as much work out of people for as little pay as possible. I try to find a way to tell Bill without sounding overly negative, but he won’t have it. He says there is no point having a consultation if you are not going to listen and follow through. I can’t help but think that is exactly what we do.

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Luckily, Bill elects to present the proposed new leave policy to the Higher Beings himself, so I am not personally implicated. It is no surprise to hear from Big Bad Boss that the executive management team turned it down flat and they even got quite cross about it. Sadly, it is also no surprise to hear that Bill has left the company to ‘pursue other opportunities’. Such a nice man could hardly last long around here. I must look him up on LinkedIn. Who knows, he may need some help in his next role.

Next time…Candid looks at executive pay.