Confessions of a benefits manager: Presents of mind

Candid is asked to initiate discussions about a Christmas gift for UK staff, but finding something to suit everyone proves a tricky task.

Big Bad Boss has asked me to organise a Christmas gift for the UK office. At least it is only for the UK; I can imagine what it would be like if I had to do it for the whole of the international business. All the same, I am rather depressed about it, because he has said I need to gather key staff from HR to ‘toss some ideas around’. Please, anything but that. I have been through all this before, and my esteemed colleagues in HR are inclined to go on and on. I feel like Scrooge being visited by the ghost of Christmas past. Was I particularly nasty to anyone last year?

There is nothing HR people like better than a good discussion. Indeed, many of them qualified in HR just so they could talk about things rather than actually do anything. Asking for ideas from the HR team is asking for trouble.

Creepy Caroline thinks it would be a mixed message to give any kind of Christmas gift when we have just made 50 people redundant, and many of them are still here until the end of the month.

She has a point. Lazy Susan randomly jumps in to suggest we give Boots vouchers because everyone likes them. Actually, I think she is alone in spending the entire working day considering the optimum colour of nail varnish, so I just ignore her; we haven’t got on to the subject of actual gifts yet. We are still debating whether or not we should give any.

The girls in recruitment think HQ needs a bit of a boost after the doom and gloom of a recessionary year, and that a nice present would cheer everyone up. Well, Big Bad Boss has decreed there should be a Christmas gift and so, let’s face it, there will be. I suspect it wasn’t his idea, because he isn’t inclined to have them. No, my guess is that the Higher Beings (our executive management team) had something to do with it. So, I tell my dear HR colleagues that there is little point in debating it because the decision has already been made. I look at my watch. They still talk for a further 10 minutes. I remember something I read once about animal training: if you can’t get an animal to stop doing something, get it to do something else instead. Wishing I was facing a lion while holding a horse-whip rather than this lot, I raise the subject of gift selection.

Bottle of champagne

Big Bad Boss had suggested a bottle of champagne. Well, the measly budget would only run to Cava, but I don’t think we can even do that. Apart from the possible offence to non-drinking religions, I know that half the IT department are on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme, and it would be better for network reliability if they didn’t stray from it at year-end. Someone else suggests a turkey like we used to give out in the old days. Everyone looks a bit blank because there weren’t any old days in this company. I just shudder at the logistics of getting 500 frozen turkeys to a largely mobile workforce. It is food poisoning waiting to happen. Creepy Caroline reminds us that, based on the last Christmas party, at least 20% of the workforce are vegetarian.

Oh no, mention of the Christmas party sparks another discussion about why we aren’t having a Christmas party. First, because it costs more than the £10-a-head that the penny-pinching Higher Beings will spend, and second, because last time IT got so drunk, we had to pay damages to the hotel. Don’t ask me what they did. The recruitment girl wants to know if we are even allowed to call it a Christmas gift. She has a point. This is an American company and, in the spirit of colonial political correctness, we are not allowed to send Christmas cards, only ‘holiday’ cards. Fair enough, we can call it a holiday gift, then.

Lazy Susan pipes up: does that mean we will be giving out holiday vouchers? She wants to go to the south of France next year. Bless. Ten quid wouldn’t get her to south London. I look at the lock again. We have been ‘brainstorming’ for over an hour and we still don’t have a solution. Given the difficulty in finding a gift suitable for all staff without offending someone somewhere, I propose we stick with money or a voucher. If we put an extra tenner through payroll, most staff wouldn’t even notice, so that leaves us with vouchers. We only have the conference room booked for five more minutes, and I can see the next meeting gathering outside. What vouchers would be acceptable for everyone, I ask? Garden centre vouchers, suggests Caroline. Sigh. Not everyone has a garden.

Jessica from employee communications, stroking her ostrich leather phone case, suggests leather goods, like maybe Aspinals or Pickett. Hello? How much does she think we are spending? Lazy Susan reintroduces the idea of toiletries. I am running out of time, and ready to agree to just about anything. OK, but toiletries aren’t very exciting for most men. Lazy Susan happens to have a Boots Christmas catalogue among her papers. Deftly, she flicks to the relevant page. Actually, I have to admit some gift packs look quite nice and are priced within budget. That’s it, then.

Besides, I know for a fact that the IT department is short on deodorant.

Next time…Candid discriminates against old people.