Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid goes after a pay rise

We are in the midst of pay review time, and I’d like you to know that, just for once, it is all about me.

Confessions of a benefits manager

Normally at this time of year, I am running around looking after everyone else, making sure all the budgets add up and having interminable pointless conversations about the forced distribution for merit reviews that we disguise as ‘guidance’.

I am still doing all that work, and more, but I am also preparing a very important business case: for my own pay rise. Sitting with senior IT executives while they plan for their teams, I realise that perfectly useless managers are getting above-average pay rises.

It’s the same with sales: guys who were already overpaid when they joined are getting huge hikes because they have supposedly done such great deals this year. Erm, isn’t that what commission is for? I’ve seen the most unintelligent and ineffective people get rises above budget.

Well, I haven’t had one. Not for three years, and that has got to change.

Of course I’ve written down all the arguments and, after a deep breath, I go in to Big Bad Boss to make my case. I don’t know why this should be so cringing; practically all the senior management team walk around with their hand out at all times. But it is not really my style. Still, no one is going to do it for me, so I must state my position.

Increased responsibilities

I give Big Bad Boss a three-year history of my pay and benefits. I compare this to the extra work I have take on. Because of acquisitions, there are 10 more countries in my region . Each one requires auditing, benchmarking, and annual renewals, not to mention all the queries, bitching and griping from local teams.

I’ve also had to take back performance management from the organisational development team because Creepy Caroline found a sneaky way to show it fits better with our team. Laziness, I call it.

I sometimes feel like I am single-handedly carrying the HR department. I don’t even bother to mention Lazy Susan and how little she actually does around here. For some reason, perhaps due to that sweet, gormless little face of hers, she seems to be completely immune from criticism from Big Bad Boss. That’s another thing: I take all the criticism around here, and take it good-naturedly for the most part. Well, now the worm will turn.

I am so convinced by my own arguments that I am completely taken aback when Big Bad Boss argues back. He starts off by blaming the lack of budget and the distribution guidance. He says we are a small team of high performers, so there isn’t the wiggle-room of larger teams. In other words, if he gives me a good increase, his manager will have less left over for him. Well, that’s OK, I say. He can take it outside of merit and give me a grade uplift instead.

You would think I had asked him to behead a baby or something. Apparently, a grade uplift is completely out of the question too. He says there is no market data to support any change. Really? Now I have Big Bad Boss trapped. I may not have brought up any market data, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought of it.

It is a pretty stupid man who tries to argue market rates with a reward professional. I send him a two-pager with all the most favourable market comparisons, and add a couple of recent positions advertised on HR jobs site Changeboard. All show, unarguably, that I am underpaid for this role. Obviously.

Pay freeze 

Just when I think I have a big increase in the bag, finance sends out the news: the merit budget has been postponed. It seems the sales guys have not done such great deals this year after all, and we’ve had what is known as a bad quarter. I’ve lived through enough bad quarters to know it means that all spend that is remotely discretionary is completely discriminated against.

It is pretty irritating to go through all the hassle of collecting pay rise suggestions from managers across the company, only to be told that the whole exercise was a waste of time.

But wait, you say, surely the increases are being postponed, not cancelled? Yes, that is true, but by the time they are reinstated, there will have been enough other changes that we will have to do the whole thing again. Sometimes the decisions made around here are just ridiculous. To make things worse this time, is it has a direct impact on me, too. My hopes of a pay rise are dashed.

It is not long before the phone starts ringing with various Higher Beings complaining they will lose some key person if they don’t give an exceptional increase. This is another strange fundamental of corporate life: for every dictate, there is an exception. And such exceptions become so widely known that they are taken for granted.

Exceptions to the pay freeze

Finally, it filters down to me that finance has even come up with a budget for exceptions to the pay freeze. So although there is a pay freeze, a few people will still get a rise, a few very special people.

That is all the ammunition I need. So I am back in to see Big Bad Boss before he can say ‘forced distribution’. His distribution arguments fall away; we both know there is cash to splash quite outside the merit budgets. I watch as he fishes around for another argument to use against me, but he is disarmed.

It is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.

Next time…Big Bad Boss goes missing.