Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid segments the workforce


I wish Big Bad Boss wouldn’t jump on any old bandwagon that’s passing. This time he’s seen a presentation at an HR conference and now he’s all about employee segmentation. I know I should be more enthusiastic, but I’ve been here before.

This is how it always pans out: first BBB gets a silly idea from one of the consulting firms. Then, unwilling to pay their exorbitant fees, he gets me to do a load of work on whatever it is. After that, he takes the results to the Higher Beings, our executive management, and gets all the glory. Big Bad Boss gets feted despite his non-existent industry and creativity, while mine is largely ignored. Very often he gets agreement to make some sweeping changes to our programmes, and then, finally, there will be a new round of financial challenges and we won’t be able to make any changes anyway. You can call me cynical, but I will be proved right.

The big idea this time is generational analysis. It seems employers can now expect to have five generations employed at the same time. The first group identified by some employment guru is ‘maturists’ or people born before the Second World War. Well, we certainly have a few of those doddering around on the third floor. One was suspected dead in a board meeting once, but it turned out he was just sleeping very quietly. The next group are ‘baby boomers’, born up until 1960. This covers Big Bad Boss and most of the Higher Beings. At the risk of giving too much away, I fall into the next group, ‘generation X’. There are two more groups ‘generation Y’ and ‘generation Z’. These last, he says, are born after year the 2000.

Big Bad Boss wants a chart showing all our employees by generation, by pay grade, gender and marital status. Great. With a decent HR system this should be the push of a button, but we don’t have a decent HR system. Outside of the UK, systems are maintained locally. I am ashamed to confess this, but we have a whole team of people who spend an entire week making adjustments and corrections to the local data to produce the official headcount reports.

Naturally, my report won’t tally with theirs. I don’t have a team to work on this report and make a load of manual adjustments; I have my colleague, Lazy Susan, who doesn’t do numbers, so basically it is down to me.

I give the report to Big Bad Boss, warning him that the totals don’t agree to the official headcount report because I’ve taken it directly from the HR system and, in any case, there will be a timing difference. He complains that the totals don’t agree. Yes, I just said that. He tells me they have to agree. Right you are. I add a row called ‘adjustment’ to balance the figures to the official report and give him a new version. You have to be pragmatic in this role.

Big Bad Boss complains that we don’t have anyone in the bottom generation category. That’s because, even though many of the guys in IT appear to be children, we don’t actually employ anyone under 16. He asks me about the boy doing a week’s work experience. He isn’t on the payroll, I explain. Big Bad Boss frowns, and decides we should draw the line at 1995 instead. I rework the numbers and print a new report. He practically skips upstairs with it.

So what? I can’t help wonder what are we going to do with all this generational analysis now we have it? I don’t have long to wait.

Big Bad Boss engages Smarmy Consultants to design a new benefits communication strategy in line with the characteristics of each group. It presents a very nice video with fancy animated graphics to represent each of the employee groups. It shows the ‘maturists’ represented by a man with a stick, getting letters delivered. The ‘baby boomer’, represented by a man with glasses, is shown getting emails pinging to his computer. They show the next group, ‘generation X’ as a young couple looking at their phones, ‘generation Y’ are linked via various social media icons, and a ‘generation Z’ boy with a baseball cap looks at data on his smart watch.

Like selling the emperor’s new clothes; Smarmy Consultants can convince Big Bad Boss that any old nonsense is terribly clever. There is nothing new in their presentation; for all the glossy graphics, it is just smoke and mirrors. We already produce hardcopy letters for the Higher Beings; we know they never read their emails. We use email and online links for the majority of staff, as well as using texts and social media where those contact details have been shared. Even guys with baseball caps can access information on a smart watch, if they have one. So what is all the fuss about?

Big Bad Boss has even asked Smarmy to redesign our materials to appeal to each generation. What is it going to do, I wonder, re-write the pension statements using emoticons? I wouldn’t mind, but we have only just reviewed everything we do in-house as part of a branding exercise. In any case, we need to spend any additional budget on actual benefits, rather than the administration of them. I’d also rather spend any spare money on saving my time, not adding to my workload as this project surely will. In my experience, consultants are great at telling you what to do; they are not so good at actually doing it. Even if they do the work, I will need to check it.

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Luckily, the quarter-end results are really bad. That means that there is yet another hiring freeze and a new round of budget cuts. The generation project gets put on indefinite hold. What did I tell you?

Next time… Candid goes for lunch.