Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid battles unrealistic reward expectations


What is it about the guys in sales that makes them think they can make up their own rules?

Take Geoff, one of the Higher Beings in sales. He can never stick to the plan. None of his team will receive an average pay rise; he will always argue they are star performers no matter how far they miss their targets, and I can’t tell you how many times he has tried to include team members in the bonus plan when they are already getting variable pay through commission.

I might sound jealous, and in a way I am, although not of the actual numbers. I see what everyone gets paid around here, and if I were a jealous type the injustice would drive me crazy. No, I am just jealous of the support Geoff gives to his team; that he is willing to forcibly bend any HR policies in order to get them the best deal.

By contrast, Big Bad Boss rewards us the bare minimum in order to make sure there is plenty of budget left for himself. I can no more see him arguing for my bonus, than I can see him mopping out the toilet. Unthinkable.

Job descriptions

Geoff is now about to hire some megalomaniac sidekick called Damian. Great, then there will be two of them. I am given details of his current pay in order to come up with an offer. Just for a form’s sake, I ask for a job description. In theory, I could use this to match to a relevant position in our market data, to grade and recompense the role appropriately. However, job descriptions are written by the hiring manager so they are particularly embroidered in sales, and they barely even cover enough facts for recruitment.

Bland sentences such as ‘developing relationships with clients’ apply equally to the lowest sales rep to the most senior director, so it doesn’t help me to calibrate the job. The only real differentiator is scope of business, and level of management, but neither seem particularly clear from the description given.

I meet with Geoff to find out a bit more. I should have known better; if I listen to Geoff, the new guy will be single-handedly responsible for the European sales and will manage the entire European sales team. The only problem is: that is Geoff’s own role.

On digging further into the new organisation, I find the rest of the team will not report directly to Damian, but will continue to report to Geoff. Damian will not have a separate sales team quota, but will assist Geoff with his. Right. It is beginning to sound more and more like a gopher than a senior sales director. What a clever idea: hire someone else to do your work so you don’t have to.

According to the recruiter, Damian is currently paid more than Geoff, yet I’ve been asked to give him a 20% increase in order to attract him. It seems to me he was already attracted enough to apply for the job, and I will be lucky to match his pay, let alone to increase it.

Benefits package

When it comes to benefits, the story is even worse. Our benefits are fairly minimal as dictated by the paltry budgets dolled out by finance, and young Damian is currently enjoying a high-end medical plan, and extremely lucrative employer pension contributions. Geoff even wants me to show Damian’s new benefits with a 20% increase. Seriously.

I’ll let you into a secret: I sometimes do bend the rules for a Higher Being such as Geoff, especially if he is standing over my desk and telling me to do something in a very shouty way. However, I am not going to throw the rules completely out of the window, as that will just create another problem for me later on.

I assess the new role at a grade lower than Geoff, and I propose a base pay at the top end of the range. I add the standard bonus and benefits pertinent to the grade, that makes the total reward roughly 15% below his current pay, so I throw in a sign-on bonus to cover the difference. It is the best I can do. Naturally, Geoff doesn’t like it and gets all shouty again. I watch him storm into Big Bad Boss’s office. I can practically see steam coming out from under the door.

When he is gone, Big Bad Boss scuttles over and asks me what I am playing at. Well, I don’t see what else I could play at. Didn’t Big Bad Boss himself dictate that we should always have a grading differential between manager and subordinate? Did Big Bad Boss want me to make an exception that would put the new guy Damian on the same pay as Geoff and Big Bad Boss himself? Did he want me to set up a medical plan arrangement above that of even the Highest Beings? No, I didn’t think so. He scuttles back and closes his door. Naturally, he leaves me to break the bad news that the original offer stands to Geoff, and I have to hold the phone away from my ear.

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Later, I hear that Damian has taken a role elsewhere. In a way, I am glad because he sounded a proper primadonna, but I know I won’t be popular with Geoff who is inclined to rant about uncompetitive pay structures and uncooperative staff. Worse, soon I’ll have to go through the whole thing again for yet another superstar candidate. Sigh.

Next time…Candid upsets the expats.