Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: I’ve made a new year’s resolution: never work with children, animals, or outsourcing consultants. Actually, come to think of it, working with outsourcing consultants is just like working with children or animals: they play around and you clean up the mess.

Of course, it was all Big Bad Boss’s idea. Smarmy Consultants took him to lunch and plied him with drink. They took him back to their place. They titillated him with some fancy software. They popped a contract in front of him as a mere formality, and ker-ching, their fees went up by 25%. The problem is what we are are getting for that money. I know what I’m getting for it: more work.

Smarmy has sold us this mega-market-database which holds market data from all the major surveys on both compensation and benefits. Sounds wonderful. Until you look at it more closely. Most of the surveys in the database are from the US. Worse still, the mega-market-database is designed to provide  data against information from our company. That might sound innocuous enough, useful even, until you realise it means that we have to provide the input.

Big Bad Boss dismisses these concerns. That just means running a report from our HR system, doesn’t it? Well, yes, but I’m going to have to spend half my life getting data into Smarmy’s required format. Also, the data in our system is about as complete and accurate as a politician’s statement, so I’m going to spend the other half of my life chasing down data inconsistencies. All to get some market analysis that I could have done quite easily myself on the back of an envelope.    

Predictably, the output from this mega-market-analysis is not as robust as I could have pulled together myself either. The gaps in the international data are too widespread. The database does not allow for any judgement in dismissing a data point if it’s wildly out of line. It is much harder to get creative in finding a data point which supports the answer I want to give. For me, that is the real skill in this job. All outsourcing has done for us is take away one of the interesting bits of our work and replaced it with tedious data-management.

And then there is the mega-benefits-database. I think this is what really sold the whole outsourcing package to Big Bad Boss. Higher Beings are always whinging on at him about how they don’t know what benefits we offer across different countries. And of course, with the sweet innocence of a child believing in Father Christmas, Big Bad Boss thinks the mega-benefits-database is magically going to solve this problem. Nope.

Firstly, we need to collect all the data. Well OK, we probably needed to do that anyway. But Big Bad Boss assures me, Smarmy is going to help us with that activity. What that really means is it asks a central co-ordinator for the data, who asks our local offices for it, who send it back and the central co-ordinator sends it to Smarmy. Guess who gets to be the central co-ordinator?

So, I ask our local offices for data, they don’t send it to me, I chase the local office, Smarmy Consultants chases me. I finally get some data and send it to Smarmy. Smarmy has queries on the data which they send to me, I send them to the local office, and so on. I’m bored with this already. I propose the central co-ordination would be good experience for my colleague Lazy Susan.

Finally, we have the mega-benefits-database compiled and Smarmy comes in to show us how to use the software. It’s like Father Christmas had arrived early to give Big Bad Boss his present. All our problems are going to be solved.

Firstly, we have to close down all other programmes on the computer. Then we have to find an internet page to login. It’s not exactly memorable: it’s S-m-a-r-m followed by twenty numbers, forward slash, and another twenty random characters. So, we are going to have to write that down. Then we have to go through two login screens each requiring a different login and password. More stuff to remember. Then we have to go through a convoluted menu system to get the part where the benefits are stored. There is a ten-page instruction document to help with that part.  So finally, we click on a file marked Benefits UK and it pulls up a little Excel spreadsheet file which tells us we have a pension plan, life cover and a medical plan in that country. Gosh.

I don’t think we should give this tool to the Higher Beings as they just don’t have the attention span to get through all those menus. Neither do I, life is too short. Big Bad Boss, though, seems delighted. And if he is happy, I guess it is money well spent. As he is so impressed, I suggest that he might want to personally email out the link and the passwords to the Higher Beings. I will, of course, draft the mail for him. I’m not going to become some sort of mega-benefits-database helpline, so I’ll suggest that Lazy Susan is the contact for any queries.

Like most new year’s resolutions, both databases will, no doubt, be forgotten by the end of January. And that’s probably a good thing. If we truly had outsourced all our market analysis, what would there be for Lazy Susan and I to do for the rest of the year? 

Next time…Candid flies economy class and has a hard time with her hand luggage.