Confessions of a benefits manager: Communication crisis

When Big Bad Boss has a sudden urge for cross-functional communication, his team is faced with weekly meetings and the ordeal of listening to reports on subjects nobody cares about, says Candid

I think Big Bad Boss has been reading one of those airport books over the holidays. You know, the ones with titles like The Split-Second Decision-Maker, or Get More Done By Fewer People Without Them Noticing. It seems he has made a resolution to be a better manager. Suddenly he keeps talking to us. He has actually asked me how I am twice this week already. It is quite unnerving. He doesn’t actually listen to the answer, he just nods and says “Good”. Next time, just to see, I am going to tell him I have an exotic infectious disease that could wipe out the entire department. Now, in order to improve cross-functional communication, he has made a split-second decision that we need a weekly team meeting. Oh my God.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just us kittens in corporate reward. Then Lazy Susan and I could have a quick chat as usual about what we did at the weekend and be done with it. But the problem is, Big Bad Boss wants to include everyone in our new communications fiesta: Dusty Dave, the pensions manager, the dimwits in HR systems, those pretentious little madams in staffing, not to mention all the poor sods out in the business units by phone. It’s going to be a nightmare.

The meetings start on a Monday morning. First thing. Can you imagine? I have barely recovered from the night before and I am being asked to give an update on my projects. Projects? What projects? Where’s the coffee? Naturally, Big Bad Boss doesn’t bother to ask Lazy Susan anything. She doesn’t have projects, unless you count surfing the internet for a present for her boyfriend. She is happy enough to join the meeting, though, because any time spent legitimately away from her desk is a good time. I am praying he won’t ask Dave any questions, either. Please don’t ask Dave, I silently chant. Anyone but Dave.

Too late. He has asked Dave what is happening in the world of pensions. Dave gives us a good 30 minutes on the intricacies of the pension valuation report, the bulk augmentation exercise, and the new governance review. It all sounds like really important stuff that someone has to do, but my point is this: Do I care? Do I really need to lose half an hour of my life every Monday hearing about this stuff? I remind myself of my hourly rate. I have updated this private calculation recently to include my employer’s pension contributions and healthcare benefits, so it looks like a tidy sum when I need cheering up. The meeting still feels like a waste of time.

It gets worse. HR systems has their turn. The manager, who, in fairness, is not as dim as the rest of them, tells us how she has successfully migrated to version 9.3a and that there are still problems with the payroll interfaces, but they will be fixed in time for the next run. Her team just sit there and suck their hair. One of them starts rocking back and forth and humming to herself. The manager continues. The employee self-service link is back up and running, but it is different and people need to replace the shortcut on their desktop. The something-doodah-system has failed overnight, but IT are already working on it. I so don’t need to know this stuff. Please make it stop.

Far from helping, Big Bad Boss turns to the gruesome twosome in staffing. They have prepared a 10-page long presentation on their new corporate branding project. They tell us smugly that it is going really well and everyone loves the new logos they have developed. Well, I don’t. As usual, I want to slap them. It is not what they say, or what they do, although that is irritating enough. They are just the sort of women you want to slap. I don’t know what it is, but they can incite unnecessary violence just by standing there. Mind you, girly fighting in team meetings isn’t really done, so I sit on my hands.

Finally, the regional guys on the phone are subjected to a grilling. By now, Su, our contact in China, must be looking at her watch, as it is very late in her day. Big Bad Boss makes her talk about her current issues and asks endless inane questions. I don’t imagine Su gets any solace by contemplating her hourly rate. I spend more on cosmetics than she gets paid, poor thing.

Just when we thought it was all over, Big Bad Boss opens his notebook. Now it is his turn. He decides to update us on the outcome of the last meeting of the Higher Beings (our executive management team). Actually, the outcome was nothing at all, but he updates us on it anyway. He then proceeds to read out the financial results of the two main business units.

Now, I have a theory on company financial results: unless there is a direct impact on pay or job security, no one really cares how the company is doing. However, it is one of those things that you are supposed to care about when you work for a company, so we all look fascinated and nod in all the right places. I don’t believe that even the Higher Beings really give two hoots about the results, any more than we do, but the main thing is to act convincingly.

Big Bad Boss asks me to get another dial-in number and organise everything for next week. Oh, look: all the rooms are booked out next week. What a shame. We will have to do it the week after. By then, hopefully, like the rest of us, Big Bad Boss will have forgotten all about his resolutions, and the communications crisis will be over.

Next time…Candid gets a bonus.