Confessions of a benefits manager: Old habits die hard

Candid is tasked with taking over an acquired company’s HR work, but finds its veteran manager’s modus operandi a little hard to grasp

We have just taken over yet another company. For an organisation that isn’t doing very well, we seem remarkably good at vacuuming up other companies that aren’t doing very well, so that we can add their undesirable product offering to our own. Each time we do this, there is a whole slew of extra work for yours truly.

I used to worry that the target company would have some superstar HR team that would displace us all from our jobs, but now I know Big Bad Boss and the other Higher Beings are pretty ruthless when it comes to acquisitions. The little software house we’ve just taken over has only one HR manager, Desmond, who seems to do everything from payroll to pensions. Needless to say, he is for the chop, or, as Big Bad Boss puts it, we are giving him the opportunity to retire early. Goodness knows what we would do if he didn’t; something very like unfair dismissal, I suspect.

Mind you, I can see immediately that Desmond would not have fitted in around here. He is, how can I put it, erm, old. Now I know some people who have a lot of years, and maybe a lot of wrinkles to prove it, but they are still not ‘old’. Others may be only middle-aged in terms of years, but their juice has long since dried up.

Call me ageist if you like, but Desmond is a proper oldie. You have to speak to him a bit louder than anyone else. You have to speak a bit more slowly too, or he just doesn’t get it. And you must spell out what you mean quite precisely, because he can’t make any imaginative leaps of understanding.

Not that any of this would matter a jot, but Desmond the Dodderer is supposed to be handing most his work over to me. Our first handover meeting is a joke. I go along, expecting him to have prepared something, but Desmond just sits with his arms folded and asks me what I need to know. Well, honestly, how do I know what I need to know? He has been doing the job forever; he should know what I need to know. He does know, clearly, but is not going to tell me. Geez.

The next time, I am better prepared. I have made a list of questions based on the due-diligence records for the acquisition. Get out of that, Mr Dodderer. Get out of that, he does. When I ask him about the pension plan, he tells me there is nothing to it, really. When I ask him about the incentive scheme, he tells me it is really very simple. He waves a vague hand towards his fi les. It is all in there. I look at the four bookcases of paperwork. Well, that’s all very well, I think, but I will be a dodderer myself by the time I get through reading all that.

Happily plodding along

It can’t be easy for Desmond. He has been happily plodding along doing things his own sweet way for 20-odd years, and suddenly he will have to spend a lot more time at home with his wife, which is the last thing he wants to do. To make matters worse, some blonde woman is barraging him with questions. Yes, I can see he might not feel like being helpful.

For the third meeting, I have a brainwave. I prepare a list of tasks based on what I can intuit about the benefit plans and I ask Desmond to fill in a column with the computer filenames relevant to each task on the list. For example, what is the spreadsheet he used for the last insurance renewal? That way, I can look at the files, see what needs to be done and ask any questions from there. Ha! Got ya, old boy.

Oh no I haven’t. Dodderer has me. He fills in my list with the folder on his laptop for each task, not the actual file. Each folder has about 30 fi les and I will still need to figure out which one to use. Sigh.

Then I ask him if I can take over his email history. I keep every email that I send, and so I can always trace a piece of work I have done. If I get access to Dodderer’s mail, I can quickly search and see what he did last time.

Oh no, Dodderer deletes all his mail every month so that the laptop doesn’t get cluttered. There are only the last week or so’s emails on the laptop. He shows me. Watching him drive a computer is like watching someone tie their shoelaces while wearing mittens.

Dodderer peers over his spectacles at the screen with rheumy eyes. His hands shake a bit, and the mouse pointer quivers uncertainly around the button to be selected. I can’t bear to watch. I am growing old myself waiting for him to fi nd whatever it was he was going to show me.

I give up on the idea of a handover. Somehow or other, I’ll just have to wing it. D-day comes and Dodderer goes, and I inherit his laptop and the four bookcases of paper. I haven’t got space in my tiny corner of the office for all that, so I am going to ditch the paper once I know what I don’t need.

Oh no I’m not. Within a week, I have had to consult the paper files eight times. Everything is beautifully filed, and I can find what I need easily enough. But what makes my blood boil is that it is all emails. Yes, emails, printed out and methodically filed with librarian precision. Why couldn’t he just have left it all on the laptop?

Because he is a silly old Dodderer, that’s why.

Next time… Candid attends a networking event