Confessions of a Benefits Manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: This place is like a ghost town: desks stand empty, the phones are quiet, and for once I don’t even need to queue at the coffee machine. The silence is broken only by a gentle rasp as Lazy Susan files her nails into little ovals. It would be quite nice, all this, as the peace makes a pleasant change from the usual hurly-burly. If only I didn’t feel I was missing something.

Of course, I know exactly what I am missing. The top 200 managers have been whisked off to Frankfurt for a special two-day conference.

Naturally, it will be ghastly. I have been to Frankfurt and it is not exactly top of my list of European cities to visit again. There is nothing to see — just industrial centre after industrial centre, which makes even Bracknell look interesting. Nor would I really fancy having to stay in the Hotel NoSoul with 200 of the nastiest people I know. It will be torture, really it will.

You have to get to the meetings at 7.45am each day just to show how bristlingly keen you are. Delegates have to get up at dawn if they want a shower and breakfast first. The worst of them will get up in the middle of the night just to boast how long a run they got in before breakfast.

The presentations will be dull, achingly dull, but to make sure you don’t go to sleep, there will be the dreaded break-out sessions. These are just a ploy to keep people on their toes during meetings, because nothing ever comes of them. Special little cross-functional teams are formed to brainstorm ideas to present back to the larger group.
There will be a scuffle for the role of delivering the team presentation, because this is an opportunity to shine in front of the Higher Beings. The ideas produced in a 20-minute session will be surprisingly good because adrenalin has a positive effect on innovation, but nevertheless no one will ever refer to these ideas again. The flipcharts will be filed forever in the Hotel NoSoul wastepaper baskets.

The agonising meeting will go on until at least 7pm so everyone has to be on their best behaviour for the longest possible time. Dinner will then start at 7.15pm, so there will be no time for a nap or even a freshen-up. Then, even when the tedium of the day is over, the smell of testosterone will become overpowering as the managers continue to try to out-do each other over dinner by talking shop. Yawn.

After dinner you are required to drink heartily for several hours without showing any signs of drunkenness, although many will fail in this and will get decidedly mouthy as the evening draws on.

So, taking all that into account, I am happy not to be going, really I am. It’s just, well, I would have liked to have been asked. You see, based on grade, I am in the top 200 managers. Even on performance rating, I am in the top 200 managers. So why, tell me why, wasn’t I invited? It is eating away at me, it really is.

Worse still, no one will tell me what this special conference is about. I asked Big Bad Boss and he said it wasn’t relevant for me. Not relevant? What does that mean? Of course, the most likely answer is he didn’t want to pay for me to go out of his budget, but my imagination is doing overtime now.

Perhaps they are selling the company to one of our competitors: one that already has a benefits manager. Perhaps they are buying one of our competitors: one that has a whole benefits department. Perhaps they are going to do something silly with the organisation again. Every other week, it seems, they decide to centralise one department, decentralise another or, worse still, create some complicated matrix structure that no one can understand, let alone draw on a chart.

Now I feel even more left out. If I had been at the conference, at least I could have expressed an opinion on whatever daft idea was being proposed. But then, I think to myself, I wouldn’t actually have done that, would I? Not with the top 200 people all trying to look good and heartily agreeing with everything the Higher Beings say. No, I know expressing a contrary opinion can be very career-limiting round here, even if yours is the only sensible voice in the crowd.

In the lonely corridors, I bump into Boring Boris. He is the same grade as me and it looks like he hasn’t been invited either. Yikes. Is it because we are both too boring, I wonder? I decide to ask him why he hasn’t gone to the conference. It seems he was invited, but he made some excuse not to go, because he thought it sounded dull. He is probably right, but that seems rather odd coming from him.

Does he know what the meeting is all about, then? Boris thinks it is something about building strategic value on sound fundamentals. I feel even more worried, knowing it is a strategic meeting and even Boring Boris was invited rather than me.

I remember that Big Bad Boss said something cryptic the other day about the Higher Beings wanting to “change the way we do reward”. It isn’t long before I start to fret again about the dreaded O-word: outsourcing. Gasp. Maybe they are all plotting how they can do away with me altogether and set up a call centre in India instead.
I think I’ll take this moment of quiet as a good opportunity to update my CV.

Next time…Candid receives a long-service award.

Confessions of a benefits manager – June 2008