Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid resists bikes for work

I’ve just had a call from our Swindon office asking one of my most hated questions. The guy was an accounts assistant for one of the divisions, and he wanted to know if we have one of those bike programmes. Oh no, not again. He asked me the same question last year, and the year before that.

Confessions of a benefits manager

You might think I don’t take our employee requests seriously, but really I do. I discussed it long and hard with the local HR manager, and we decided the demand didn’t support such a programme. In London, we just don’t have any demand, thanks to Boris and the adjacent Tube.

Besides, in this busy area, the only people who don’t regret cycling in are the few who live to talk about it. My friend says the hardest thing about cycling to work in London is the pavement. In Swindon, the roads might be more cycle-friendly, and there are, oh, at least two people who want this benefit. Sorry, nothing doing, guys.

I admit, I am prejudiced against cyclists. For a start, where I live, they hang out in packs, making driving a complete hazard. I wouldn’t drive along slowly next to two other cars making it impossible to overtake, so why do cyclists find it necessary to ride three abreast?

Also, there is the ridiculous matter of their outfits. What is it about cycling that makes perfectly ordinary people want to dress like super-heroes in neon Lycra? Worse than that: matching Lycra. Not only husbands and wives; I’ve seen whole families sporting corporate colours and co-ordinated goggles. And there is the small matter of padded pants at the back, and the even smaller matter on display at the front. The whole thing is just deeply cringeworthy.

Salary sacrifice arrangements

I am also prejudiced against salary sacrifice flexible benefits. Call me unkind, but for us, it just isn’t worth it. Against my better judgement, we introduced a company car salary sacrifice scheme last year. The time I spent on the project alone would have cost the company several thousand, not to mention the involvement of HR leaders and management. We spent more money on communications, website changes and amendments to our HR system. And for what? A pathetic 2% take-up.

I tell my friend in Swindon that we will look into bikes, but I have no intention of doing so. But then I get a second call. It is from the Higher Being based in Swindon. It seems he wants to know about the bikes-for-work programme. I tell him, quite clearly, that we don’t have one.

But, he points out, we can save employees hundreds of pounds in income tax and the company can save money on national insurance. I did know that, actually. For two employees, that works out about £200 a year in savings, and it will cost more than that just in my time to set it up.

I tell him I will look into it, and hang up. I feel uneasy, though. Ignoring the requests of accounts assistants is one thing, but Higher Beings are used to getting their own way. I have a nasty sense of foreboding.

The business case

Sure enough, a couple of days later, Big Bad Boss asks me why we don’t have a bikes-for-work programme. Because there isn’t sufficient demand, I tell him. Because it would cost us more to implement than it would save. I can see he isn’t listening. He still wants me to produce some numbers for him.

I produce some numbers, which say, naturally, that it would cost us more to implement than it would save. But Big Bad Boss is still not convinced. He might as well have his fingers in his ears, saying ”la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you”.

Corporate social responsibility

Someone has told him it helps our corporate social responsibility (CSR) data. Note the key use of the word ‘data’. We are not actually interested in social issues, only in our CSR data. The Higher Beings have the social conscience of a school bully, but data: that is all-important around here.

I am good at making decisions in the best interests of the company. I am even better at dodging unnecessary work. Both factors would say we should park any cycle leasing programme indefinitely, but I am also good at knowing when resistance is futile. Higher Beings are expressing an unnatural interest in this one, and I may as well just get on it.

The next best thing to avoiding work altogether is to get someone else to do it. So I invite a couple of providers in to pitch for the business. If I can get them in front of Big Bad Boss, they can answer all his stupid questions and, better still, they can do all the work of implementation and communication for me.

One firm pitching makes a very slick presentation and, better still, brings free gifts. It showers us in stickers and free cycle accessories. The accessories mysteriously disappear into Big Bad Boss’s room.

The other firm is not so hot, but it does make a suggestion I really like, which is to simply offer an allowance for anyone using public transport or cycling to work. That would give the Higher Beings the opportunity to be seen to be doing something green and yet save us all the hassle of accounting for leased bikes, and salary sacrifice arrangements. Big Bad Boss doesn’t like it. He thinks we need to offer actual bikes. Really? For two people?

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In the end, the take-up turns out to be four people: the two in Swindon, one guy in IT and, unbelievably, Big Bad Boss himself. This is unimaginable; he doesn’t even carry his own golf clubs. One thing is for sure: I really don’t want to see him in Lycra.

Next time…Candid is fed up with meetings.