Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid celebrates team turnover


I’ve had the most amazing news and I feel like breaking open the Champagne. I’ve not won the lottery or anything, but still it seems a pretty life-changing event: Creepy Caroline has resigned. She is telling everyone that she has got a significantly better job with a household-name organisation. It sounds like she will be heading up HR worldwide for it, and it will look great on her CV. I am pleased for her. Really. Well, I am pleased at least.

You see, for some time Caroline has come to represent all that is dark and dangerous about work colleagues. Others such as Lazy Susan can be dull-witted and lazy, but Susan means no actual harm. Big Bad Boss can be irritating; in fact, he is mostly irritating.  And bossy. But, if Big Bad Boss lets me down, it is merely because he is entirely concerned with his own wellbeing and that doesn’t leave any room to be concerned about anyone else. Creepy Caroline, on the other hand, has it in for me. In a downright creepy way.

Yes, I know that sounds paranoid, but it comes down to the way she operates. This is the woman who will ask that awkward question whenever I am presenting. In fact, she will challenge every slide until I feel like throwing the projector at her. This is the woman who will point out your typo after the communication has gone out to all employees. And you know she spotted it in the first draft. And let us not forget the plagiarism incident. This is the woman who stole my idea and boldly presented it (barely changing the slides) to the Higher Beings, taking all the credit. No, I haven’t forgotten, although I might have been willing to forgive if she had been a little easier to get along with.

Creepy Caroline only has to be in a meeting, and I feel myself reach for an invisible sword. I gird myself for an inevitable blow. The sad thing is we were once friends. Well, I wanted to be. She is roughly my age, level and experience. I thought it would be nice to have a buddy in the office to have a laugh with. Just briefly, that’s how our relationship was. Until the c-word crept in. Competition.

Could I have been the one to set it off? I don’t remember. She did accuse me of being competitive once. But I didn’t feel competitive; I felt threatened. I have no ambitions in workforce planning, organisational development, or any of the stuff she does. For a start, it all seems quite fluffy compared to benefits. They don’t refer to any proper numbers, and even when they do, as in headcount reporting, the numbers are usually wrong. Whoops. Did I say that? You see what nastiness the c-word creates. Attack someone and they will find a way to attack back. Criticise and they will look for something you have done wrong in return. And, once someone is actively looking for something wrong they will find it for sure. That’s where we both are now.

I did try to make friends again. I invited Caroline to lunch. I really wanted it to work, but fate would not allow it. I was 10 minutes late. I am never late, but circumstances conspired to hold me up and I was. Ten whole minutes. She looked as if she was going to cry or explode. It seemed so unfair; I know many people who are habitually half an hour late and they get away with it. I didn’t. The lunch was tense and awkward. I tried to be light and chatty, and the more I tried, the darker she glowered.

Now she is leaving, I am conflicted. I still think we could have got along, but I don’t need detractors in my life. It is hard enough dealing with Big Bad Boss and the Higher Beings without having colleagues taking a pop at me too. Faced with her collection and leaving card, I am still strangely sad. It isn’t a very full envelope and all the signatures are the impersonal best-of-luck kind. I stare at the card for an age trying to think of something warm and witty to say. I end up wishing her the best of luck.

In the pub for her leaving drinks, everyone looks quite depressed. I don’t think they are thinking they will miss her cheery face; her teammates know that she won’t be replaced for months and they will be doing all her work. Our company makes massive savings on salaries anytime anyone leaves. The Higher Beings have a policy of not replacing leavers until the rest of the department start having stress-related illnesses from the increased workload.

Her manager makes a little parting speech and says ‘If there is one word to describe Caroline…’, and I hold my breath. Will he say ‘creepy’? Or ‘competitive’?  ‘Competent’ is what he says. I feel a bit sorry for her. Five years in an organisation, which in this place is a lifetime, and you are remembered as merely competent. Her manager presents Caroline with some department store vouchers, but hardly enough to buy anything nice.

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

It is over a week before I am tempted to look on LinkedIn. I just hope Caroline didn’t upgrade and can see who has been looking at her profile. As I suspected, she isn’t head of global HR, but has an organisation development role at a similar level to the one she has just left. I should be laughing, but that would be creepy. The weird thing is I just wish her well.

Next time… Candid takes on an acquisition.