Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid gets to grips with salary sacrifice changes

Big Bad Boss has two approaches to a new issue. His first, and most frequent, response is to flap around firing off directions to everyone in the team without thinking it through. This happens if there is any kind of request from the top floor. His second approach is to pretend the problem belongs to someone else and do absolutely nothing. This, so far, has been his stand on salary sacrifice.

Every time there was anything in the press about potential changes, I suggested we make a plan, and each time he said it was not something we could address until changes were conclusive. In a way, I agreed. There have been plenty of times when we have spent hours deliberating what we will do about some piece of draft pension legislation in vain. Hours of my life have been lost in such discussions, not to mention thousands spent in consulting fees, only to discover the proposed legislation, whatever it was, never actually happened.

But salary sacrifice changes have happened. That said, the result hasn’t turned out to be the bloodletting that we were led to believe. From the tone of some news reports, you would think that HM Revenue and Customs had dramatically cut the perks of all working people, when really the so-called sweeping changes are relatively minor.

Other reports seemed to create deliberate spin, making it sound like the government is actively stripping fat cats of all their executive privileges. I expect that’s what a lot of people may want to hear, apart from fat cats, naturally.

In my company, despite the constant pressure from our advisers to take advantage of tax savings (and spend more on fees in the process) we haven’t exactly jumped on the salary sacrifice bandwagon. Big Bad Boss isn’t one to rush into anything he doesn’t understand, and although the Higher Beings did initially get excited at the prospect of employees giving up salary, they lost interest once it was explained that those people would get benefits in kind instead.

Great place to work?

We could never win one of those ‘great place to work’ prizes because quite frankly it isn’t. So, luckily, we just don’t have all that much in the way of salary sacrifice arrangements. As there were significant savings for the company, we do have employees using salary sacrifice in the pension plan. Thankfully, these are unaffected by recent changes.

We also have the bikes-for-work scheme that is so dear to my manager’s heart; he is one of only a handful of people who took this up and really the only reason we introduced the wretched thing in the first place. Annoyingly, it seems he will continue to wear his Lycra shorts in the morning. We also have another tiny flex scheme that was introduced a couple of years ago, but the take up on this has been so poor we’d be better to just scrap it altogether.

My main worry about is the car policy. Due to meddling from the Higher Beings, our car policy is already a complicated and inequitable mess, and the salary sacrifice changes appear to make it even more complex. Big Bad Boss waves an airy hand and says we have another year to sort it all out.

Benefits communications

I don’t agree. If nothing else, we need to inform any affected employees. We urgently need to change many of our benefits communications, particularly those for new hires. I don’t want to be promising employees tax breaks that they will never get. Big Bad Boss waves an airy hand again. We have an indefinite hiring freeze so there is no great rush.

There is a Taoist expression called ‘Wu wei’ which means non-doing. Sometimes it seems this entire company is in such a state of suspended animation. When our financial results are bad, all spending is held to wait for better figures, and the company becomes a hive of non-doing. Then, without any warning, the Higher Beings decide to change tactics and we all have to start rushing around and working late again.

Sure enough, one of the Higher Beings manages to delude others on the leadership team that a proposed new function would be entirely self-funding (as if such a thing were possible). He is rewarded for his ingenuity by getting a special exception to the hiring freeze. A whole new department. That means a bunch of new total reward costings, employment contracts, and, above all, benefits communications. Suddenly, it is red alert on salary sacrifice.

I want to get our advisers, Smarmy Consulting, to help. After all, it will have been drafting salary sacrifice communications for hundreds of more proactive organisations by now, so it will know exactly what to say and how best to say it. More importantly, I won’t have to do it myself. But Big Bad Boss is having none of it; his non-doing means non-spending too. So, I sit down with the guidelines in front of me and resign myself to working late. I can’t even ask my colleague Lazy Susan to help because she struggles with anything to do with words. Nor is she all that strong on numbers. Oh, and she’s already gone home.

I’ve drafted most of the changes relevant for new hires when I hear the news: the head of the new department has been let go to due some hushed misdemeanor. Without a Higher Being to head it up, the so-called self-funding department is no longer required. There won’t be any hiring after all.

Still, my late nights were not for nothing. Although it would have been much better to update everything in a more orderly way, the extra time on benefits communications was well spent. Now I can go back to non-doing with a clear conscience, at least until the next big rush.

Next time…Candid gets bad service.