Confessions of a benefits manager: Union talk is striking

An unnerving meeting with a trade union official is followed by coercion into extra HR duties, leaving Candid plotting revenge

This morning I am meeting with the union of our manufacturing facility, and seriously miffed about it I am too. At the risk of sounding parochial, it simply is not my job. I confirmed that long ago; during my interview, in fact. Somewhere on the hastily-scrawled job description, it said: “Liaise with unions on any benefit changes”, which nearly had me straight back out of the door. However, when probed on this issue, Big Bad Boss promised that I would be involved in employee relations only in a consultative role and that day-to-day negotiation would be carried out by local HR.

So why am I now traipsing up the M1 to meet some bull-terrier of a man from the union Divide? I’ll tell you why: because local HR is on training leave. Training. It is that UK HR director’s fault again. Why is it that when anyone in the UK team goes off to do anything around here, the workload falls on me? Huff.

Mr Bull-terrier shows his teeth when we meet. I don’t mean he smiles, I mean he bares his teeth, like he’s going to bite me. I can see this is going to be a fun meeting. The changes I am introducing are relatively minor and do not significantly impact on employee benefits. But from his response, you would think I am some Victorian workhouse manager, making them slave away for bread and water, and then proposing to take away the water. He keeps banging the table and insisting they know their rights. What these rights actually are does not seem to factor, as long as I know that they know about them. Fair enough.

A lifetime’s grievances

Do I know how much they have put up with in the past year? Well actually I don’t, because, of course, it isn’t my job, but Mr Bull-terrier takes the opportunity to get a lifetime’s grievances off his chest. First, we put them on short time. Then we stopped the bonus plan paying out. Then the shifts were sneakily changed so that every member had to work longer hours. The overtime rates were re-engineered for the worse. And so on. I am beginning to feel I am talking to the union of the world’s most strike-balloted airline, which, come to think of it, I am. I start to sweat at the thought. What if this minor tweak to the pension plan is the straw that breaks the back of this quietly militant workforce? What if they suddenly take industrial action over it? And, in case you have forgotten, this isn’t even my job. Huff.

I start to get a bit more conciliatory. I smooth his feathers (or is that fur?). I have the feeling he does not understand the changes I have proposed. I need to give him the idiot’s guide without making him look like an idiot. Well, without him realising he looks like an idiot, at any rate.

Back at the office, I am just wiping my brow at the danger averted, when Big Bad Boss calls me into his lair. I come out spitting. Not only am I covering for the Northern HR manager, but because the UK HR director is so short-staffed, what with everyone on training leave and all, he wants me to help co-ordinate the annual pay increase, to boot. This UK HRD is the invisible man. He does not have an HR background and really does not have a clue, but he gets away with it by continually travelling, and by getting other people to do his work.

Big Bad Boss tries to butter me up. It is natural that they should think of me, given my experience. It is true that I do get involved in pay increases at a regional European level, but I don’t normally have to chase round after individual managers for their input. Just because the UK HR director does a duff job of managing his resources, I get to double my workload. Is that fair?

Correct her mistakes

Of course I don’t have to do the work myself, Big Bad Boss tries to wheedle. I can get my junior colleague Lazy Susan to run the reports and roll up the data. Yeah, right. And I could spend the rest of my life trying to correct her mistakes. Big Bad Boss should know by now that the only useful thing Lazy Susan contributes to our department is occasionally getting the tea. And then she gets the sugar wrong. But at least, next to her, it is not at all difficult to look productive.

I protest. Surely someone who works for the invisible man should pick up his stuff. Surely it is up to him to manage his own team. Finally, Big Bad Boss agrees and proposes that the UK HRD’s assistant could probably do it. It isn’t long before the UK HRD is on the phone, playing the pathetic card. He doesn’t know enough about the process, so please can I spend a day showing his assistant what to do. I deflate. I know what that means. It won’t be a day, it will be several days, because the woman is a moron. She makes Lazy Susan look quick-witted. I will have phone calls and tears, and lost data. I may as well do it myself.

But as I sit cutting up spreadsheets for distribution, muttering curses under my breath, I am planning my revenge. I want to go on holiday in July, but that will conflict with a hideous project that Big Bad Boss wants doing. What if I go ahead and book the holiday anyway? Someone would just have to cover. I know just who to suggest.

Next time…Candid considers HR’s reputation.