Confessions of a benefits manager: A demanding job

The potential new European legal director is pestering Candid about her reward offer, but negotiations seem a little one-sided

If you were to ask me what our reward philosophy is, I would have to say the phrase is an oxymoron in this place. ‘Philosophy’ means higher thought or wisdom, and there is very little of that around here. I mean, in theory, we pitch base pay and benefits at median, and aim to offer a little more on performance-based incentives, but you and I know that all goes out the window when we are hiring.

I have been getting daily aggravation from a candidate in Germany. The potential new European legal director, Hilde, has a new question about the offer every single day. Today she wants to know about the travel policy, given that we will expect her to travel extensively in this Europe-wide role. I send her the policy, but it doesn’t stop there. She wants to add an exception in the contract that she can have business class travel. One, I don’t own the travel policy; two, you have to be the CEO to travel business class; and three, we don’t make exceptions. Next question?

Of course, all these questions should go to the hiring manager or HR, but in this case, the hiring manager is a Higher Being as head of legal worldwide, who is too senior to get involved with humdrum activities such as actual work. And, unluckily for me, there is no HR generalist assigned to the legal department. So, as with most things no one else will take responsibility for, it falls to me to deal with Hilde’s many demands.

She wants to know about our German pension plan. That doesn’t take long to answer: we don’t have a German pension plan. Her email comes back in block capitals, telling me she will not work for a company that doesn’t have a pension plan. I am tempted to reply that we do not hire people who write in block capitals, but she is a lawyer and she might find some way to use it in some kind of discrimination claim. I write a longer email explaining that we had a defined benefit plan which is now frozen and because we don’t have any employees in Germany, we haven’t set up a new plan in its place.

Next thing I know, Hilde tells me her new boss, the Higher Being, has said I will set up a plan for her. Come again? I ring him to check, as this would go against all our policies. Yes indeed, that is what he wants me to do, and, worse, he has already instructed Smarmy Consulting to work out how much we need to contribute to match her current plan. Since when do we negotiate individual pensions to match current contributions?

Long-term incentive scheme

It is a couple of days before Smarmy Consulting comes back with anything. Meanwhile, Hilde wants to know about the long-term incentive scheme. She wants a copy of the plan rules, not just the employee booklet. It is a huge document that would never get through the email filters. She also wants five years’ payout history on the bonus plan. I’m not keen on sending that as we’ve only paid out at target one year in three.

Finally, Smarmy Consulting sends me an email offering to set up a new state-of-the-art pension plan in Germany. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? It has calculated that Hilde’s benefit with her present company would require contributions of about 25% of pay. That seems rather steep. I dig out some market data for Germany and find I am right – it is rather steep. I call the head of legal on his mobile to point this out. I hear the sound of a club hitting a ball in the background. I don’t think I have his full attention.

Meanwhile, Hilde is now arguing for an exception to the car policy. The lease rate we offer wouldn’t allow her to drive the same sort of Mercedes she is used to. Poor thing. I have a solution: she can contribute €100 towards the lease rate to get the car of her choice. I just know that is going to push up the base pay she wants.

Soon another email from her potential boss arrives, stating that we need to up the base pay by €100 a month. Well, who’d have guessed it? This will take her above the maximum for the grade, but no one seems to mind. Also, we need to add a housing allowance, oh, and a sign-on bonus. A sign-on bonus I can do, but since when do we offer housing for people unless they are on assignment? Why would we? Because she gets one at her current company, that’s why.

I prepare the offer, including most of her many demands, but barely a day later I get an email from the head of legal telling me she has accepted an offer elsewhere. I am rather relieved. I often have to work with the European legal team, and Hilde was already sounding rather too demanding. However, I can tell the head of legal blames me.

Barely a week later, he emails asking me to finalise an offer he has made directly to another candidate, Roland. When I ask about the candidate’s current pay and benefits, it is clear he hasn’t even asked that question, and yet he has already made a verbal offer. Yikes. How an earth did he come up with that offer? I look at the details he has sent to me. Oh dear. It is Hilde’s draft contract, just with the name changed. Lucky Roland.

Next time…Candid finds a new colleague rather elusive.

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