Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid works on productivity

If there is one thing guaranteed to send me screaming out of the room, it is role play. I’ve had a kind of phobia about it ever since I was on a leadership course and was made to go around on all fours expressing my inner tiger. Nobody has actually said there will be any such nonsense, but in any corporate creativity workshop there is a risk.

This particular training has been sold to the rest of the Higher Beings under the auspices of productivity enhancement training. I can see how they would be charmed by that. Productivity enhancement sounds like a great way to get us all to do more with less, which is one of their favourite themes. Much as I’d like to increase my creativity and maybe even my productivity, I can’t help but feel the money would be better spent on other things. Pay rises for example, and my pay increase in particular. In fact, I’d even settle for some more budget to spend on benefits.

Why are we doing this nonsense, when money is tight and there is even a pay freeze? The answer is obvious: the training provider has seduced one of the Higher Beings. Literally. Big Bad Boss tells me our CFO is going out with their MD. How sweet.

Productivity enhancement

So, the decree has gone out: everyone above a certain grade is going to be productivity-enhanced whether they like it or not. HR will not be trained together, which is some relief; we are to be randomly selected into new teams. To be honest, I’m a bit paranoid about the word ‘team’ as well. I am lucky enough, if you can call it that, to work with Lazy Susan and Big Bad Boss so I don’t have to do much in the way of teamwork. In fact, to say I work with them is stretching a point, sharing office space about covers it. Now for this workshop, I am lumped into a team with two sales managers, a particularly smelly guy from IT, two from finance, and a project manager from our development office.

Our trainer, Cath, starts off by defining creativity. Oh please. I do have a basic understanding of English, you know. She goes on to explain how creative teams make more money for the organisation than uncreative teams. You don’t say. I think I can be forgiven for expecting something a little more inspirational from a creativity coach. I am so bored with her presentation I can barely stop my eyes rolling.

Making a mind map

Perhaps sensing she is losing us, Cath kicks off the first exercise. We have to make a mind map, which is a list written down as a diagram around a central idea. In fact, we’ve all seen one before, so it’s hard to get very worked up about it. I get up straightaway to scribe for the team. It is always best to scribe, it takes the pressure off actually having to participate. Furthermore, I can control what gets recorded and I can add my own points if I want to, unrestrained. Most important, I get to play with markers.

The team spends 20 minutes arguing about what issue to make a mind map for. Just when I feel like sniffing a marker pen for some relief, Cath tells us to just pick something and make a start. Everyone still argues, so I make a suggestion. How about pay freezes? And suddenly we are on a roll; everyone has something to say about pay. I make a very pretty chart with different colours for each of the reasons to reinstate the pay review, covering morale, retention, and even the magic words: increased productivity.


Next, Cath gets us to work on our own work-related problem by brainstorming different approaches. I consider my endless task list and I am disengaged again. It’s not like brainstorming is anything new, I have to do that every day. Can’t creativity coaches come up with anything original? Cath suggests we apply aspects of storytelling to get to a solution. What does she want me to do? Should I demonstrate the reward strategy through the medium of dance? Or perhaps write a poem to communicate the salary sacrifice changes? No, this has all got just a bit too silly. I just want it to end.

Finally, we have to develop a summary of the advantages of creative thinking to our teams and to the organisation. Let me get this right: she wants us to build her a business case for the next workshop. I don’t think so.

You might think that the Higher Beings actually recognise the need to invest in creating a more innovative culture, and I should appreciate training as it is so rarely offered these days. Perhaps, but this course just isn’t helping. In any case, any creative thought has been snuffed out of us by budget cuts and limitations.

Innovative benefits schemes

I’d love to be one of those benefit managers you read about, the ones who create innovative reward programmes for lots of happy smiley employees. I am sure I could come up with an amazing benefits plan, even without a mind map, if I was allowed to spend any money. All my creativity is channeled into saving costs and finding new ways to dilute the benefits package without anyone noticing.

It is a less than a month after the class when I hear some excellent news. The annual pay review is back on. While it will create a lot of work for all of us in HR to implement, I could write a long list of the reasons it should go ahead. In fact, I did. Is it possible my mind map chart was left up in the boardroom?

Next time…Candid revisits salary sacrifice.