Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: The much-desired concept of offering an ethical company code is somewhat at odds with the ardent pursuit of profits, or even the actions of a number of senior management figures, bemoans Candid

I don’t know why companies find it necessary to pretend they are ethical and socially responsible when everyone knows the only thing of real value to them is profit. My company even has an ethics policy to clarify and disseminate its ‘values’. Yeah right. You might remember I had to train everyone on the ethics policy earlier in the year, and although I was honoured (and somewhat surprised) to be considered suitably ethical, I am so relieved I won’t have to do it again. The bad news is they have now created an online ethics-ometer and we all (yes all) have to take the test by the end of the month. They (whoever ‘they’ are) have also created handy automatic reminders that pop up daily in my email inbox. After three days of urgent reminders, I can take the pressure no longer: with my ethics policy to hand, I click on the link and take the test.

The first question isn’t too hard: two employees regularly use company stationery for their college course work. Should you: a) lock the stationery cupboard and hide the key, b) do nothing, or c) tell your manager? I click the last one, even though, in reality, Big Bad Boss is the worst offender at pinching company stuff. You should see how many rolls of Sellotape he took home last Christmas.

The test gets harder: you interview a candidate who intimates she can bring confidential information from her present company (a competitor). Do you: a) hire her immediately and pump her for information, b) don’t hire her as she is clearly an untrustworthy character, or c) don’t hire her, but also tell your manager, the Ethics Committee and report the incident to Interpol? I think b) is sufficiently prudent but I know the way the Ethics Committee works, and c) is their idea of a right answer. In fact, if you go through the entire questionnaire taking the hardest possible line, you cannot fail to pass the test. No one ever got fired for being too ethical, did they? What happens if you give honest responses and therefore fail the test is not clear, but it is strongly implied that action will be taken.

Of course, the reality of corporate life is rather different. The ethics policy may dictate that we as a company never, ever buy business, but when the Highest Being (our executive president) tells me that a certain consulting company really ought to be on our tender list given they have just bought 20,000 computers from us, I’m not going to argue and call in the Ethics Police, am I? Frankly, that would be career hari-kari. When Big Bad Boss is invited by our pensions consultants to a golfing weekend, he doesn’t turn it down quoting the ethics policy on gratuities, does he? No, when it comes to the ethics policy in action, the words ‘lip’ and ‘service’ come to mind.

Personally, I think they have got the focus of the policy all wrong. I mean, it doesn’t say a thing about whether a department head (naming no names) should take all the credit for his employees’ hard work, when he hasn’t got a clue about either compensation or benefits, and it is a complete mystery to one and all how he came to be heading up such a team. It doesn’t say anything about how you shouldn’t go on holiday leaving six weeks’ work already overdue, knowing some poor soul is covering you while away and they will have to take all the flack. The policy offers no guidance on what to do when someone in another section blatantly plagiarises your work (no, I still haven’t forgotten about that episode) and they don’t even have the courtesy to own up.

There is nothing in the policy to tell you which market data to use when you are asked to evaluate your arch-enemy’s grade and pay, when there is a really low data point which would leave them as they are, or a really high one which would endorse an undeserved promotion. In such uncomfortable decisions, we are left to our own devices. The policy doesn’t cover poaching; when managers steal staff from other departments to save the bother of recruiting from outside. Mind you, I’ve been hoping someone would poach my colleague Lazy Susan for some time. Indeed, I keep suggesting she would do really well in the organisation and development team; after all, none of that lot does any actual work. The policy also doesn’t clarify what to do when Big Bad Boss makes a glaring error in a presentation; do you leave it in, in the hope he looks stupid in front of the Higher Beings (our executive management team), which would only serve him right, or correct it in case he blames the mistake on you anyway? These are the real dilemmas we face every day without any help from the Ethics Committee.

The Ethics policy recommends making judgements based on personal values, as if we hire people with any concept of values. The Higher Beings act like members of an organised crime gang, and they tend to recruit in their own image. Managers are promoted based on their results, regardless of how many employees they have kicked along the way, so, around here at least, values don’t pay.

Have these ethics people not read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins? According to some scientists, people are only ever altruistic because it serves their own needs. Call me a cynic too, but I know my colleagues only ever scratch my back because I scratch theirs. If then.

  • Next time…Candid has to assess her own competence

Confessions of a benefits manager – October 2007