Confessions of a benefits manager: VIP for a day

A series of talks is going on all day, but only one looks vaguely interesting to me. Well, let me rephrase that: it is about automatic enrolment, so perhaps interesting isn’t the first word that springs to mind. However, it is something I need to gather information on while I am here.

The online booking thing said the talk was full, but I am hoping to charm someone into adding me to the list. It takes a few minutes of wandering round aimlessly to find the bookings booth. Sadly, the person there isn’t giving places away, despite my VIP badge and fluttering lashes. Darn it.

I look at the other talks with spaces still available. I can listen to Smarmy Consulting sell their wellbeing programme, or I can hear some other guy prattle on about employee engagement. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t get employee engagement. It just seems like something HR people like to discuss endlessly, but without anything actually happening.

I decide to wander over to where my preferred talk is being held. Luckily, they don’t have bouncers on the door, so I can sneak in the back. The consultant speaker is a bit dry, but there is an HR manager who presents on how they are approaching automatic enrolment in a real company. She gives much more practical advice, and I actually walk away with some free useful notes, which has to be a first at this kind of event. Usually, you just get teased with a sales pitch.

It is time to get back to those sandwiches. I was hoping for another glass of bubbly, but the freebies are strictly controlled. I can have as much water as I like, though, and I pile a plate with sandwiches. I look around for somewhere nice to sit. I have to go up a flight of stairs, balancing my bag, plate and glass rather precariously. I end up sharing a table with two payroll girls from Balham, who are very sweet, but it is not exactly networking.

Someone to talk to

I look around for someone to talk to next. Everyone seems to have come in pairs and is with their colleague. Ah well, I don’t really do networking anyway. I hear you can get a job that way, but I can’t see it happening here where everyone is in the same type of department and I am at least as senior as anyone else. I would like to meet reward people to share information with, but in practice it is rarely all that useful.

Fortified with lunch, I am ready to face the exhibition hall. Yikes, it is like walking through a Chinese market. They don’t exactly shout “Here lady, want to buy a watch?” but it is damn close.

One man walks up to me bold as brass and asks me if I had thought of salary sacrifice. Er, no. I quite like my salary, thank you very much. Another one accosts some poor woman in front of me, saying she has dirt on her jacket, but it is just a ruse to get her talking about insurance.

They all stare at my badge to see if I am senior enough to spend money on benefits. As my badge is pinned at the bottom of my jacket, it feels like everyone is staring at my crotch. People offer me cuddly toys and stress balls, but I have none of it.

There is only one thing I want from this rabble and that is benefits data. I circle around the stand of people who used to give data away, keeping a safe distance. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if they are still doing the CDs. I am gutted. I walk off and look at some other stands.

People keep asking me if my employees are healthy, engaged and prepared for retirement, but I just smile sweetly and move on.

I circle back to the data people. There is a new guy on the stand. He is tall, dark and very handsome in a well-cut suit. That is all the encouragement I need. I ask if they are still providing benefits data on disc. He hesitates for a moment and our eyes lock. He reaches into his pocket and proudly pulls out a USB stick. Everything I need is on there, he tells me. I smile and give him my card. Everything he needs is on there. He can give me a dongle any day.

Next time…Candid is part of a witch hunt.

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