Confessions of a benefits manager: If the face-time fits…

A mystery meeting with the company’s president of Europe takes Candid to Italy and a chance to improve her international status

Now I’ve heard it all. Big Bad Boss wants me to go to Italy to look some bloke in the eye. Eh? It sounds nice, but our Italian office is not my favourite jaunt; there are no shopping centres, just industrial offices. The worst of it is, I still don’t really know why I am going.

The bloke in question is one of our highest beings: the president of Europe. One might also ask why the head of Europe is based in Italy when the European HQ (EHQ) is here in Blighty? Well, because we hired an Italian who refused to relocate, that’s why. The only thing I know about him is he thinks we should all be based in Italy, and he is busy hiring all his mates to work there too. Before you know it, we’ll have two head offices.

Once again, I try to get Big Bad Boss to tell me why I’m going. Is it that ‘face-time’ nonsense again? Finally Big Bad Boss admits there have been certain complaints about our department. Apparently, Il presidente doesn’t think we do enough because he never sees anyone, which is a bit rich seeing as we never see anything of him in HQ. Still, in these hire-and-fire times, it isn’t a good idea to have a peeved president. Next time there are suggested headcount cuts, he could easily point the finger of doom at me. I don’t see how I am supposed to resolve that just by turning up and looking at him, but Big Bad Boss insists all I need to do is show my face. At least give me a proper reason to go: an impressive presentation to make, a scintillating report to discuss, anything really, but my request falls on deaf ears. Big Bad Boss is busy on the phone. I will have to wing it.

On arrival, I check in with Il presidente‘s secretary. I don’t want him to forget he is seeing me that afternoon as I have flown in from the UK specially. Higher beings have a habit of cancelling meetings on a whim, if they get a better offer. She confirms my appointment, but wants to know what it is about. Apparently, he is wondering what I am doing there. Well, he’s not the only one.

To make sure that I get a good lunch, I have arranged to meet up with the local HR manager, who takes me to the local trattoria. It must be the only decent place in town because we went there last time, too. Inside, it is crammed with people from our offices. I even notice Il presidente on the next table. Bravely, I go over and say hello, mentioning my appointment. The man looks slightly hunted and motions us to join him.

Bunch of useless slackers

He kicks off by telling me what a bunch of useless slackers we all are in EHQ. Actually, all I can do is agree with him; there is more dead wood in EHQ than in a pile of railway sleepers. He then goes on to say that HR spends all its time talking and never actually does anything useful. Again, I wholeheartedly agree. Il presidente warms a little at that and pours me a glass of wine. Higher beings don’t scrimp when it comes to lunch.

Il presidente chats some more about the cost-saving measures introduced by the US, and how they just don’t understand the European markets. Tell me about it.

By the end of lunch, we’ve drunk a bottle between us and the world seems a much better place. Still, lest I forget our relative pecking order, I go back in my colleague’s beaten-up Fiat, while Il presidente swishes off in an impossibly large Mercedes.

His secretary ushers me into his office, and Il presidente motions me to sit beside him at the boardroom table.

Yikes, what am I going to say? I pull out my benefits study and show him the executive summary. The results are largely irrelevant because we are not allowed to spend any money on the recommended changes, but at least it shows we have been doing something. I don’t bore him with the detail, but let him see we have been busy.

Then I look him in the eye and say I would like his advice. I watch him swell visibly; there is nothing men like more than to be asked for advice. Well, perhaps there is one thing, but I am not offering him that kind of face-time. I ask him what things my department should focus on in the coming year. He says we need to make sure we are competitive in all markets. I finger the benefits study pointedly. He then says he doesn’t understand why we are not based in Italy. I say, quite emphatically, that I will come to Italy any time he needs me to, but I can’t relocate because my home is in the UK where I was hired, just as he was hired in Italy. He nods happily at that.

He then asks me if I know anything about the bonus for higher beings; apparently local HR knows nothing about it. I pull out the other document I have brought with me. The one thing you can rely on our higher beings for is a healthy self-interest. I take him through the results and give him a rough estimate of his bonus based on his target and expected results. It is a big number and he looks happy. He tells me, quite unprompted, I have a highly specialised role and I don’t necessarily need to be visible to add value. Perfect.

Imagine what response I’d have got if I had turned up for an aimless chat with no preparation. So much for Big Bad Boss’s idea of face-time.

Next time…Candid goes along to a benefits exhibition.

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