Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid reviews her EAP


You can’t help but wonder why some people have end up in the jobs they have. Take one of my contacts at Smarmy Consulting, Barry. I recently bumped into Barry at a networking event and he backed me into a corner to tell me about his new job. Unlike his last role, which was largely pensions consulting, he now works for a smaller firm specialising in wellness and employee assistance programmes (EAP).

Barry isn’t exactly the networking type, and having latched on to me, he practically hangs onto my skirt for the rest of the day. I am not stupid enough to think it is my charm attracting him; I am sure it is inside knowledge of our benefits. He will know we have a helpline for our employees, but we do not have a very good one. There is clearly room for an up-sell.

Sure enough, Barry wants to come and see me at the office so he can tell us about his new organisation’s offering. He looks at me pleadingly. I half expect him to say ‘pretty please’ he is so wistful. I agree to call him when I am back in the office and manage to shake him off by faking a visit to the ladies.

Barry does not wait to be called; he is on the line to follow up the next day. Rather to my surprise, Big Bad Boss seems quite enthusiastic to hear about another EAP. It seems one of the management team rang our helpline recently supposedly ‘as a test’ and was disappointed he was not offered proper advice but merely fobbed off with other numbers to phone. Grr. This is the same Higher Being who did not support paying for a more robust EAP package in the first place. We can hardly offer a full-blown counselling service at no cost. When it comes to staff benefits, the Higher Beings always want no-frills for the staff, but top-of-the-range for themselves.

I ring Barry with the good news: he can come and present an overview of its EAP to Big Bad Boss and me, as well as a couple of the Higher Beings on our management team. Oddly, Barry does not exactly leap at the idea. In fact, he says he will need to include two of his colleagues from the US, somebody who is vice president of employee assistance and someone else who is senior director of enterprise solutions, which all seems rather over the top to me. Barry needs to check their availability and he wants me to have a pre-call with them to discuss our requirements. I don’t have any requirements; wasn’t this whole thing their idea in the first place? If there is one thing I cannot stand: it is having an extra meeting to talk about what we are going to talk about in another meeting. I mean really.

The call with Somebody and Somebody Else is an hour of my life that I will not get back. They waffle on about nothing in particular. In the end, they do not think they can make it to present in person and demand that I arrange things as a conference call in their morning. Huff.

On the day of the presentation, Barry arrives looking pale and disheveled. He tells me that Somebody and Someone Else are no longer dialing in. I tell him that is OK, we are fine with him making the presentation alone. But Barry clearly is not fine. His eyes are staring and his forehead is sweaty. He has a smell of fear about him, and I realise that he is not at all comfortable presenting. So why suggest it?

Somebody and Somebody Else must have created the presentation because the slides are quite US focused. To cater for a European audience, they have put in a token slide on stress levels in Belgium. Thanks. Having worked on benefits plans in Belgium recently, I am not surprised by the high suicide rates there. Tell me something I do not know.

Barry spends the next 10 slides on why we might want an EAP, expounding on how many international organisations are introducing employee helplines as part of their wellness programmes. Given we already have an EAP, this all seems a bit tedious.

Finally, Barry goes onto tell us why we might want to change to his firm’s particular service. Again, the script has an American tone, which does not sound right coming from him. Are we happy with our employee engagement? There is silence around the table. Higher Beings don’t do ‘happy’. I could have told him that. Do we want our employees to be even happier? There is more silence. He would have been better emphasising the productivity impact.

Poor old Barry bangs on about the call volumes the firm can handle and how it can respond in over a hundred languages, but by now nobody is really listening. Big Bad Boss is checking his phone and one of the Higher Beings is playing with his Apple watch. The other one is staring out of the window with a faraway look on his face.

I perk up a bit when Barry talks about offering a special helpline for expatriates; it would be wonderful to get those whingers off my back. Barry does not even need to raise his arms for the dark patches under his arms to show; they are creeping towards his waist, poor man. I want to leap up and take over the presentation, but all I can do is sit here and watch him drown. He really should be doing something else for a living.

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Later, Big Bad Boss confirms we are sticking with the existing provider. I do not know whether to be pleased that I do not have the work of rewriting the employee communications, or sorry that I have to break the news. If anyone needs an employee helpline to call it is Barry.

Next time… Candid looks at voluntary benefits.