Confessions of a benefits manager: Compensation queen

Everyone seems to want Candid’s advice, which seems a burden until she realises the true status of being the office oracle

There is one small difference between me and everyone else around here. No, it’s not just that I am a tiny bit cynical, and no, it isn’t even anything to do with shoes. There is an even bigger difference than that, which is: I bother to bring my brain to work.

Everyone else seems to plod around in some semi-somnambulant state of perpetual dopiness. I don’t know how they get away with it. Well, I do know really: they get away with it by asking me instead doing any thinking for themselves.

Take my colleague, Lazy Susan. Today she asked me how to set up a conference call. I reminded her we had an all-staff email about this last week. She reads the message and a familiar look crosses her face – that bunny-in-the-headlights gaze of incomprehension and fear. I have to admit, the email is not totally clear. It gives you several numbers to choose from: a local number, a freephone number and a national number, not to mention a whole list of international numbers and complicated codes. As such, thought processes are required and decisions must be made. Neither of these are exactly Susan’s forte, so I go ahead and tell her which number to use. Sigh.

Some of it is to do with number blindness. I have a theory that many HR people were attracted to the profession because they are bad at maths, and imagine this weakness will never be exposed in the slightly fluffy world of people management. Big mistake. HR is riddled with numbers: headcount lists, merit plans and benefit statements.

There are numbers and more numbers, wherever you look. Some of my dearest HR colleagues will ring for help whenever confronted with a spreadsheet. There is something about formulae that reminds them of bad experiences in algebra class and sends them into apoplexy. I’ve even seen Susan take out a calculator and add up the numbers before typing the sum into a cell. Bless.

Surrogate brain

But it is not just Lazy Susan; there are hosts of people who use me as a sort of surrogate brain. I get a call from the French HR manager asking what do to about someone who is trying to order a new car above the guidelines. I suggest she could just say no, an answer which seems pretty straightforward. “Ah,” she says, “I knew you would help. You are the compensation queen.” I am slightly mollified. I quite like this new job title and wonder if I could use it on my business card.

Then the payroll department rings me about inputting the new pension plan on their system. Should it be entered as net or gross? Actually I have no idea, but I tell her who to ask and she seems to go away happy. She then sends me an email asking me to define ‘basic pay’ for the new pension. Why does everyone call me instead of thinking things through for themselves? This one is a teaser, though. Basic pay is any pay that is, er, basic? On further discussion, it seems she needs to know exactly how the payroll system should be set up for back-dated payments, and so on.

Erm, how am I supposed to know that? Because I am the compensation queen, I guess. As we talk, she is able to work it out for herself. I feel like a sort of support line for business people with learning difficulties.

Travel insurance policy

Another guy wants me to explain the new travel insurance policy. Someone in headquarters has recently sent out a communication on a change of provider and a few managers are getting all excited about it. I explain, slowly, in words of one syllable because he is American, that travel insurance isn’t a benefit, so doesn’t fall into my area. I only know myself as much as was in the email, but I will see what I can do. I pull the email up while I am talking and manage to answer all his questions by referring to it. The reason for the change, the impact on employees and what they have to do: it’s all clearly spelt out. Not only are people using me to think, they are using me to read, too. Where will it end?

On the other hand, I remember, to cheer myself up a bit, that I am paid a pretty good salary to think. So really I should be happy to put my brain to public use all day if necessary. And, at the risk of bragging, I am probably paid a bit more than most of the people asking me for help. Or that was what I thought until Big Bad Boss called me into his office. He wants me to tell him about this new legislation for higher-rate taxpayers.†

Smarmy Consulting, our pensions adviser, has sent out some advice on this and we have passed it on to all the executives who are paid above certain thresholds. I explain what I know, which, once again, is only as much as has already been communicated. And, like a lot of the preliminary advice we get from Smarmy, by now the government has announced that it plans to change things yet again, although exactly how is not yet clear. Big Bad Boss is most upset to learn he will be paying significantly more tax just because he earns so much. It must be terrible to be burdened with all that money to worry about. Poor lamb.

I may be the compensation queen, but at least I don’t have any kingdom to protect.

Next time…Candid has to get an important document signed.

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