Confessions of a Benefits Manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: Placing staff abroad is a minefield of local salary calculations, social taxes analyses and luxury apartment allocations, but the biggest issue for Candid is her colleague in international assignments won’t help

There is a new trend in the world of international mobility: immigrant returnees. Where once we had a huge influx of people from emerging markets coming to work in Northern Europe, now it seems they all want to go back and ‘work from home’.

The problem for me is that their homes are in places where we don’t even operate. Given we have no offices in Bulgaria or Croatia, for example, I can’t understand why we would agree to employ our auditors and regional quality managers to work from there. Whatever we save on pay, will surely end up costing us double in additional travel costs and administration.

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Anyone transferring makes a big fuss about taking a job for less salary, even when it would be the equivalent net pay for a lower-cost country. And then there is the time it takes me to research and implement car policies and benefits plans in all these different places.

So why are we doing this? This isn’t proper offshoring or part of a cohesive plan to move jobs abroad to save money; it’s just awkward individuals deciding to change their place of work. But does anyone listen to me? The Higher Beings (our executive management team) certainly don’t. Inexplicably, we are going along with it.

Unfortunately, the Higher Beings have a tendency to ‘think local, act global’ when it should be the other way round. I had one senior leader seriously request that I pay all his direct reports exactly the same salary even though they were spread around the globe. If I had agreed to this plan, the guy in India would have been a millionaire overnight. Either that or the guy in Geneva would be living in a cardboard box. What is scary is that the manager who made this dumb request is in charge of a key global business unit. I get a little worried about the long-term success of this company at times.

Some managers have a better grasp of international pay though. We have had one cheeky employee who insisted on being based (and paid rather handsomely) in our Swiss office, even though he commutes from France which is considerably cheaper. I suspect the tax man will have something to say about that, in due course.

As a company, we do lots of nitty-gritty penny-pinching, like cancelling the newspapers for reception, and buying dodgy biros, so it can feel like working in a Dickensian workhouse at times. But when it comes to sending people to work in another office, suddenly employees are treated like kings. We shower them with gifts and expense accounts. We rent them luxury apartments and give them bonuses to buy furniture. We generously give them company cars regardless of grade, even in those countries where no sane person would attempt to drive. We also pay their spouses to learn a language and give them special career counselling. No wonder all the Americans think an international assignment is essential for their resume. It is certainly essential for their pockets.

I could let all this wash over me, as I do most of our inequities, if only I didn’t have to work with that dreadful woman at head office, Patsy-the-Ping-Pong-Player. It is not that she is a sporting girl; it is just that she can’t resist hitting stuff back over the net at you.

I used to think that someone working in international assignments would feel some responsibility for work in that area. After all, she is employed by us specifically to facilitate all international moves. But does she actually do anything? No, what she does is this: she waits until a request comes in, she consults her list of internal contacts in HR, and then she forwards the email to someone on the list. I get anything and everything to do with Europe and Asia, with a little header thanking me in advance for ‘taking the lead on this issue’. It is rather clever that, as asking someone to take the lead on an issue makes it very difficult for them to refuse without seeming to shirk leadership. I know for a fact my US colleague receives all the North American requests in exactly the same way, so we have to wonder what exactly Patsy does.

I have asked for her help on little things, where all she has to do is look something up, such as per diem rates and housing norms, but even those requests she manages to bounce back at me in some mysterious way. Even the simplest thing, like social taxes, which I know for a fact she has access to, she forwards to someone in the finance department rather than handling herself. I must remember to thank her for ‘taking the lead’ on it next time.

The wonderful thing about company life is that the rules of karma ultimately work out, and what goes around, will eventually come around. Patsy, seeking a promotion, has requested a 360-degree review, thinking it will help her push forward her development. Big mistake. The review means her peers and customers need to give feedback on her work style. There is even a whole set of questions on taking responsibility and getting things done. Gosh, did we have fun answering those. Her manager, who was probably blissfully unaware of any problem, will receive a full report with all our anonymous comments. I just hope he manages to take the lead on that particular issue. If he doesn’t, I am applying for a transfer to Bulgaria.

Next time…Candid discovers ergonomics.

Confessions of a benefits manager – April 2008