Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid looks for low-cost perks

Big Bad Boss must think I am a magician; now he wants me to increase our reward offering without spending any actual money. Well, why don’t I turn water into wine and create world peace while I am at it? How exactly am I supposed to do create something out of nothing?

Perhaps I can get employees to pay for their own rewards. I bring up the case for voluntary benefits. No, even Big Bad Boss remembers the heartache we had over dental cover. Setting it up was far too much work, and at the end of it we had a miserable take-up. I guess our employees don’t smile enough to be worried about their teeth. 

Confessions of a benefits manager

He says I need to be more innovative. Thanks. What he really wants is something like intangible benefits. Intangible? Well really, you can’t spend an intangible benefit, can you? Perhaps we can get the managers to pay for stuff, I suggest. Absolutely. Big Bad Boss likes that way of thinking. That’s good, but how to go about it?

We already have a recognition programme. It is not the best plan ever, but it works. All the rewards, mostly in the form of vouchers, get charged directly to a manager’s cost centre, and not to us. So, all I need to do is to get the managers to make more use of the plan and we have increased our reward offering without spending any money. Job done.

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If only it were that easy. I hate training, and more than that, our managers hate being trained. They will invent client meetings, family breakdowns, financial disasters, anything rather than sit in a conference room listening to me. I am tempted to dump any new roll-out onto the workforce development team, after all, you don’t keep dogs and do your own barking, but our managers like sitting in a conference room listening to even less. No, I need bums on seats for this project. Big senior bums.

I have an idea. There is a big kick-off conference for the Higher Beings coming soon. Every year, the senior executives in our company get whisked away to a fancy hotel in the shires and are told how to be better leaders. They don’t actually become better leaders, of course, but at least they go, because there is a great deal of free drink on offer. When I first joined, this event included all managers above a certain level such that even I would have to go. However, in these austere times it is limited to the Highest Beings only. Thankfully. I just hate conferences.

I check with the top secretary who organises the events. There is still space on the agenda, and better still, the theme of the whole week is ‘Productivity: get more done with less’. Why am I not surprised?

Looking at our recognition plan, there is quite a bit I can do to tart up the presentation for this audience. I add notes on scientific research about how employees can be made to work harder by giving them praise and small rewards. At a previous event, they had a professor talk to them about research on diversity improving performance, and Big Bad Boss was talking about it for weeks. I have the impression that empirical evidence for profit has a lot more sway with our management than mere good practice.

As well as the research to back up why you might want to be nice to an employee, I’m pretty sure I need to spell out exactly how to be nice to an employee; decent behaviour isn’t something that comes naturally to any of our senior management. I make a list of possible management actions including saying ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’. It might seem patronising, even ridiculous, to call these things out, but really, I’ve never even heard anyone do these basics around here.  So that managers don’t have to waste any time thinking for themselves, I also make a list of cheap (almost intangible) things that could be given as recognition, from a bunch of flowers to a meal out. Larger results could even ‘self-fund’ a day at a sporting event (our management just love anything self-funding). I want to give the plan a funky new name to differentiate it from the current programme, but all I can think of is ‘Praise means profit’. Dare I leave it at that? It might be rather blunt, but subtlety can be quite lost on our guys.

Big Bad Boss seems quite enthusiastic about the whole thing and I send him off to sell the idea to the head of HR. Big Bad Boss is so much better at schmoozing the Higher Beings than I am.  I am reminded of dogs and barking again. It seems head HR honcho hasn’t yet prepared his presentation so he is going to use ‘Praise means profit’ as his keynote speech. That lets me off presenting, and Big Bad Boss too. Relief.

Big Bad Boss comes back from the kick-off event with a bounce in his step. It seems head HR honcho’s presentation went down so well, he has rewarded Big Bad Boss with a golf day at swish course in the country. Well, that’s nice isn’t it? I get creative, and do all the actual work and I don’t even get a lousy ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’. That is just typical. Huff.

Then I notice BBB has left an envelope on my desk. Inside is a voucher for a day at my favourite spa. Bless him. I just hope this ‘praise means profit’ craze lasts.

Next time…Candid researches a new benefits portal.