Mary Giles, compensation and benefits manager at Microsoft, tells Amanda Wilkinson that volunteering for new work opportunities helps career progression
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From walking the Cumbrian Way to scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, Mary Giles, compensation and benefits manager at Microsoft, is up for a challenge. Not the type of person to be backwards in coming forwards, Giles had been working in a generalist HR role at Microsoft when she volunteered six years ago to take on responsibility for compensation and benefits at the global software giant. The company was then in a rapid growth phase in the UK, but still had a “one-size-fits-all benefits package”.
“We didn’t really have any strong responsibility for developing that, and it’s always been an area of interest to me. So I actually stuck my hand up and said ‘I would be quite interested in looking at this’. I could see that the demographics of the organisation were changing and that our benefits weren’t moving as quickly,” she explains.
Since spotting and seizing the opportunity to oversee benefits, Giles has gone on to launch a flexible benefits scheme, a move which ranks as a personal achievement and resulted in Microsoft winning the Employee Benefits Award for the most effective use of a flexible benefits plan in 2004.
However, her role is not without its challenges, one of which is trying to achieve a benefits package that is interesting, innovative and fresh, while working within the context of a global organisation and the constraints that can sometimes bring. “We have been able to do it, but it is something that is challenging.” For inspiration, she tries to keep abreast of what other organisations are doing through the media and a network of contacts.
Lessons she has learned during her time managing benefits include the need to communicate schemes clearly, and to find out staff views on benefits through surveys. “Don’t just listen to employee feedback, also act upon it.
Go back with a response to it and if you decide to do nothing, explain why you are doing nothing,” she adds.
This approach may stem from Giles’ experience of customer service while working in hotel management and, after that, as cabin crew for a small European airline. “I don’t think customer service is too far removed from HR, it’s about serving client or firm’s needs.”
After a stint working in HR for a small PC manufacturer, she moved to Microsoft 15 years ago as an HR associate.
In the last 12 months, Giles has taken on responsibility for HR operations and is looking at outsourcing support functions. On the benefits side, she is taking steps to enhance the individual benefits statements by adding bonuses and stock interests to the list of perks and salary. Another project includes analysing whether Microsoft’s investment in benefits is being effectively targeted.
Feeding into this is the rising cost of insured benefits such as life assurance, critical illness and income protection, the impact of age discrimination legislation and the increase in retirement age. “The recent changes in the legislation to cover benefits up to the age of 65 years is a great initiative and is the right thing to be doing, but there is a cost implication. Fortunately, at Microsoft we can cover that cost, but I think other smaller organisations will be taking the decision not to offer these benefits at all because of cost.”
One benefit that is sure to remain core is the opportunity to work flexibly. This policy enables Giles to combine living in the countryside in Dorset, with her love of walking and horse riding, while working four days a week for Microsoft in its Reading office which is an hour and forty minutes away.
1992-present Various roles at Microsoft.
Started as HR associate and rose to comp and benefits manager in 2001.
1991-1992 HR administrator for Nippon Steel Computer.
1989-1990 Career break travelling overseas in Australia and New Zealand.
1987-1989 Cabin crew for European airline.
1982-1987 Hotel management administration for various hotel chains.
What is your tip for getting ahead in your career?
It’s a case of spotting opportunities, putting your hand up and saying ‘I’m really keen about doing something’.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Employee communication, for me, is the most important thing in any of the initiatives we roll out. The key thing is to keep it simple. Also, listen to employee feedback, but act upon it as well.
How would you describe yourself?
I am an extremely positive person but I am also very pragmatic, very level headed, but results driven.
Would you improve anything about yourself?
The list is too long. But I think sometimes I care too much.
What is your favourite benefit?
Flexible working. The fact that I have got freedom and the autonomy of being able to get on and do my job regardless of wherever I am is really important to me. I also like the wine benefit in flexible benefits as well.