Confessions of a benefits manager: Focusing on employee communications

If there is anything I hate more than sitting in on a focus group, it is leading a focus group.

Actually, I thought focus groups had gone out of fashion, but Big Bad Boss wants me to organise one with my dear HR colleagues, which is rather like setting up a dog fight with a bunch of Rottweiler puppies. We have to discuss improvements to employee communications across all our functions. Lordy.

I wonder vaguely where all this inclusivity has come from. We don’t normally invite people’s opinions about changes; we just go ahead and demand them. And surely all there really is to do is to change the logo and the colours. There can hardly be a great debate about that. Big Bad Boss agrees, but he lets slip that his new boss particularly likes focus groups, so that’s it.

I take Lazy Susan along, not because she will contribute in any way, but because I will need someone to write things down on a flipchart, and I hate doing that. Writing on a flipchart or screen makes me feel like a schoolgirl, or worse: a teacher.

However, if I give her lots of coloured pens, Lazy Susan will love it. She loves anything that gets her out of doing any actual work.

The same could be said of Nigel, the communications manager. He has just been on a six-month sabbatical to finish his Master of NLP course. I don’t know how he managed to get a Higher Being to sponsor training in neuro-linguistic programming, when it is about as useful in the workplace as advanced crochet, but he did. Now Nigel isn’t just boring about NLP; he is masterfully boring. What will he talk about today, I wonder?

I also have to ask my arch-enemy, Creepy Caroline. No, I still haven’t forgotten about that copied presentation she made. When it comes to plagiarism, my temper is short and my memory is long. Why should I do sterling work, just so other people don’t have to?

Fancy flipchart

We meet in a conference room on the top floor, near the Higher Beings. It is the only room with a round table, a widescreen television for projecting, and a fancy flipchart. I order coffee, which isn’t normally allowed by the cost police for an internal meeting, but I am counting this as team-building. We are going to need all the help we can get.

I start by explaining the brief. We’ve got to discuss the documentation sent out to employees and how we can improve this and incorporate some of the company branding work recently put in place. I then get everyone to introduce themselves. We have three HR people from central functions, two HR generalists, one token general employee (from IT) and Nigel.

I kick things off by getting people to shout out what documents we send out to employees, and I ask Lazy Susan to write these on a chart. We list a few printed things, including the employee handbook and payslips, and a number of others that are generated online, such as performance reviews and reward statements. Looking at the list, I am not sure there is so much to change, apart from the spelling of performance, which bizarrely includes the letter ‘u’.

Nigel is first to air his views. The reward statements are terrible, he says. Ouch. As I was single-handedly responsible for making online reward statements a reality, with virtually no budget or IT resources to work with, this is harsh. Well, I am glad Nigel is a Master of NLP, otherwise he might have come across as rude and offensive.

He goes on to say that the meta-programme for our reward statements is too small-chunk. I happen to know that is NLP-speak for it is too detailed. My view is that if we don’t break it down, people will phone HR (me) to find out. However, I don’t want to sound defensive about it, so I just carry on speaking.

Performance reviews were updated only last year, so they look fine. Perhaps we need to change the colour of the headings to match the logo, that’s all. Easy.

Employee handbook

I want to get on to the employee handbook. It was written in 1995, and no one has looked at it since. Unfortunately, with our new centre of excellence structure in HR, no one actually owns the employee handbook, and clearly no one wants to, least of all me. I pull it up on screen. Shouldn’t we change the logo, suggests one of the quiet HR managers. Bless. As if we needed a focus group to work that one out. Lazy Susan dutifully writes it down.

Creepy Caroline is particularly quiet. I think if the handbook fell anywhere, it would be in her area, as she is responsible for induction. A lot of the handbook covers compensation and benefits, she announces, looking pointedly at me. Nice try, but I am not falling for it. It also has loads on health and safety, and other key elements of induction, I counter.

Nigel has an opinion, not surprisingly. ”In NLP…,” he starts to say. I switch off and I have no idea what he said. Lazy Susan didn’t write it down because it had lots of words of more than two syllables, so we just quietly move on.

The IT guy suggests the employee handbook should be updated and put online with links to all the various departments. Great. But who is going to do it? We all look shiftily at each other. Even the IT guy realises his gaffe. He would be the techy to do the web side of things if we did put it online. He agrees that the logo does need changing more than anything.

Right, that’s it: we’ll definitely change the logo and colours on all the documents. That really was time well spent. 

Next time…Candid helps out with due diligence.