Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid is swamped with conference calls


Today didn’t begin well. For a start, I had to get out of a nice comfortable bed and go to work. Now I am here, I wonder if I have mistakenly come in on a bank holiday. The office is empty and eerily quiet. My colleague, Lazy Susan, is at home with an earache, which is odd; I’ve never known her to have earaches, only to give them. At least I don’t have to hear about the weekend’s episodes of soaps and reality TV. Big Bad Boss is still away, and even the other folks in HR on the other side of the room are mysteriously absent. For once I might be able to get on with some work, or maybe even redo my CV with no one else around. Think again.

I open today’s calendar to find I am already late for a conference call, which started 10 minutes ago. Geez. Where did that come from?  I quickly dial in and sit listening to jazz for several minutes. I can’t do jazz at the best of times, but certainly not first thing in the morning. When I realise it is not going to connect me, I dial in again, apologising for ‘connection problems’.

The conference organiser is Barbara, a new benefits demi-god in the US. I can’t understand what she is doing in a meeting so early in her day. Eventually it emerges that she habitually gets up at 3am so it is no problem for her to schedule a call in our European timezone. Well it is a problem for me.

I risk asking: when was the call set up because I didn’t see it before? She admits she set it up last night, but goes on to tell me that she always checks her schedule online before going to sleep and again when she wakes at 3am. Of course, my colleagues in Australia saw it and dialled in on time, and the implication is that I am a work-shy slacker for not doing the same. I wish I hadn’t said anything.

Naturally I haven’t read the attachments she has sent, so I am unprepared for the machine-gun fire of questions about UK pensions. Barbara has come from Smarmy Consulting and her big thing is retirement. I notice she gets particularly excited about fund manager selection, of all things.

The first thing she wants to do is see what pensions advisors we have in every country. Even discussing the UK plans is not the work of a moment; in our case we have a slew of old closed DB plans, as well as a smattering of DC plans set up by various advisors from acquisitions that have, as yet, been too problematic to harmonise.

She also asks me a load of questions on the rest of Europe. Although she has worked in ‘Europe’ – she once did a project in Liverpool for Smarmy Consulting so she can say she has international experience – she clearly doesn’t get it. Not only the plans, but also the way they are structured and advised varies considerably.

Fund managers aren’t even relevant in many places, I tell her. I can tell this is failing to register; she thinks I am just being European and difficult. Okay, advisors then. Get information on all the advisors, she demands. Advisors: probably the only thing not adequately covered by our benefits database, so I’ll have to reach out to all the local offices yet again. They’ll love that. Sigh.

Ringing off at last, I look at my schedule again. No. This can’t be happening. Another three calls have appeared in my diary, the next starting this minute. I haven’t even had a chance to read my emails. My coffee is stone cold.

The next call is with the Higher Beings, our European executive team. It seems Big Bad Boss has delegated his calls to me while he is away. Nice of him to let me know. Unfortunately, he didn’t arrange for the agenda to be sent to me, so again I am groping about in the dark. Luckily I can just listen for most of the call. I do have to stay tuned though, because every now and then a question will come up and I need to try to sound intelligent, or at least present.

The next call is with our internal communications team. I did know about this one, but they had sneakily moved it forward so once again I am unprepared. It doesn’t really matter because all they want to do is chat. The Higher Beings recently criticised them for doing their own thing and for not being connected with HR, so they set up this call. It would have made more sense for them to join one of ours so they would know what initiatives are coming up, but instead we have to join theirs and try to pigeonhole our programmes into their busy schedule.

There seem to be hundreds of them on the call. Someone is responsible for our internal website content, another for the branding and images, someone else for social media, and someone else just for our internal messaging, and so on.

Most of internal communications’ managers seem to work from home, and there is a lot of background noise on the call. Small children moan incessantly. Dogs whine to be let out. Someone offers someone else a cup of tea, and I hear a biscuit being crunched. Once I even heard a very embarrassing stream of, well, liquid passing. I am at pains to let everyone know I am in the office so they don’t think it was me. Fiddly things those mute buttons.

Just when I thought it was safe to get a coffee, it is time for my next call. How on earth am I expected to get my CV done?

Next time… Candid goes to a leaving party.