A little less than a year ago, my employer, Tamale Software (since acquired by Advent Software, in what I would happily classify as the fourth successful acquisition of the five in which I’ve been involved), decided to outsource its human resources function to the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) Administaff (note: Tamale used Administaff, but Advent doesn’t, so I am no longer a current client of Administaff).
Administaff uses a “co-employment” model, wherein the employees of Administaff’s clients become employees of Administaff as well, and Administaff handles health insurance, payroll, recruiting, performance management, etc. Administaff clients don’t necessarily use all of Administaff’s services; it’s a menu from which they choose what they want. The biggest reason for a company to use Administaff is probably to reduce the cost of health insurance. Administaff can bargain with the insurance industry for lower rates than a small or medium-sized business can on its own, since they have a far larger employee pool.
Tamale has always had awesome benefits, including great health insurance with 100% of the premiums paid by the company. But the company and its employees got a little older and more mature (read “got married and/or started having babies;” I must confess that I’m a major contributor to this!), and at the same time the cost of health insurance skyrocketed across the board. It’s therefore not surprising that Tamale went looking for a way to reduce its costs, and perhaps switching to Administaff was a necessary evil.
Nonetheless, from the point of view of the employees, it was not a positive change. We went from having all of our HR needs seen to directly by an extremely competent, friendly Tamale employee in our office, to dealing over the phone or internet with nameless, faceless Administaff employees cut out of the “barely adequate customer service representative” mold.
Of course, the Administaff sales people sang the praises of their service team and spoke glowingly about how painless the transition would be. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the reality did not live up to the hype. There were problems from the start, and the problems continued throughout our time with Administaff. A few examples:
- When we filled out the HMO enrolment paperwork, we were given the option of specifying primary care physicians (PCPs) on the forms and told that they would be entered into the system with our initial enrolment. Many of us took the time to look up PCP ID numbers and include them on the form. Administaff did not bother to enter anyone’s PCPs into the system.
- When our HR manager contacted Administaff about the fact that they had completely ignored everyone’s PCP designations, rather than immediately admitting the error and agreeing to rectify it, they told her that we would all have to call the insurance company directly to take care of it. Needless to say, she pushed back until they agreed to solve the problem.
- With their commuter pass program, it was impossible to know from one month to the next which paycheck the cost of the pass would be deducted from. Some months it was the first paycheck, some months it was the second, and some months they completely forgot and had to deduct from both paychecks in the following month.
- They charge a $2 fee per month for the commuter pass program. No employer I have ever worked for in my entire life has charged a fee for participating in a commuter program.
- One month they simply failed to process the commuter passes on time, and we didn’t get them until after the beginning of the next month. We received a letter notifying us that our passes were going to be late and instructing us to buy “day passes” for the intervening days (what about people who live out in yachupitzville where nobody sells T passes?) and then to send in a form to be reimbursed for them. Wow, what a great time-saver!
- It sometimes took Administaff as long as a week and a half to deposit 401k money withheld from paychecks into people’s 401k accounts. Yes, that means that Administaff was making money off of the float in the interim.
- When we terminated our relationship with Administaff after the acquisition, I applied to have my Health-care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) continue under COBRA, because there was a lot of money remaining in the account and I needed more time to spend it. Two weeks after sending the premium check to Administaff to continue the FSA coverage, the check still hadn’t been cashed and the FSA provider still had my account marked closed and therefore was refusing to accept new claims.
Everybody makes mistakes, and occasional mistakes can and should be forgiven. But when there’s a pattern of mistakes, as in the odd-numbered items above, that a sign not only of a lack of quality, but of not caring about quality. And as for the even-numbered items above, they represent much more than simple mistakes; they represent conscious decisions that are detrimental to the customer.
I did a little research about Administaff and discovered that in addition to the “little” problems (not so little, really!) described above, they’ve had their share of Big Problems as well:
- In October 2007, an Administaff laptop containing unecrypted personal data on 159,000 current and former employees managed by Administaff was stolen. Adam Breindel has a great takeon just what this incident says about Administaff (and it isn’t good).
- Back in 2003, Administaff attempted to intimidate people out of saying negative things on their Yahoo! Finance message board by suing Yahoo! and demanding that they reveal the identities of the people making the comments. More information at The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford.
I understand that small and medium-sized businesses face incredible pressure to lower costs any way they can, and for some of them, going with a PEO like Administaff might be inevitable. But I urge any business considering such a move to evaluate carefully the impact on employee morale and the time employees will waste dealing problems like the ones described above, and I urge such businesses to evaluate not merely cost, but also quality of service when choosing which PEO to utilize.