Top of their game

Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard’s Milt Ez­zard helps keep em­ploy­ees healthy and happy with in­no­va­tive perks that in­clude a high-tech crib that helps new par­ents get bet­ter sleep.

Employee Benefit News - - Contents - By Nick Otto

Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard’s Milt Ez­zard helps keep em­ploy­ees healthy and happy with in­no­va­tive perks that in­clude a high-tech crib that helps new par­ents get bet­ter sleep.

From ex­plor­ing the King­dom of Stormwind in the El­wynn For­est to sav­ing Earth as a hero of Over­watch, gamers have long looked to Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard’s tal­ented team of em­ploy­ees to imag­ine, cre­ate and share vast worlds with con­sumers around the globe. And to make sure it ac­quires and re­tains the best and bright­est tal­ent to keep the fan­tasy worlds com­ing, the en­ter­tain­ment and gam­ing de­vel­oper pro­vides in­dus­try-lead­ing ben­e­fits for em­ploy­ees man­ag­ing such life events as par­ent­hood, sud­den loss and chronic dis­ease.

In the last few years, Milt Ez­zard, vice pres­i­dent of global ben­e­fits at Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard, has dreamed up a plethora of in­no­va­tive ben­e­fits and pro­grams — think a $1,500 baby-lulling crib that helps new par­ents get the sleep they dream about — for the firm’s 9,000-plus em­ploy­ees.

Ez­zard, an HR vet­eran who has worked in a range of in­dus­tries from health­care to man­u­fac­tur­ing and util­i­ties, says he likes to be cre­ative — and fast-mov­ing — when it comes to of­fer­ings.

“What I al­ways like to say is, ‘Don’t de­lay in head­ing out and try­ing some of these re­sources that are so read­ily avail­able to us now,’” says Ez­zard, who was awarded EBN’s 2018 Judges’ Choice Award, given each year to a ben­e­fits pro­fes­sional who makes great use of a wide range of ben­e­fits pro­grams. “Don’t over­an­a­lyze,” he ad­vises. “I don’t pi­lot any­thing. When we see an op­por­tu­nity to jump into an ef­fi­cient so­lu­tion, [we take it]. The bar is so low in our health­care ecosys­tem right now that any­thing we do is go­ing to be a win.”

When Ez­zard joined the Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia-based Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard in 2013, he took his own ad­vice into ac­count af­ter re­al­iz­ing there wasn’t much thought be­ing put into the com­pany’s health­care or ben­e­fits of­fer­ings.

“Up un­til I joined, the strat­egy was to not en­gage the work­force in their health­care,” he ex­plains. “We wanted them to make great en­ter­tain­ment and fo­cus on that.”

Ez­zard changed that, set­ting his sights on ad­dress­ing com­mon health is­sues, in­clud­ing di­a­betes. He in­tro­duced Virta Health, a doc­tor-led startup that fo­cuses on fully re­vers­ing Type 2 di­a­betes with di­etary changes.

“De­pend­ing on the per­son, we have a va­ri­ety of ways to help man­age di­a­betes through tech tools,” Ez­zard says. An­other pro­gram he put in place, Livongo, helps work­ers man­age their blood-sugar lev­els and avoid ex­pen­sive trips to the hos­pi­tal.

Help for new par­ents

An­other area of in­no­va­tion for Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard is help­ing new par­ents, who now can rest a lit­tle eas­ier thanks to a high-tech perk that keeps ba­bies asleep longer. The com­pany added a smart crib to its ben­e­fits pack­age to help work­ers get more, bet­ter qual­ity sleep.

New par­ents re­ceive Hap­pi­est Baby’s SNOO Smart Sleeper — a re­spon­sive bassinet that lulls fussy ba­bies back to sleep with mo­tion and sound while also swad­dling them for safe sleep­ing. It was cre­ated by pe­di­a­tri­cian Har­vey Karp, author of “The Hap­pi­est Baby on the Block.”

“When the baby is put in the bed, it’s se­cured so the baby can’t roll over and ac­ci­dently suf­fo­cate, and when he or she fusses at night, the bed re­sponds with mo­tion and sooth­ing sounds,” Ez­zard says. “The end re­sult is, on aver­age, ba­bies sleep two hours more per night and par­ents get two more hours of sleep per night. Mom and Dad come back more re­freshed.”

This means fewer in­stances of post-par­tum de­pres­sion as a re­sult. “It’s a huge win-win and our em­ploy­ees get some­thing re­ally cool for six months,” he adds.

The $1,500 bassinet is on loan to new par­ents for six months — the time it takes for a new­born to out­grow the bassinet and tran­si­tion to a crib — and ar­rives ei­ther brand new or re­fur­bished, with ev­ery­thing but the mo­tor and bed­frame stripped away and re­placed.

“We don’t charge [the em­ployee],” he says. “It costs me a few dol­lars a day to rent it, but we get this value that when the em­ployee comes back, they’re a hap­pier em­ployee. We might be avoid­ing con­di­tions that re­quire treat­ment be­cause of sleep ne­glect. There’s a great busi­ness case not to charge and just make it avail­able.”

In ad­di­tion to the bassinets, the game de­signer sup­ports work­ing moms by pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional lac­ta­tion sup­port and en­hanced lac­ta­tion rooms; it even pro­vides breast milk stor­age and de­liv­ery for mothers who travel for busi­ness.

And even be­fore other em­ploy­ers like Medtronic, Estée Lauder and PwC made the move to add or in­crease paid parental leave, Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard a few years back bol­stered its ben­e­fit for new par­ents to eight weeks of paid time off.

A re­cent sur­vey from Unum found that the No. 1 ben­e­fit em­ploy­ees want deals with flex­i­ble work op­tions or ab­sence man­age­ment. Paid fam­ily leave tops the ben­e­fits provider’s sur­vey list: Among the 1,227 work­ing adults polled, 58% of all work­ers (and 64% of millennials) want their em­ployer to of­fer paid fam­ily leave.

But Ez­zard didn’t want the com­pany’s paid leave to stop at time off for new par­ents. As he says, many em­ploy­ees might not have or want chil­dren, or have chil­dren who are al­ready grown.

That’s in part why Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard of­fers an eight-week paid be­reave­ment leave. The com­pany goes a step fur­ther with the pro­vi­sion of eight weeks of paid com­pas­sion leave for em­ploy­ees to spend time with a ter­mi­nally ill loved one, Ez­zard says, or eight weeks for the un­ex­pected death of a loved one, such as in a car ac­ci­dent.

Hav­ing only a few days of paid leave for grief, which is the norm for most em­ploy­ers, makes it “ex­tremely dif­fi­cult” for an em­ployee, he says — not only to emo­tion­ally process an un­ex­pected death, but also to deal with the lo­gis­ti­cal bur­den of dayto-day changes that may need to be made for the sud­den im­pact to the fam­ily.

The value of pro­grams like these, says Ez­zard, is that when em­ploy­ees re­turn from be­reave­ment leave, they’ve had time to par­tic­i­pate in one last mem­o­rable life event or to pick up the pieces from sud­denly los­ing a close fam­ily mem­ber.

From parental and be­reave­ment leave to high­tech cribs and vir­tual health strate­gies, Ez­zard wants to use ben­e­fits to keep his em­ploy­ees happy, healthy and pro­duc­tive, so gamers can keep ex­plor­ing the Ac­tivi­sion uni­verse.

“Ben­e­fits are not one size fits all,” he says. “[Em­ploy­ees have a lot of] needs that are just as im­por­tant as the next. We have a di­verse work­force and are ad­dress­ing that as best as pos­si­ble.”

“I don’t pi­lot any­thing. When we see an op­por­tu­nity to jump into an ef­fi­cient so­lu­tion, [we take it].”

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