Ben­e­fits Pro­fes­sional of the Year

Employee Benefit News - - Strategy Session -

“Their changes re­lat­ing to paid parental, care­giv­ing and be­reave­ment leave have started dis­cus­sions among oth­ers in the in­dus­try. When Face­book im­ple­ments some­thing new, it gets no­ticed and talked about.”

But Albert has her sights set even higher. Af­ter of­fer­ing many ben­e­fits that have made what she calls a “phe­nom­e­nal” im­pact on Face­book em­ploy­ees — from care­giv­ing ini­tia­tives and gen­er­ous be­reave­ment leave to men­tal health as­sis­tance and fer­til­ity ben­e­fits — she is call­ing on other em­ploy­ers to do the same.

For her, true suc­cess isn’t just about mov­ing the needle in­ter­nally; it’s about shar­ing best prac­tices and us­ing what she has learned to lift the en­tire in­dus­try. “When we launch a ben­e­fit and it works, we want to share it with other em­ploy­ers and have them come along with us on this jour­ney.”

Get­ting per­sonal

At Face­book, ben­e­fits have al­ways been per­sonal.

Founder and CEO Mark Zucker­berg fa­mously took parental leave af­ter the birth of both his daugh­ters. Chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­berg has been an ad­vo­cate for be­reave­ment leave since she lost her hus­band sud­denly in 2015. She of­ten posts up­dates on Face­book that praise other em­ploy­ers who al­low em­ploy­ees proper time off to grieve.

And in 2015, when a young en­gi­neer stood up at one of Face­book’s reg­u­lar em­ployee Q&As with Zucker­berg and asked what was avail­able for em­ploy­ees who needed time with a sick fam­ily mem­ber, a new care­giv­ing leave pol­icy was born. The em­ployee pub­licly shared that his wife was re­cently di­ag­nosed with stage four breast can­cer and that the only leave he knew that was avail­able was Cal­i­for­nia Paid Fam­ily Leave, which would barely pay the bills, Albert ex­plains.

“The next day, our vice pres­i­dent of HR, the em­ployee and I sat down, and [we] lis­tened in­tently to his story,” Albert says. “He had re­lo­cated to the area to take the job with Face­book and did not have fam­ily around to help him. He also had three young chil­dren, and they were fac­ing the bat­tle of their life.”

Albert im­me­di­ately crafted a care­giv­ing leave pro­gram that al­lows em­ploy­ees to take up to six weeks of fully paid leave to care for any fam­ily mem­ber with a se­ri­ous ill­ness. When she told the em­ployee the news, “He broke into tears and he gave me a hug.”

Those spe­cific sto­ries are unique to Face­book, but the un­der­ly­ing is­sues are not un­com­mon. No em­ployee is im­mune to grief, health strug­gles or in­fer­til­ity. Ben­e­fits should re­flect those re­al­i­ties, Albert says. “Em­ploy­ers need to take care of their em­ploy­ees.”

That of­ten starts with ed­u­ca­tion, Albert says. Help­ing HR pro­fes­sion­als un­der­stand how to best serve their em­ploy­ees through a range of ben­e­fits is im­por­tant, sure, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a pri­or­ity or a given among busy em­ploy­ers. Ben­e­fits pro­fes­sion­als, who can get bogged down with ad­min­is­tra­tive or com­pli­ance du­ties, of­ten are a depart­ment of one. Some don’t have enough flex­i­bil­ity or don’t know where to start when re­boot­ing pro­grams.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, if you talk to ben­e­fits pro­fes­sion­als, we end up falling into this as a pro­fes­sion. There hasn’t his­tor­i­cally been a lot of ed­u­ca­tion around ben­e­fits and what we should do,” Albert ex­plains.

One way Albert is try­ing to change this is through her work on the cor­po­rate board of the In­ter­na­tional Foun­da­tion of Em­ployee Ben­e­fit Plans, where for nearly a decade she has been ad­vis­ing other ben­e­fit lead­ers from across the coun­try.

“She gives a for­ward-lean­ing per­spec­tive on the ben­e­fits land­scape,” says IFEBP’s David­son. “We can al­ways count on Re­nee to share what’s next in ben­e­fit trends. For ex­am­ple, she was ad­vo­cat­ing for plan spon­sors to look at new in­no­va­tions in men­tal health and fer­til­ity ben­e­fits long be­fore these ben­e­fits were mak­ing head­lines.”

Fer­til­ity cov­er­age at Face­book, of­fered through provider Prog­yny, pro­vides em­ploy­ees up to four IVF cy­cles, in­clud­ing ge­netic test­ing, with no preap­proval re­quired. The pro­gram’s suc­cess — fewer mis­car­riages, high sin­gle birth rates, very few mul­ti­ple births — has made Albert an evan­ge­list.

“When I hear sto­ries about peo­ple hav­ing bet­ter health out­comes, or they’re able to have a baby, why wouldn’t you want to share that with the rest of the world? Why wouldn’t you want other or­ga­ni­za­tions to do the same thing?” Albert says. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the phone talk­ing [to other em­ploy­ers about what Face­book is do­ing], help­ing to in­flu­ence them to adopt [sim­i­lar poli­cies].”

The case for care­giv­ing

Albert’s lat­est ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tive is through a new whitepa­per project with Car­iloop, a plat­form for em­ploy­ees to ac­cess care­giv­ing re­sources, ex­plain­ing why cor­po­rate Amer­ica needs to step up its sup­port for care­giv­ing em­ploy­ees.

“She is a to­tal trail­blazer with the [care­giv­ing] pro­grams Face­book has,” says Michael Walsh, CEO of Car­iloop. “Re­nee was the very first per­son I called [when I was work­ing on our re­search].”

It’s an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive, and one that’s slowly but surely gain­ing steam in the ben­e­fits in­dus­try.

Stats point to the grow­ing need: Ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by Face­book and Car­iloop, 69% of work­ing care­givers for a fam­ily mem­ber or friend re­port hav­ing to re­ar­range their work sched­ule, de­crease their hours or take un­paid leave in or­der to meet their care­giv­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The aver­age work­ing care­giver spends 20-plus hours a week on care­giv­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — mak­ing it essen­tially an un­paid side gig — and pays $6,954 a year out of pocket, al­most 20% of their in­come, on care­giv­ing costs.

The is­sue hurts the bot­tom line, too. Com­pa­nies lose be­tween $17.1 bil­lion and $33.6 bil­lion an­nu­ally on lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, de­pend­ing on the level of care­giv­ing in­volved, Car­iloop says — or $2,110 for ev­ery full-time worker who cares for an adult.

Those dire stats are among the rea­sons be­hind Face­book’s game-chang­ing six-week care­giv­ing pol­icy. The com­pany also pushed the en­ve­lope on be­reave­ment leave last year, dou­bling its leave to 20 days for the death of a spouse, part­ner or child, and to 10 days for par­ents and ex­tended fam­ily. Em­ploy­ees can take the be­reave­ment leave in­ter­mit­tently over the course of a year — an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the need lingers be­yond the funeral.

“The stuff that [Face­book] does, the team Re­nee has … it’s first class,” Walsh says. “It’s one of the best we’ve seen in the four, five years we’ve been do­ing this. We talk to em­ploy­ers of all sizes ev­ery sin­gle day of ev­ery sin­gle week, from small busi­nesses with 10 em­ploy­ees up to For­tune 100 [com­pa­nies], and when I met Re­nee and started look­ing at the pro­grams they had, and the ra­tio­nale and the why be­hind these pro­grams — we had never seen this cal­iber of em­pa­thy and thought put into these mo­ments for care­givers like Face­book has put into their pro­grams.”

For Albert, care­giv­ing is an im­por­tant mis­sion, and one that has deeply per­sonal roots. Her mother, she says, was the ul­ti­mate care­giver: Wid­owed at just 29, she raised Re­nee and her sis­ter by her­self. “She didn’t get re­mar­ried, and from my per­spec­tive she was Mom and Dad,” Albert says, adding that she also cared for her par­ents af­ter a stroke and Parkin­son’s robbed them of their mo­bil­ity.

When Albert’s mom had a stroke, Albert stepped in as her care­giver. “She moved in with my hus­band and me at that time, and I took care of her for three years while work­ing full time. As she pro­gressed, she had sev­eral more strokes, and she died at our home in hospice with me at her side.”

Albert be­came a care­giver again in Novem­ber 2015, when her hus­band, An­thony, was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer. Af­ter weigh­ing their op­tions — they used Face­book’s med­i­cal sec­ond opin­ion ser­vice ben­e­fit with Best Doc­tors — they se­lected to pur­sue treat­ment and surgery away from their home in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Albert took four weeks of paid care­giv­ing leave to care for An­thony be­gin­ning in Jan­uary 2016.

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