Benefits Professional of the Year
“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.”
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.