EBN’s 2019 Benny Award winners focus on the employee experience


Attracting the best talent continues to be a challenge for employers. Personalized benefits may be one solution. These offerings are becoming increasingly important to both attract and retain the highest quality talent.

Smart benefits professionals are going above and beyond with a host of perks that address such topics as student loan benefits, paid time off and chronic disease management — all in an effort to make a significant impact on the lives of employees. That impact is evidenced by four impressive benefits professionals — this year’s winners of Employee Benefit News’ Benny Awards.

The annual Benny Awards recognize excellence in the employee benefits/human resources field. Four awards — Benefits Professional of the Year, Benefits Leadership in Retirement Planning, Benefits Leadership in Healthcare and Judges’ Choice — are presented to employee benefit or human resource practitioners selected by EBN editors.

Take a look at this year’s winners.

Diana Lee Sesame Street
Benefits Professional of the Year
Diana Lee
Executive vice president, human resources
Sesame Workshop

Diana Lee joined the Sesame Workshop, best known for its Sesame Street children’s educational television programming, about four years ago, and has relied on her 40 years of experience to expand the company’s benefit offerings.

From the start, Lee says her focus was to build the right infrastructure and benefits for her employees; to create the right culture to foster professional development, diversity and inclusion; and to build the best HR team to execute all their initiatives to support their broader mission: making children “smarter, stronger and kinder.”

“So being a nonprofit, we can’t necessarily compete on a cash basis with our for-profit competitors when it comes to salaries and with equity and bonus programs. So that’s why we do believe that we need to look at our compensation very holistically,” she says.

Read the full story on Lee here.
Misty Guinn
Judge’s Choice
Misty Guinn
Director of benefits and wellness

When Misty Guinn realized employees of the cloud-based benefits management platform and services provider knew more about the benefits and services their clients provided than they did of their own plans, it was time for a change.

Guinn, who launched a total well-being survey and discovered that employees said they were not receiving communications in an adequate time. “They couldn’t navigate and find information that they needed as easily as they should be,” she says.

The objective of Benefitfocus’ total well-being strategy is to create an environment that enables associates to flourish through programs, products and policies, while striving to embrace all pillars of well-being: physical, mental/emotional, financial and social/purpose.

‘We essentially dug into not just our benefit plant design, but how we were communicating with them, how we were engaging with our associates,” she says.

Read the full story on Guinn here.
Jessica Adams Benny Award
Benefits Leadership in Healthcare
Jessica Adams
Vice president of people
Shop Smart

If your company’s health benefits don’t go beyond the basic medical, dental and vision, you’re not doing it right, says Jessica Adams, vice president of HR and recruiting at Brad’s Deals, a Shop Smart company.

For Adams, fostering healthy employees means catering to their mental and emotional well-being by ensuring that work never stands in the way of personal responsibilities.

“The big thing for us is making sure you support the entire employee,” says Adams, who has been with the company since 2011. “If you’re happy in your personal life, you’re going to be happy in your professional life.”

Read the full story on Adams here.
Danner Benny Winner
Benefits Leadership in Retirement
Garin Danner
Director of human resources
SSI Group

Garin Danner was working as a recruiter for an independent oil and gas company in New Orleans in 1981 when the oil industry tanked. His company put a moratorium on hiring for an indeterminate amount of time, leaving him wondering what he was going to do next. Instead of laying him off, his company offered him a job in either compensation or benefits. He had never worked in either realm, but he “made a wild guess” and chose benefits.

That was “the best decision I ever made in my life,” says Danner.

Danner, the director of human resources for the SSI Group in Mobile, Alabama, a healthcare technology company that creates software for large hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, worked his way up through the benefits world from that point forward, never looking back.

He has honed his skills in the retirement space from the very inception of the 401(k) plan, making sure the companies he worked for led the pack in this area. Danner accepted his current position 11 years ago and has “never regretted a day of it since,” he says.

Read the full story on Danner here.