Meet EBN’s 2018 Benny Award winners

In a heated race for talent, the status quo benefits package is no longer cutting it. Smart benefits professionals are going above and beyond with a host of perks that address such topics as work-life balance, caregiving, chronic disease and financial wellness — 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.

Benefits Professional of the Year

Renee Albert
Renee Albert
Senior benefits director

When Renee Albert joined Facebook nearly five years ago, the social media giant — now synonymous with swanky Silicon Valley perks — didn’t have the best offerings. It didn’t have a 401(k) match, it didn’t have many voluntary benefits and its healthcare plans were “mediocre.”

Albert made it her mission to change all that.

In the last few years, she not only fixed those particular benefit issues, but led Facebook in ramping up its paid parental, bereavement and caregiving leave — along with a slew of other enviable benefits.

Her new mission? 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,” she says.

Read the full story on Albert here.

Judges’ Choice

Milt Ezzard
Milt Ezzard
Vice president of global benefits
Activision Blizzard

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 $1,200 baby-lulling crib that helps new parents get the sleep they dream about — for the firm’s 9,000-plus employees (with 6,000 located in the U.S.).

“I don’t pilot anything,” Ezzard says. “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.”

Read the full story on Ezzard here.

Benefits Leadership in Healthcare

Candance Shaffer
Director of Benefits
Purdue University

When Candace Shaffer was named director of benefits for Purdue University last October, she was tasked with two priorities: tackling chronic diseases, and improving the access of care to the state college’s 12,000 faculty and staffers on three campuses in four locations, with extension programs in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.

Shaffer took on the challenge with new partnerships and cutting-edge tools.

“Just because you implement something doesn’t mean you stop,” she says. “We’re always checking and rechecking and auditing. If performance guarantees are applicable with some vendors, we are making sure that they’re doing their part. We get constant feedback from employees and from our own internal staff, so it’s an ever-moving process.”

Read the full story on Shaffer here.

Benefits Leadership in Retirement

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Jodi Budnick
Senior vice president of talent

When Jodi Budnick joined Optanix in January of this year as the company’s senior vice president of talent, she encountered a big problem: The company was struggling to attract and retain talent.

When she found out through one-on-one meetings and focus groups that employees were unhappy with the company’s 401(k) plan — it didn’t provide a company match and its employee participation rate was low — Budnick set out to build a better plan.

The company’s new retirement program, which is rolling out Jan. 1, is expected to double employee participation in the plan, in large part because it offers automatic enrollment to all new hires and automatic re-enrollment to all of the company’s 325 employees. It is also implementing a 50-cents-on-the-dollar company matching contribution up to 6% of pay as an added incentive with a two-year vesting schedule.

“We communicated it in a town hall a couple of months ago, and [employees] had a very positive reaction,” she says. “For me, the important piece is that they felt heard. They felt like we listened to them because we are listening to them.”

Read the full story on Budnick here.