Elaine Beddome, vice president, global benefits and mobility with Hewlett Packard, got the full-court press from her team when they nominated her for EBN's 2013 Benny Awards. She was nominated by Samanntha DuBridge, senior director of global benefits strategy, but UnitedHealth's Chief Medical Officer, Richard Migliori, and Amanda Arellano, director of HR employee experience for HP, both felt the need to write separate letters endorsing Beddome.

"One of Elaine's greatest strengths is the wisdom that she openly shares with the team," Arellano writes. "From a technical perspective, she is incredibly knowledgeable of her discipline and her audience." Arellano goes on to describe how Beddome has been "central" in seeing the company's benefit strategies go worldwide.

"She has consistently been a driving force in the HP organization and throughout her tenure, her primary focus has been on improving the health and well-being of the global HP workforce," says Migliori, who notes Beddome's major part in the company's wellness initiative.

For these reasons and others, Beddome has been selected as the Judges' Choice Benny Award winner. We connected with her to ask about some of HP's innovative programs, what she loves about benefits and the challenges of administering benefits programs on a global scale.

 

We caught you right before a trip to China. Business or pleasure?

Business. Obviously my role is managing the global benefits function, so that means I'm responsible for over 90 countries, in terms of making sure the benefits are successful. I need to have engagement not only in the design of those plans, [but] the leadership there, and the business challenges that relate to those countries. For the most part we're able to do a lot of that virtually, and HP is really good at virtual engagement, so that's great, but on occasion it means catching a plane and participating with the teams, making sure we understand the business challenges in a growth region for us.

 

What is your history with the company - how did you come to HP, what position did you start in and what were your goals?

I should start with why I love HR and why I love benefits. It started when I had a rotational intern role at a small bank, and they rotated me through business and into HR and it became very clear that this was something I loved. It's a really nice blend of being a business partner while touching people in a really high-impact way. So that's really where I started.

My first - what I call a real job - was at Texas Instruments, where I took on a number of roles within HR, including recruiting, international compensation, that kind of thing. After four years or so, I joined Compaq, a computer corporation which was a start-up at the time [and in] really high growth mode. I was involved in a number of HR functions there, but was asked, totally out of the blue, [by someone who] turned out to be a huge mentor of mine, to come over to benefits. He said, 'In a year, I want you leading the function.' He took a huge risk on me, gave me a huge opportunity, and I'm happy to say that a year later, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

That really started my benefits career. I was managing the global benefits function at Compaq, but it was much smaller, much more centralized, and then HP acquired us. I grew into the bigger family of HP.

So I've been with HP ever since. It's been fun. I started kind of small-company. And we grew together - it was a huge opportunity to learn. You really take a tour around the globe on the two companies' benefit plans and gain a real insight into what is required. ... I was asked to take over the global function about seven years ago. As you might imagine, HP spends billions of dollars on benefits.

It's really a neat job. You have to have a lot of technical expertise ... to stay compliant, anticipating those costs, whether it's health care reform, or legislative requirements, or health care inflation, while at the same time, I'm a caretaker of people. Benefits is one of those really unique roles that touch, on a very individual level, the lives of our employees and their families. So I feel a huge responsibility to make sure we understand the people-related impact of all we do and how can we do things that are good for the company, but very respectful and positive for employees.

 

You work in many different countries. What are some of the challenges of running a global benefits function?

We have over 300,000 employees across 100 different countries, and the legislative rules are different in every one of those countries. So benefits are delivered differently. Obviously a U.K. health care plan is delivered very differently than one in the U.S., which is employer-sponsored. So you have to know the needs of every one of those countries. And you have to really go local. I meet with our regional leadership every other week. I do a tour of the countries, if you will, every year, where we do a deep dive into costs and benchmarking, the business needs, the employee health needs ... to really make sure our programs are aligned.

And the health needs are uniquely different. India is our second-largest country in terms of employee size. So we really took a look and said, 'We can do health care differently.' We set up onsite health care clinics across locations in India, which is very, very unique for an employer there.

 

Moving specifically to the U.S., tell me about your early retirement program.

HP is on a turn-around story, a journey, which means we've got to size our organization and have the right strategy for the businesses of the future - future growth, future success. So part of that was: What can we do to provide a choice? Some employers just come in and say, 'We need to reduce headcount. Here's our layoff plan.'

We wanted to provide something that would be a win for our employees who were already considering, perhaps, retirement in their near future. What could we do that would be good for them while still reducing costs? I was given that challenge and we worked very closely with the businesses, because they obviously had real concern. We went through three or four months of design iterations with our leadership.

And then the questions was, 'How do we launch it in a thoughtful way?' We had a huge percentage of our population that was eligible. We went to 15 or 20 different sites where all our employees were located, we developed personalized worksheets about what it could mean for them, we had experts both onsite and virtually and we really took employees through all the things that they might want to think about if they were wanting to retire. Financially, it was very good for them; it was very well-received. ...

It's been a year-long program, and the end of August was the last group of the retirees. And we turned into a recognition opportunity as well, to really show what they'd done for HP. It was one of those really unique, high-impact moves, while at the same time very, very focused on people.

 

What is HP doing on the wellness front?

Our wellness program is unique in a couple of areas. One, we're global. Wellness is a very strong concept in the U.S. - it's been around for a while, there's very strong ROI for it, it's good for employees. What was really important for our leadership was, how do we make this work on a global scale? We didn't just say, 'It's all about physical wellness.' We felt like there were three critical areas of wellness to really make this holistic. There is physical wellness.

We also said stress management - stress is one of those things that really contributes very negatively to your health. So what can we do, in terms of programs, to really help employees turn a stressful situation into something they can manage?

Our third [component] was financial wellness. We have younger employees who are worried about debt management; we have older employees who may be thinking about retirement planning. We found there was just a huge demand, that employees really embraced that as just a critical part of wellness.

About three and a half years ago we said, 'We want to go global, we want to hit these three critical pillars in a really meaningful way.' We didn't take a global program and say, 'OK, now deploy it in these countries.' We developed the fundamentals of the program, we built tools and infrastructure, we created a standard, if you will, and then they could each embrace it at a local level. They got their local leadership involved. We did a complete global inventory and looked into all the cultural considerations for what may or may not work in a country.

Three years in, we've launched in 37 different countries. It is one of our most significant initiatives in terms of engagement - employees really feel that we care about them. ... We had over 50,000 employees compete in our latest global wellness challenge.

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