Top of their game: Inside Activision Blizzard’s innovative benefits strategy

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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 10,000-plus employees (with 6,000 located in the U.S.).

Ezzard, an HR veteran who has worked in a range of industries from healthcare to manufacturing and utilities, says he likes to be creative — and fast-moving — when it comes to offerings.

“What I always like to say is, ‘Don’t delay in heading out and trying some of these resources that are so readily available to us now,’” says Ezzard, who was awarded EBN’s 2018 Judges’ Choice Award, given each year to a benefits professional who makes great use of a wide range of benefits programs. “Don’t overanalyze,” he advises. “I don’t pilot anything. 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.”

When Ezzard joined the Santa Monica, California-based Activision Blizzard in 2013, he took his own advice into account after realizing there wasn’t much thought being put into the company’s healthcare or benefits offerings.

“Up until I joined, the strategy was to not engage the workforce in their healthcare,” he explains. “We wanted them to make great entertainment and focus on that.”

Ezzard changed that, setting his sights on addressing common health issues, including diabetes. He introduced Virta Health, a doctor-led startup that focuses on fully reversing Type 2 diabetes with dietary changes.

“Depending on the person, we have a variety of ways to help manage diabetes through tech tools,” Ezzard says. Another program he put in place, Livongo, helps workers manage their blood-sugar levels and avoid expensive trips to the hospital.

Help for new parents

Another area of innovation for Activision Blizzard is helping new parents, who now can rest a little easier thanks to a high-tech perk that keeps babies asleep longer. The company added a smart crib to its benefits package to help workers get more, better quality sleep.

New parents receive Happiest Baby’s SNOO Smart Sleeper — a responsive bassinet that lulls fussy babies back to sleep with motion and sound while also swaddling them for safe sleeping. It was created by pediatrician Harvey Karp, author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block.”

“When the baby is put in the bed, it’s secured so the baby can’t roll over and accidently suffocate, and when he or she fusses at night, the bed responds with motion and soothing sounds,” Ezzard says. “The end result is, on average, babies sleep two hours more per night and parents get two more hours of sleep per night. Mom and Dad come back more refreshed.”

This means fewer instances of post-partum depression as a result. “It’s a huge win-win and our employees get something really cool for six months,” he adds.

The $1,500 bassinet is on loan to new parents for six months — the time it takes for a newborn to outgrow the bassinet and transition to a crib — and arrives either brand new or refurbished, with everything but the motor and bedframe stripped away and replaced.

“We don’t charge [the employee],” he says. “It costs me a few dollars a day to rent it, but we get this value that when the employee comes back, they’re a happier employee. We might be avoiding conditions that require treatment because of sleep neglect. There’s a great business case not to charge and just make it available.”

In addition to the bassinets, the game designer supports working moms by providing additional lactation support and enhanced lactation rooms; it even provides breast milk storage and delivery for mothers who travel for business.

See also: Benefits to attract and retain women in the workplace: Going beyond the obvious

And even before other employers like Medtronic, Estée Lauder and PwC made the move to add or increase paid parental leave, Activision Blizzard a few years back bolstered its benefit for new parents to eight weeks of paid time off.

A recent survey from Unum found that the No. 1 benefit employees want deals with flexible work options or absence management. Paid family leave tops the benefits provider’s survey list: Among the 1,227 working adults polled, 58% of all workers (and 64% of millennials) want their employer to offer paid family leave.

But Ezzard didn’t want the company’s paid leave to stop at time off for new parents. As he says, many employees might not have or want children, or have children who are already grown.

That’s in part why Activision Blizzard offers an eight-week paid bereavement leave. The company goes a step further with the provision of eight weeks of paid compassion leave for employees to spend time with a terminally ill loved one, Ezzard says, or eight weeks for the unexpected death of a loved one, such as in a car accident.

Having only a few days of paid leave for grief, which is the norm for most employers, makes it “extremely difficult” for an employee, he says — not only to emotionally process an unexpected death, but also to deal with the logistical burden of day-to-day changes that may need to be made for the sudden impact to the family.

The value of programs like these, says Ezzard, is that when employees return from bereavement leave, they’ve had time to participate in one last memorable life event or to pick up the pieces from suddenly losing a close family member.

From parental and bereavement leave to high-tech cribs and virtual health strategies, Ezzard wants to use benefits to keep his employees happy, healthy and productive, so gamers can keep exploring the Activision universe.

“Benefits are not one size fits all,” he says. “[Employees have a lot of] needs that are just as important as the next. We have a diverse workforce and are addressing that as best as possible.”

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Employee engagement Employee retention Employee communications Maternity leave Paternity leave Healthcare plans Healthcare innovations Diabetes Benny awards