Judges’ choice winner: Unifying benefits in times of change

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When Mike Greenberg took the helm of HR and benefits for the oldest company in North America, he undertook a momentous challenge.

Hudson’s Bay Company, which owns Lord & Taylor and Home Outfitters, had recently purchased Saks Fifth Avenue.

Not only were employee benefits and personnel policies at Saks and Lord & Taylor completely separate, they did not share a single insurer or vendor. They had separate payroll and HRIS systems. All of this made intercompany employment transfers extremely difficult.

As Vice President of Benefits for HBC, Greenberg was tasked with unifying all U.S. employee benefits for over 25,000 U.S.-based associates in 150 locations by Jan. 1, 2016.

“Mike had a huge project in front of him. You have this Canadian company buying Lord & Taylor and then Saks. You literally couldn’t walk across Fifth Avenue to go work from one banner to the other,” says Jason Krouse, senior vice president of consulting at Univers Workplace Solutions, the consulting company that helped Greenberg streamline benefits at the two banners.

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“Everything was changing. None of the medical, life or disability plans stayed the same. He led one of the biggest benefit harmonization projects I’ve ever seen,” Krouse adds.

Creating a strategy

Working with consultants and advisers, Greenberg designed a comprehensive strategy to integrate benefits and administration for all HBC employees.

The strategy included all medical, dental, prescription, vision, life, short- and long-term disability benefits, employee assistance program administration (U.S. and Canada), FLMA administration, Cobra administration, FSA and HSA administration, commuter benefits administration and 401(k) benefit offerings and administration, as well as coverage alternatives to associates not eligible to participate in HBC’s core benefit plans. Greenberg also made significant changes in paid time off policies unlimited PTO for salaried associates — and company-funded short-term disability leaves.

“He is one of the most capable [professionals] I’ve ever worked with and is extremely detailed-oriented,” says Ralph Morano Jr., senior vice president of communications at Univers Workplace Solutions.

Communication is key

With such massive changes afoot, it was paramount that Greenberg and his team communicate the new benefit plan design and details with clarity and positivity. Greenberg rolled out a two-phase communication and education campaign in 2015, preceding the fall open enrollment period.

What’s more, the company cultures and demographics at Lord & Taylor and Saks could not be more different. Lord & Taylor had more part-time workers and skewed older. These employees were used to getting information in more traditional methods, such as print. Saks had younger employees looking to make a career in fashion and retail, and were tech savvy.

Beginning in July 2015, the first phase raised awareness that changes were afoot, but for the better. Even while Greenberg and his team were still ironing out all the details of this massive undertaking, they wanted to start communicating early so that once all the information was out, it would be top of mind for employees.

This strategy worked, as evidenced by the mass migration of employees visiting the specially created website for the new benefit plans. Between Aug. 27 and Oct. 17, 2015, they had 21,270 unique visits to the website, and the average session time was more than 10 minutes.

Greenberg split up the open enrollment period between the two stores. Employees from Lord & Taylor enrolled during the last two weeks of September, and those from Saks enrolled during the first two weeks of October. Everyone enrolled with a benefits counselor, either in person or over the phone, so each individual knew they were getting the best plan for them depending on their family situation and health conditions.

“The messaging was very different,” explains Krouse. “[Having the enrollments split allowed] the counselor to focus on the conversation they were having. They were able to refine that conversation on a daily basis as they heard the questions and concerns that were coming in. Every night we did a retraining of what we’d learned from the day before to enhance the employees’ experience.”

HBC successfully enrolled all full-time and part-time associates in both core and ancillary benefit plans during the busiest retail season of the year. Ninety percent of associates participated in the enrollment, and 99% felt the enrollment sessions improved their benefit knowledge.

“Mike was a collaborating partner for every element of this campaign and there were a lot of elements in this campaign,” Morano says. “He had a hand in, and reviewed, every piece of it.”

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