Zynga’s benefits boss jump-starts new benefits under COVID-19

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Amidst a year of upheaval and transitions in the world of work, many employees have been left feeling unmoored and unmotivated, searching for a new post-coronavirus paradigm.

Bryan Aycock is not one of those people. As the director of benefits at Zynga, a game developer company, Aycock began the year planning to start programs that supported mental health, family planning and other wellness initiatives. But once the pandemic hit, he shifted gears to offer Zynga’s 2,100 employees support for every challenge the pandemic threw their way.

Read more: How our 2020 Benny Award winners managed employee benefits during COVID-19

“I quickly had to pivot on whatever I was working on to put as much support as we could in place. I immediately reached out to our safety team to start doing ergonomic assessments over a Zoom call,” Aycock says. “We provided new monitors and reimbursements for ergonomic chairs. I reached out to our EAP about providing mental health support. I reached out to Aetna to waive copays through the end of this year.”

Once the most immediate concerns had been taken care of, Aycock focused on new programs he had already planned for 2020, now tailoring the offerings to fit the virtual workplace. One such program was a partnership with GymPass, a membership service where employees can visit different gym locations. Instead of cancelling the benefit entirely, Aycock worked with the team to fast-track a pilot program of virtual fitness classes employees could stream from their homes.

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Aycock’s problem solving and quick thinking during the pandemic have been built over the course of a successful two-decade career as a benefits consultant for Mercer, Aon and Alliant before he joined Zynga in 2018. Moving to in-house benefits management was an opportunity to see how the products he had been selling to employers were actually impacting their lives of their workforce.

“Most people don’t think about benefits until you need them, when something is wrong,” says Mo Johanssen, HR business partner at Zynga. “But Bryan sees the connection to the whole person so they can really come to work and just feel like they can be themselves.”

When Aycock started at Zynga, the game developer already had some standout benefits, including 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 weeks of paid parental leave. While the time off was generous, the company had no benefits in place to support new parents during and after their leave. Aycock started asking questions, trying to find better ways to support new mothers and fathers who were taking leaves of often more than six months.

“What are you doing to support them as they're coming back into the workplace?” he says. “I was getting blank stares. So that was the first thing I tackled.”

Aycock expanded family planning support with a partnership with Maven, a fertility and family planning benefits company. Zynga employees have access to reimbursements of up to $20,000 for fertility treatments like IVF, egg freezing and surrogacy. For new parents, the Maven partnership expanded access to primary care providers, sleep specialists and return-to-work counselors.

That support has had a direct — and emotional — effect on Johanssen, who started at Zynga last year. She sought out the company because of their family planning benefits.

“I've been having some fertility struggles for a few years and the Zynga benefit offerings for fertility care coverage were a huge reason why I decided to join,” she says. “Bryan was such a wonderful advocate for me personally, because going through fertility treatments during a pandemic was really challenging. I think had I not had Maven, I would have been totally lost.”

Read more: Maven expands benefits offering with acquisition of parenting app

Johanssen says her experience with Maven was so positive that she reached out to Aycock to share how much it meant to her to have the support of her employer during her fertility journey.

“I wrote to Bryan and told him, I know I'm telling you so much more medical stuff than you need to know, but I can't tell you how important this benefit has been to me in my life,” she says. “I was able to get in touch with an endocrinologist before I could even see a regular doctor and that put me at such ease.”

Addressing the full scope of an individual’s needs keeps Aycock focused on the right benefits — not just any benefits. He makes a point of signing a one-year contract with new vendors, instead of the traditional three-year offer, and then reassesses benefit usage among Zynga employees before continuing with a benefits provider.

“I always want a one-year contract because I don't know how the program is going to resonate with employees or what the utilization is going to be. And I'm willing to make a mistake,” he says. “If I put in a program that isn't resonating with employees, I'm happy to cancel that and find something that is.”

In addition to looking at quarterly feedback from employees, Aycock has established a benefits dashboard where he can track utilization, and then works with HR teams to boost programs that employees aren’t taking advantage of.

Being proactive and working with HR managers directly creates a collaborative environment and enthusiasm for the benefits he rolls out, Johanssen says.

“I really utilize him as such a great partner. I'm an advocate, not just for the employee, but really to help both of us, myself and the employee, understand what is available to help support them in what their benefit needs are,” she says. “Bryan just goes above and beyond in every single case and really tries to help the entire person.”

While Aycock has only been at Zynga for less than three years, the foundation he established early on has helped him weather the constant recalibration needed during COVID-19. Looking ahead to 2021, he’s already planning to expand Zynga’s Aetna coverage to provide in-network musculoskeletal support and physical therapy.

“We’re not working in ideal situations, so for somebody who may have a sore neck or a sore back, they can have a physical therapy interaction virtually, and then get exercises from a physical therapist,” he says.

Aycock is now able to jump into action to respond to mental health challenges or child care issues from employees because of his forward-thinking approach.

“We're all in this together, so I’m really open to feedback on what employees are missing, and how we can quickly adapt,” he says. “I just wanted people to know that we were here to support them and that we’re doing everything we can to support them as soon as possible.”

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