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Benny Award winners take the helm

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From flexible gym arrangements to fertility benefits, to revamping retirement and financial wellness plans, benefits and workplace professionals honored for the 29th annual Benny Awards have had a real impact on the populations they serve during this challenging year.

Employee Benefit News recognized four work leaders for their efforts to confront the challenges of remote work amid a worldwide healthcare crisis that continues to grip the U.S. workforce and their families and loved ones. For Bryan Aycock, the director of benefits at Zynga, a game developer company, the work started by accommodating flexible work arrangements. Logistics like how to get new equipment and reimbursements for ergonomic equipment was the first order at hand.

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

“Most people don’t think about benefits until you need them, when something is wrong,” says Mo Johanssen, Aycock’s colleague and an 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.”

As senior editor Alyssa Place details, Aycock next turned to other wellness benefits such as gym memberships and family planning offerings, which you can read in detail in our cover story profile.

In addition to Aycock, who won the Professional of the Year honor, the other 2020 Benny Award winners are:

Benefits Leadership in Healthcare Award: David Hines, executive director of benefits at Metro Nashville Public Schools

Benefits Leadership in Retirement Award: Talika Johnson, director of administrative services for the city of Azusa, California

Editor’s Pick Award: Tim O’Neil, executive director at Meredith.

Associate editor Kayla Webster also takes a look at workplace issues that will come to the forefront as our country picks the next president. For employers, understanding how the new administration views various issues — from healthcare, retirement planning or diversity training — may mean the difference between a willing or losing business strategy.

“We all owe it to ourselves and our organizations to understand the policy issues affecting workplaces and the real, everyday challenges impacting the workplace,” says Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

On the retirement front, contributing writer Kenneth Corbin takes a look at state retirement plans, with an eye toward Illinois, which began the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program in 2018, gradually phasing in mandates for all businesses with at least 25 employees to offer a qualified retirement plan or enroll in the state option.

Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, who chairs the board that runs that program, spelled out the initiative at a virtual conference in October. He noted that his state’s program had more than 72,000 accounts and assets of more than $37 million, which caters to an underserved element of the labor force.

“What we’re doing in Illinois is we’re catching those that the market doesn’t want to serve,” Frerichs said at the conference, hosted by Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives.

“We’re serving industries that are more transient, that have higher turnover, that have lower wages, that the financial services industry has just shown no interest in signing up,” he said.

Other states have adopted similar plans, each with their own twist. Heading into the new year, how those efforts play out could become key lessons for workplace leaders who are trying to solve the vexing U.S. retirement crisis.

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