Managing the 'moments that matter'

Diana Lee Sesame Street Benny Winner
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Even after two decades in New York, it’s still a city that never gets old for me. One hot summer afternoon, I headed to Lincoln Center for an assignment to the corner of Broadway and West 63rd Street — also known as “Sesame Street” — for an interview with Diana Lee, the head of HR at Sesame Workshop, and the winner of Employee Benefit News' Benefits Professional of the Year Award. Not only does she have the fun job of working with the creative forces behind the beloved characters of Sesame Street, Lee — like all of this year’s Benny Award winners — is also a deep thinker on organizational change and the future of benefits.

Among artwork that evokes characters such as Bert and Ernie and the vampirelike Count von Count, she chatted with me about her career path and philosophy for managing change and better benefits for our story looking inside Sesame Workshop's benefits evolution. “Our philosophy is that we consider benefits as part of your total compensation here. We are a nonprofit, and we are a mission-first organization,” she says, sitting next to an office lampshade covered with Big Bird’s yellow feathers. “People come to work for us because they're drawn to our mission” of making children smarter, stronger and kinder.

At Sesame Workshop, the most popular benefits mirror the most sought-after benefits across the industry: generous medical plans, retirement offerings and paid time off, which she says are key benefits for all employers to remain competitive. A focus on engagement and wellness has led to lifestyle management (weight loss, tobacco cessation), and activities such as bowling, corporate challenges, yoga and an onsite quiet room for prayer and meditation.

Lee is one of four Benny Award winners we recognize this year for excellence and innovation in the employee benefits/human resources field. Other industry leaders include: Jessica Adams, our Benefits Leadership in Healthcare Award winner, who helped create a culture of inclusivity and work-life balance at Brad’s Deals; Garin Danner, our Benefits Leadership in Retirement Award honoree, who helps clients improve their retirement planning as director of HR for the SSI Group; and Misty Guinn, our Judge’s Choice Award winner, a self-proclaimed data nerd and director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, who keeps her finger on the benefits pulse through annual surveys to elicit employee feedback.“Benefits is such a personal journey for people,” Guinn told senior editor Nick Otto, “and so I think we have a lot of people who are just really experiencing certain health issues or starting to look at different milestones in life, like purchasing homes or starting a family.”

Whether a new hire or an employee who recently had a baby and is going through a qualifying life event, Guinn’s aim is to make it feel that the company is supporting them through those “moments that matter.”Congratulations to all of this year’s Benny Award winners. I look forward to meeting many of you and many other benefits professionals at our Benefits Forum & Expo conference Sept. 25-27 in Las Vegas.

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