EBN announces Benny Award winners
In a heated race for talent, the status quo benefits package is no longer cutting it. Smart benefits professionals are going above and beyond with a host of perks that address such topics as financial wellness, work-life balance and caregiving — all in an effort to make a significant impact on the lives of employees. That impact is evidenced by four impressive benefits professionals — this year’s winners of Employee Benefit News’ Benny Awards.

The annual Benny Awards recognize excellence in the employee benefits/human resources field. Four awards — Benefits Professional of the Year, Benefits Leadership in Retirement Planning, Benefits Leadership in Health Care and Judges’ Choice — are presented to employee benefit or human resource practitioners selected by EBN editors.
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Benefits Professional of the Year
Sarah Sardella
Senior director of global benefits
Akamai Technologies

In the highly competitive, highly demanding tech industry — notorious for fast-paced projects and harried employees — work-life balance often seems like a myth. That was a workplace challenge shared by Akamai Technologies, the global content delivery network service provider. And it was a challenge Sarah Sardella set out to address.

That’s why, over the last few years, Sardella and her team set their sights on adding a number of work-life and family-friendly benefits that support flexibility — from caregiving benefits and backup day care to a telework program, unlimited PTO and a paid family leave policy. Those were in addition to Akamai’s already-enviable suite of benefits, which includes a robust health and wellness program, tuition benefits and employee stock options.

Those efforts helped increase employee satisfaction by 6%, created a better workplace environment and landed Akamai on a number of “Best Places to Work” lists — as well as helping the company address its gender-diversity problem.

“A competitive benefits package is essential in attracting and retaining talent, especially in the high-tech field, where talent is scarce,” Sardella says. “Some benefits are table stakes at this point — things like insurance and a retirement plan. It’s the programs that go beyond the foundational benefits that typically serve to differentiate one company from another. Those are also the things that employees tend to talk about the most.”
Benefits Leadership in Retirement Planning
Cliff York
Head of pensions & benefits for Americas

As the head of pensions and benefits in the Americas for one of the world’s leading gas and oil companies, Cliff York cannot speak face-to-face with the more than 26,000 employees of BP. Instead, the 30-year corporate benefits veteran relies on annual surveys to find out how BP employees think the company can empower them for a more secure retirement.

“The information that we get from the aggregation of results is really a roadmap for our communication efforts,” he says.

Worker assessments on financial fitness and retirement readiness helped him create a successful financial wellness program. The result?

BP employees have achieved higher scores across all categories measured in their financial fitness assessment (cash and debt, retirement, insurance, investment, estate, and education planning) since the program began since 2012. Overall, their financial wellness scores have seen increases of 10% and retirement readiness scores bumped up 11%.
Benefits Leadership in Health Care
Julie Wilkes
North American wellness program lead

Back in 2002, Julie Wilkes began advocating for a wellness program when she started as an HR consultant at professional services firm Accenture. But there was little interest in the then-new concept. So, in order to earn credentials in wellness and physical fitness, Wilkes took two years to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology and health behavior at the Ohio State University in 2004, only to return to Accenture and start the program without any funding or sponsorship.

Back in her HR consultant position, Wilkes informally began developing exercise routines and a healthy eating plan. Her coworkers, who were looking for a work-life balance and wanted to commit themselves to wellness, took notice. Soon enough, Accenture leadership also noticed and turned it into her full-time job in 2007.

Fifteen years after Wilkes’ vision for a company-wide wellness plan, the firm’s program has evolved from a grassroots effort into Accenture Active, a highly personalized, high-tech program. About 35,000 of Accenture’s 50,000 U.S. employees, nearly 70%, have embraced it.

“My background in fitness and health … all of that helps me understand the human psyche for [the reasons] why I will or will not do something, and that then helps me make more programs meaningful at Accenture.”
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Judges' Choice
Becky Cantieri
Senior vice president of human resources

Becky Cantieri joined SurveyMonkey in 2011 and built the company’s HR department from the ground up, creating the company’s benefits program often recognized for supporting corporate culture. True to its business, SurveyMonkey, the online surveying company, actively takes the pulse of its employees. While most companies might run an employee satisfaction survey annually, SurveyMonkey runs theirs every quarter to keep a pulse on what employees most want from the company.

That is how Cantieri chose to make investments in the area of work-life balance. Cantieri instituted a new, progressive paid family leave policy in May 2016. She also sought to create an environment that empowers employees to be active parents; SurveyMonkey built the Jungle Gym, a space designed just for kids in the office with games, toys and a chalk wall.

“We offer really compelling benefits and overall value proposition to employees and we create a lot of great programs that give them a sense of belonging,” she says. “The ability to grow their career and do their best life’s work here, together those have served us very well and [have helped us to] retain talent in a competitive environment.”