Why I love working in employee benefits.....
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
If I had a nickel for every time an HR colleague said, “No one ever plans to work in HR”, I would have enough money to buy a pack of Bubble Yum in the 1970s. In other words, 25 cents. Calculating the cost of one piece of a five-piece pack of gum was a great way to conceptualize simple division which I was learning at the time. OK, so that’s only five people but still. While it wasn’t my lifelong dream, it was my plan leaving college and going to graduate school for Organizational Psychology. If I had realized my lifelong dream, I would be Dorothy Hamill.
I’m a people person. OK. Turn down the volume on your eye-rolling please. I know it’s cliché, but if the ice skate fits. When I was 12, I was in a local Gap store back when they only sold jeans and sweatshirts. It was crazy busy. There were a bunch of elementary school aged kids from separate families whining while their parents waited in line to pay. Somehow, I gathered six or seven kids in a circle and started playing games. As the line moved, kids left with their parents and new kinds joined. It was probably only 20 minutes or so until my mom paid for whatever it was that we were buying, and we left. I remember feeling proud of myself that I saw a problem and provided a solution. I love working in employee benefits because I like helping people solve problems.
When asked why I like employee benefits, I have my standard three-part answer and the helping people/solving problems component is usually third in my spiel because there’s the most to say about it. I didn’t mean to skate by reasons one and two, so let’s get to it. Also, I was a figure skater when I was younger so the ice skating references aren’t totally random. For younger readers, google Dorothy Hamill if you don’t know who she is.
I like working in employee benefits because it’s technical and compliance driven. There are nuances and intricacies. There are laws and rules (ERISA, COBRA, and ACA, oh my!). Annual audits, required filings, and employee communications. I take pride in being a subject matter expert in an area that is complex. At a prior job, on more than one occasion, after resolving a particularly benefits-y issue, I would say to my boss “That was great. I love benefits”. I wish I could adequately convey her tone with the slight shake of her head as she replied, “I’m so glad you do.” She’s a great boss, mentor, and friend and her simple acknowledgement of my geekiness still makes me smile.
Onto analytics. The Excel spreadsheets. Looking at enrollment headcount. Year over year trends. Costs. Budgeting. Vlookups! If/Then statements. SumIf. CountIf. Managing data to inform sound business decisions regarding the benefits an organization offers its employees. Benefits are a significant part of an organization’s operating expense so it’s important to sure that dollars are allocated to benefits that are meaningful to employees and cost-effectively to the employer.
Circling back to supporting employees. It’s not only educating employees and helping them understand something complex. It’s helping them resolve a claim issue. It’s providing support and guidance for employees who are looking for information on gender affirming care.
It’s helping an employee prepare for a medical leave of absence. Fortunately, most leaves have been for pregnancy so for a happy reason but not all. It’s ensuring that parents enroll their newborn for coverage. It’s helping the family of a terminally ill employee. It’s working with the family to manage insurance matters after they have passed away. It’s seeing the evolution of equal coverage for same sex spouses. It’s ensuring that former employees can access their coverage through COBRA.
It's my adult equivalent of sitting in a circle in a crowded Gap.