Keeping the Public Interest in Mind

Kathleen Harris, vice president of benefits and global employee services at Time Warner Inc., oversees the health and wellness programs that help 23,000 employees stay well

Kathleen Harris had her eye on public health from the very beginning of her adult life. What she didn’t know, however, was that her interest in public health would lead her to helping keep Time Warner’s approximately 23,000 employees healthy. As vice president of benefits and global employee services, Harris is responsible for defining the benefits strategy for the company’s employees all over the world. Perhaps the greatest benefit comes from the programs she develops that contribute to those employees’ health and well-being.

Harris, who grew up near Hartford, Connecticut, holds a bachelor of science degree from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University–Bloomington and a masters in public health from Yale University. “During my graduate program, I had  an internship in benefits consulting, and from there I never really left,” she says. Harris worked as a health and welfare consultant at Towers Perrin, and then spent four years as a senior consultant and client delivery lead of the Group and Healthcare Practice at the benefits consulting firm Watson Wyatt. During her time there, she was responsible for identifying consulting opportunities for Fortune 500 clients and building strategic HR solutions that met both their business and human capital needs.

Kathleen Harris, Time Warner Inc.

She joined Time Warner in 2006. “As a consultant, I had always been an outsider,” Harris says. “Sure, you provide information on the newest and greatest ideas, but you rarely see a project finished. I wanted a better understanding of the corporate stakeholders’ perspective.” She expected to work on the corporate side for a few years and then go back to consulting. “But that never happened,” she laughs. “It is too fascinating working with a company like Time Warner that has such an amazing presence and so many recognizable brands. It can be really hard to get projects across the finish line, but it is also super rewarding. It was too hard to give that up.”

Harris was hired as a strategic benefits consultant to manage enterprise-wide programs, and from there, she was given additional responsibilities in other areas. “I now have responsibility for everything that falls under benefits, including wellness, health and welfare, and retirement benefits,” she says. She was promoted into her current role in 2011. Time Warner’s health-related benefits cover everything from wellness and prevention to state-of-the-art health and care management programs that provide support to Time Warner employees with complex, acute, and chronic conditions.

Health and wellness initiatives are front and center at Time Warner, she says. “We think it is important to keep employees healthy and happy,” Harris says. “We also realize the healthcare system is complicated and hard to navigate, and we don’t want employees worrying about that. Our focus is on ensuring that our workforce can easily access the healthcare system when needed.”

She and her team work with several different health and wellness vendors. Harris and her team take a concierge approach to help Time Warner’s employees navigate the healthcare system. They provide access to expert medical opinions, healthcare pricing information, and help understanding their explanation of benefits (EOB).

Among her biggest accomplishments is establishing the company’s Fit Nation program. Harris saw the great success CNN—one of Time Warner’s subsidiaries—had with its program of the same name. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta recruited viewers, many with health challenges, and spent months training them to complete a triathlon. “Gupta’s producer said, ‘We did this for seven people. Wouldn’t it be cool to do it for all of Time Warner?’” Harris remembers. “I said, ‘That is the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard.’” She worked with CNN to roll out the program enterprise-wide. Now, hundreds of employees across Time Warner participate in runs and triathlons worldwide.

“It has become one of the most successful programs that we have rolled out,” she says. Participants can train for a triathlon or something shorter, such as a 5K or 10K run. They can also learn to run, bike, or swim. Time Warner provides the coaches, the facilities, the uniforms, and the entry fees. The program, which is now in its sixth year, achieves about 25 percent employee engagement, which she says is a large number for this type of offering. “What we have learned over the past six years is people of all backgrounds, from athletes to people literally getting off the couch or who have health challenges—the idea of camaraderie has been huge for us. They feel they are accomplishing something as a team,” Harris says.

Time Warner employees get ready for the swimming leg of the 2017 Westchester Olympic distance Triathlon.

One of the ways Harris has made it easier for employees to get involved with Fit Nation or any of the company’s other health benefits is through the use of the Virgin Pulse platform that Time Warner implemented in 2016. Virgin Pulse, a leading provider of employee-centric solutions that drive well-being, culture, and productivity across organizations around the world, launched the Virgin Pulse app for Apple Watch. “We had all these programs but no centralized home,” Harris says. “Where do we put this information, where people who want to can go back for it, if not today, then two weeks from now?” The platform acts as the central hub to find that information, and it even includes ways to track progress, earn points, and cash them in for rewards for participation. “I still can’t get over the number of people who really get excited about the rewards,” she says. “You see the boxes of rewards being delivered in the hallways. People like to show off that they got to a certain rewards level.”

Though these health initiatives are certainly a team effort, Harris acts as the quarterback for these projects, because she serves as the point of contact for all of Time Warner’s employees and executives globally.

Harris, however, prefers to share the credit. “The proudest part for me is that this idea came from within our company,” she says. “It really is homegrown. Across the US and in the United Kingdom, all the people who make it happen are really fantastic.”

Triathlon photo: Donald Eggert III