Bart Trench has nearly twenty years of HR experience, two master’s degrees, and a wealth of experience handling human capital. But Trench’s extensive résumé isn’t enough to convince the HR professional that taking on a head of benefits and wellness position at Protective Life in Birmingham would be a work-mandated walk-in-the-park.“This is a new situation for me, as I was never expected to be a true expert in benefits before,” Trench admits. “HR can be so complex in its individual roles that I used to joke that the only time I paid close attention to the benefits was when I was applying for my own.”
But after eighteen years of business-supporting HR roles, Trench says he’s been able to key in on what’s best for maintaining and keeping employees healthy and happy, what’s best to keep the business moving forward, and how Protective Life has managed to find the sweet spot in the middle.
From the outset, Trench said that while benefits may be a new HR focus for him, his preparation for the role was somewhat the same. “Early on I put together a three-year plan of what I was hoping to accomplish each year and stagger different initiatives,” Trench says. In 2017, he knew that he would be eyeing a change in the benefits administrative system for implementation in 2020. “I was being bombarded by all sorts of vendors who wanted our business, and that plan helped me determine whether to tell them that what they were offering wasn’t on my roadmap or to contact me in a year or two.”
Trench says that Protective Life provided invaluable leadership support from the very beginning, which has made his job significantly easier. “With a company our size, you have to find the right balance of supporting employees, helping them engage while still being a good steward of company resources,” Trench explains. “I think we’ve found that right balance and a lot of credit goes to good leadership here.”
The wellness benefits at Protective Life are impressive not just for the variety of options available to employees, but because of the focus for genuine employee engagement. Last year, Protective Life introduced a new high deductible health plan that Trench says is maybe one area where the company was slightly behind the times, but the rest of the wellness offerings put Protective well ahead of its competition.
“We’re finding the right balance for what’s the employee’s capacity to take all of this on and what’s right for the company.”
In collaboration with Birmingham-based Pack Health, Protective Life offers disease management and health coaching free of charge. Expecting parents are offered free telehealth services through Maven from the time parents find out they’re pregnant until six months after the baby’s arrival. “It’s everything from lactation experts after the baby comes to the mental health issues that can sometimes accompany new parents,” Trench says. Regardless of the need, Protective Life picks up the check.
In partnership with Chip Rewards, Protective outfits each new employee with a Fitbit and through its internal Pro Health Rewards program, employees are able to turn steps into points and points into money, up to $700 a year. “Our goal is to offer another way to offset health expenses,” Trench says. “If you’re taking part in these programs, chances are you’re probably living healthier, but things do pop up, and these rewards can go towards meeting a deductible if necessary.”
The coming year includes the implementation of the previously mentioned benefit administrative system. “This will allow us to put all of the benefits resources and enrollment in those benefits in a single place,” Trench says. “The accompanying mobile app is great as we thought employees should be able to access these benefits on their phones in 2019.”
Trench is the first to admit that their “meat and potatoes” insurance plans aren’t as cutting edge as their health and wellness offerings, but the HR professional says for a company its size, Protective Life takes its employees health incredibly seriously. “This company has a long history of supporting employees: from our gym at our corporate headquarters to our thirty-two-hour-a-week nurse practitioner to our full-time wellness director,” Trench says. “Not many companies our size were willing to hire a dedicated wellness employee.”
Benefits may be new for the department head, but Trench has made new paths before. He came to the HR field with a clinical psychology and behavioral health background. As Trench continues to get more comfortable in his benefits role, he says his pragmatism will continue to guide his vision for the wellness programs at Protective Life. “We’re not going to implement programs just to do it,” Trench says. “We’re finding the right balance for what’s the employee’s capacity to take all of this on and what’s right for the company.”