When it comes to work problems, Alyona Richey is here to hear you out. “I want individuals to come to us for help, for resources, for guidance,” says the director of benefits at international law firm McDermott Will & Emery. “I’m here to support all partners—our employees—and also to support the firm as a function.”
Richey, who holds an MBA in finance from Avila University, started her career as a retirement plan specialist. In this role, she provided clients from a wide variety of backgrounds with guidance on retirement planning. She enjoyed many facets of the position, which required comprehensive training on a number of retirement plans. But it was “helping people and resolving issues” that spoke to her the most and laid the groundwork for her transition into the benefits function, first at former big law firm Howrey, where she worked for seven years, and then at McDermott Will & Emery.
“In human resources and benefits, you get to work with people pretty much every day. You get to meet them in person. I really love that aspect,” Richey enthuses. “With my passion for working with people plus my passion for constantly learning and expanding my knowledge, I feel like benefits is the perfect fit for me. There are so many opportunities to learn, and especially in this particular role in benefits and HR, it evolves constantly, and you have to keep up with the changes.”
Wellness represents another passion for Richey. So, it is fitting that a top priority among her long list of ongoing projects is rolling out McDermott’s global wellness portal. The portal complements the firm’s existing wellness program, which provides a full slate of offerings related to employees’ physical, nutritional, mental, and social health. Programming ranges from mental health seminars to meditation and yoga classes to walking challenges to retirement resources and financial education curricula designed to aid employees’ fiscal health.
For years, the firm handled the wellness program internally, creating a calendar and managing the implementation of all programming. As employee participation and engagement increased, however, the need for a sleek, centralized portal became clear.
When choosing a service provider for the portal, Richey and her team kept many considerations in mind. “It was very important to us that the portal was GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] compliant because we were offering the portal to our international offices,” Richey says. “That was our biggest challenge. We also wanted a stable vendor with a lot of knowledge when it comes to wellness. And it would need to be user friendly.”
After a lengthy search, “we finally found the one,” Richey says. The firm has begun implementing the portal across McDermott’s US, European, and Asian offices.
Another initiative Richey is working on, streamlining McDermott’s parental leave policies, has taken on a “very personal” dimension for her. “My daughter was born in May of 2018. I’m fortunate enough that we have a very good maternity leave policy, where I was able to take twelve weeks off, paid by the firm, until I returned to work in early August,” she says.
When Richey returned to work and started dropping off her daughter at daycare, she says, “What I learned is you can start daycare at six weeks. It was unbelievable to me. I didn’t know. It was an eye-opening experience.”
“In human resources and benefits, you get to work with people pretty much every day. You get to meet them in person. I really love that aspect.”
Now, armed with this firsthand perspective on new motherhood, “I’ve been looking at various resources that we can provide to our population to help them, to ease the stress of being a parent and offer them support,” Richey says. “I constantly look at various vendors. And we’re looking for other resources as we work on building out our parental leave benefits.”
McDermott gives people returning from parental leave “transition support days,” meaning twenty additional days of back up childcare. The company also offers a milk shipment benefit for nursing mothers who are traveling for business through Milk Stork, which mails mothers a cooler at an address of their choice. Mothers can then opt to either ship the cooler back to their homes or take it with them on their travels.
Yet another benefit that McDermott has introduced is “mindful return,” an online course offered to new parents containing tips and reminders. In addition, new parents can join a private forum with other parents.
“I found personally that being a new parent, I always wanted to hear from others in the same situation and share my ideas and ask questions,” Richey says. It’s comforting to be part of a community of people in similar circumstances, “to know that I’m not the only one with those questions.”
In addition to helping McDermott employees in all aspects of wellness, parenthood, and beyond, Richey spends a great deal of time focusing on her personal wellness. As an ultramarathoner, Richey runs up to eighty miles per week to train for her next race—in this case, the JFK 50 Mile in Boonsboro, Maryland.
“I prefer longer distances,” Richey says. “I used to run marathons a lot, and that was my race of joy. And then I decided to run an ultramarathon, and that was even better. I get out there and I just want to run.”
Richey wakes up “as early as possible” in the mornings to hit the pavement. Her long runs take place on Saturdays and Sundays, running up to thirty miles as the race draws closer.
Instead of counting calories, Richey focuses on eating nutritious food, high in protein and carbohydrates. Favorites include sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and almond butter. She also stays hydrated, drinking plenty of water and carries plenty of electrolyte tablets on her runs to replenish all the salts she loses.
Aside from continually challenging her physical limits, Richey limbers up her mind by learning Spanish alongside her daughter, who is enrolled in a Spanish immersion daycare. Currently in Spanish 101, Richey plans to push herself further in the intermediate level next year.
What It Takes to Go the Distance
Alyona Richey breaks down how she prepares for and plans to accomplish the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon race in her target time.
50 Miles to run on race day
8 Hours: Target finish time
16 Weeks of training
4 – 5:30 a.m.: the time Richey wakes up to start her training
30 Miles: Greatest distance ran in a single day of training
80 Miles ran in weekly training runs
46 Electrolyte Tablets carried on training runs
9.20 mph: Richey’s average pace