As global benefits manager at BuzzFeed, the world’s leading tech-powered media company, it feels natural for Hannah Wilkowski to be focused on the “people side of business.” After graduating from Muhlenberg College with a bachelor’s in psychology, public health, and anthropology, she “took a leap of faith” and attended graduate school at NYU for human resources.
At the start of her career, Wilkowski found herself in a role that blended HR, benefits, and analytics, which piqued her interest in a job field that seeks to support employees beyond just a salary. “I realized there was an opportunity to combine my experience in the healthcare world and my passion for human resources,” she says. This combination sparked a passion for benefits that would guide her through the rest of her career, taking her from HarperCollins to CLS Bank to her current role.
Since joining BuzzFeed in August 2019, Wilkowski has been a part of exciting new initiatives that have revamped the way BuzzFeed’s benefits packages reflect its employee-first philosophy.
Wilkowski spoke to American Healthcare Leader about her approach to aligning BuzzFeed’s people-motivated philosophy with benefits initiatives and the importance of making employees feel both seen and heard by leadership.
Tell us about BuzzFeed’s employee-first philosophy.
Our employees create content that is rooted in identity and both entertains and provides a utility to our massive audience. Identity-based content makes people say, “That’s so me,” and feel seen. For example, we create tons of content for Playfull, our millennial parenting brand. As our audience grows up, it’s important that our writers and producers can speak about parenting issues in the workplace from a place of authenticity. What this means for BuzzFeed, and more specifically in the world of employee benefits and wellness, is that we need to be adaptive to these needs. When it comes to starting or growing a family, having a benefits program that understands the complexities of being a working parent is invaluable.
What this means for our employees is that we listen. We listen to the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and the BuzzFeed community in whole when they mention different resources or benefits that can enhance their time at BuzzFeed. This may look like a more robust return-to-work transition plan for returning parents, or, on the other end, access to egg freezing. This may also look like virtual, direct access to ten free therapy sessions per year. Or maybe, an employee isn’t ready to be a parent or isn’t thinking about starting a family, so we have some cool benefits to keep people passionate about the things they want.
How does your work further this flexible, personalized philosophy?
It makes my job very exciting. It encourages me to speak with individuals across the globe, through all walks of life, and research ways to close gaps in benefits. It also encourages employees to feel comfortable coming forward with innovative ideas on new benefits . . . and they do! I get a lot of feedback on benefits or ideas about areas where there maybe aren’t enough benefits. Additionally, it forces me to take a few steps back and really look at our employee demographics and how that relates to trends in the benefits sphere.
How have your past experiences helped guide your strategy in this respect?
I’m very lucky in that I was able to grow so much in each of my previous roles. One role taught me the foundations of employee benefits and how to best “flex” my communication strategy to ensure that all employees understand their organizations’ benefits plans. One role taught me how to appreciate a wide array of differences in employees—and therefore, their needs in terms of their benefits.
Engaging employees by asking them which types of benefits would help enhance their time in their role is beneficial in so many ways—it allows the benefits team to adapt to their employees’ needs, it will hopefully make a positive impact on their time in the organization, and employees feel heard and that they played a part in constructing a benefits package that best fits their needs.
The world of benefits is constantly changing, and adapting to your employees’ needs is imperative if you want to remain competitive. There are so many new types of benefits that really broaden an organization’s offerings and can make a huge impact on an employee’s life.
“It encourages me to speak with individuals across the globe, through all walks of life, and research ways to close gaps in benefits.”
How do you ensure that new benefits or initiatives meet the needs of all employees? How does this spectrum of options enhance the company culture at BuzzFeed?
I feel like this is a question that will never have a complete answer! Our employees are all individuals with different backgrounds and needs, and they’re experiencing so many different major life events. We are constantly looking for ways to ensure they all have the most relevant and effective resources. If we could reach all employees with one benefits program: amazing. But if not, it’s all about what we can do to make sure that everyone feels heard, recognized, and taken care of.
When it comes to culture, I like to think that the benefits world amplifies the employee experience by providing the tools necessary to succeed, whether that means having peace of mind through our discounted pet insurance market or participating in our weekly on-site meditations facilitated by our BMindful group.
One of our biggest—and fastest growing—populations is new parents, so we implemented Maven two years ago. Maven provides resources through pregnancy up until the baby turns six months old for both the employee and their partner. Maven offers a slew of resources for every step of the parenting journey, from fertility specialists to career coaches, doulas, mental health counselors, lactation consultants, and sleep coaches. BuzzFeed employees around the world have unlimited access to these resources, and since Maven is completely virtual, they can access these specialists from the comfort of their own couches at home.
Taking a broader look at parent benefits, we also offer employees access to KindBody, a well-women and fertility clinic. KindBody offers employees and their dependents access to routine visits, male and female fertility assessments, and other fertility services. So, whether (or not) you’re ready to become a parent, taking the first few baby steps to learn about different fertility options, or are trying to conceive, KindBody offers a full spectrum of resources to help employees along the way.
Why is it important to adapt to trends when creating new benefits?
For many reasons—the first one that comes to mind is to remain competitive in the market, which can help to recruit and retain top talent. Second, if the trend fits our employees’ demographics and needs, then most likely this will ultimately help make our employees’ lives easier. However, it’s also important to ask for feedback from employees and find trends locally and globally. This helps us stay ahead of trends, and thereby provide employees the resources they need.
One of the biggest challenges is prioritizing which new or changing benefits would be the most impactful to employees. We do this through research, communication, and feedback. I actually reach out to different offices throughout the year to hear how they’re doing, to catch up, and to see what the trends are. You have to ask: Is this what our employees want and need? Will it make their time here better? Will it make their home life better? If the answer is yes, we look to implement it.
Extending Care from People to Pups
In addition to creating well-rounded benefits offerings for employees at BuzzFeed, Hannah Wilkowski ensures that her two rescue dogs are given the best life possible, too.
“My husband and I are big animal rescue advocates,” says Wilkowski. “We have two rescue dogs: Harvey and Tula. Harvey is a rescue from NYC’s ACC, so he’s a native New Yorker. He’s a beagle mix, and actually was in an IAMs commercial back in the day.
“Tula is newer—we rescued her in August 2019,” she continues. “She is a Sato rescue—a stray from Puerto Rico—and also is a beagle mix. Unfortunately, she has not made her TV debut yet!”
Expertise Spotlight: Kindbody
The workforce has changed in the last twenty years: women are having children well into their thirties or forties and working mothers have become the norm. As such, employees expect progressive benefits.
Yet, today’s family-building benefits are falling short. They add fees, contribute to the fragmentation of care, and can’t control for cost, quality, or experience.
Family-Building Benefits—From the Doctors
To create change, we must do so from the ground up.
Kindbody is the first family-building solution from the doctors. We offer the full spectrum of women’s health and fertility care under one roof, from preconception to fertility to postpartum. We contract directly with employers, eliminating the need for the middleman.
With clinics around the country, and mobile and virtual services, we give your employees the care they need, whenever and wherever.
Why Does This Matter?
Because only the providers can control for cost, quality, and experience.
As the providers, we provide a consistent, seamless experience at the lowest possible rates—up to 30 percent below market average.
Kindbody x Buzzfeed
Kindbody is proud to partner with BuzzFeed as their family-building solution. BuzzFeed employees have access to the full scope of Kindbody services, including gynecology, fertility, and return-to-work services.
By working with Kindbody, BuzzFeed is improving access to care and putting its people first.