On the surface, the American Medical Association (AMA) is a membership organization. But as Mary Klassen Szyndrowski explains, it’s much more than that. “The AMA is physicians’ powerful ally on patient care,” Klassen says. “We represent physicians and the patients they care for with a unified voice to all key players in healthcare.”
The AMA strives to remove obstacles that interfere with patient care and drives the future of medicine by reimagining medical education, training, and lifelong learning. It promotes innovation to tackle the biggest challenges in healthcare and improves the health of the nation by leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and health crises, all while eliminating health inequities.
Klassen’s role as the organization’s vice president of compensation and benefits revolves around the talented AMA employees working to achieve those goals. Bringing to bear her decades of experience within the human resources function, Klassen continues to enhance the employee experience by nimbly adapting to internal and external challenges alike. Her efforts and collaboration to reimagine policies and recommend new programs to aid employees in the face of ever-changing circumstances not only benefit individual workers but also allow the AMA to progress its critical agenda.
Klassen’s preparation for her current position began at railcar leasing company General American Transportation Corporation (GATX), where she transitioned from a role in accounting to one in payroll and external reporting soon after joining. It took moving into a compensation position at GATX, however, for Klassen fully to recognize that her career was on the right track.
“Compensation was where I felt at home,” Klassen says. “It was the best of both worlds: I was still doing analysis, but at the same time, I got to focus on people.”
Following a role managing GATX’s corporate HR, Klassen spent several years overseeing expatriate compensation and benefits at advertising agency Leo Burnett. She then gained further benefits experience at Sandoz Agro before leading compensation and benefits at data analytics company Information Resources Inc.
In each position, Klassen sought out opportunities to make improvements, whether for one individual or an entire class of employees. She discovered in the AMA a kindred mission: the organization’s goal to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health aligns with her own commitment to helping employees thrive.
As an AMA VP, Klassen applies her extensive HR knowledge to expand benefits offerings and align compensation practices and programs across operating groups, all in collaboration with her team members. On top of her standard duties, the year 2020 saw her contending with the unique issues and questions that arose as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
“What made 2020 challenging was both the phenomenal amount of change and the need for a rapid, yet thoughtful response. At the AMA, we developed that response through a lot of collaboration and a lot of research. It truly took a village for us to work through how to support our employees during COVID,” Klassen reflects.
“Employee welfare is our number one priority. We are very science-based at the AMA, so it’s all about when the science says that it’s safe to return to the office.”
Klassen was a member of a cross-functional team that researched and created a standard of conduct for COVID-19 policy to protect employees during the pandemic. “We were able to develop an umbrella policy that sits on top of the regular policy manual,” she elaborates, adding that this policy was consistent with local requirements for a phased, volunteer-based re-opening of their office. In addition, guidelines were developed and communicated for most AMA employees to work from home while also ensuring the safety of essential employees.
For essential employees who needed to access the office, Klassen advocated for a temporary bonus as well as assistance with commuting costs, such as parking reimbursement for employees driving to the office and an Uber partnership to cover rideshare fees for employees who formerly relied on public transportation to get to and from work. Parking assistance continues to be provided to the essential workers, as well as the small number of employees who voluntarily returned to work in-office later in the year.
Klassen and her team also investigated strategies for making remote work more comfortable and effective. To this end, the AMA modified its pay practices so that employees were able to take paid time off to care for loved ones diagnosed with COVID and continued its Caregiver Leave policy that provides paid leave to care for loved ones for other reasons.
Klassen’s team also increased the number of vacation days employees could sell to offset 2021 benefit premiums and increased the maximum rollover for unused vacation days into 2021. In addition, the organization pivoted to offering virtual wellness sessions and compiled a multitude of resources on its employee website, tackling topics from at-home childcare issues to mental well-being.
“We worked with some of our existing providers and explored new partnerships so that we could offer resources and outlets to help employees cope with their stress and anxiety and family needs,” Klassen says. She emphasizes that partnerships with caregiver platform Care.com and with NAMI Chicago, a local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, created a wider range of options crucial to reaching and engaging with employees in need.
These resources became even more important as racial injustices across the United States compounded employees’ COVID-related stressors. AMA plans to continue partnering with NAMI Chicago in 2021 and researching additional resources to support employees.
“Employee welfare is our number one priority,” Klassen emphasizes. “We are very science-based at the AMA, so it’s all about when the science says that it’s safe to return to the office.”
In the meantime, Klassen will concentrate on rolling out a more robust employee assistance program to AMA workers. As she does so, she’ll keep an eye on both the research and its employee implications, looking as ever for ways to improve the lives of the employees endeavoring to make the country a healthier place.
Alliant congratulates Mary Klassen and the AMA team for the well-deserved recognition of making a difference across their organization. Alliant’s experience, scale, and full range of services, including our proprietary Sagewell healthcare life and disability benefits trust, can help make a difference to your organization and its employees.