Elizabeth Chappelear fell into benefits.
“I was a single mother who needed stability,” she says. “It was a necessity to provide consistency and regular hours that would work for childcare. I worked nighttime hours at a utility company in their call center, but I was applying for jobs within the company that would get me on a Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule.”
The benefits department didn’t have much turnover, but two positions opened when their occupants retired. “There were over 120 applicants,” Chappelear says, “but I got one of them. I was thinking it would be short-term, but I was taken under the mentorship of a woman who encouraged me, and I just stuck with it.”
Today, Chappelear acts as the senior director of benefits at Springfield, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, a position she has held for almost five years. She oversees the company’s health and welfare plans for just over one hundred thousand team members, not including dependents and spouses. “It keeps me pretty busy,” she says, laughing.
“Our mission is to become the employer of choice,” she says. “From a benefits perspective, that means providing a package that attracts and retains our team members. If that helps them to focus on doing their job to produce food and not worry about benefits, then I’ve done my job. If we can continue to enhance the offerings and make our team members’ lives simpler and better, we’re helping Tyson’s mission.”
Dennis Quist, senior advisor at Health Strategy LLC says, “Elizabeth is a true partner who always looks for the best outcomes, not only for Tyson but for Tyson’s employees. She strives to look at everything she can and to be as informed as possible so she can make the best decisions.”
One benefits enhancement will roll out at the first of the year. “We will be offering eight weeks of paid parental leave for the primary or birthing parent, and two weeks of secondary leave for the secondary or non-birthing parent” Chappelear says. “Tyson will be leading poultry companies in this particular area of benefit offerings.”
With paid parental leave four years in the making, she says, “To be able to cross that off the list is monumental.”
Knowing her work positively impacts employees tops the list of what Chappelear likes best about her job. “You don’t go into benefits for the fun of it,” she says. “Some days, it’s as simple as helping a team member understand their benefits, while other days, it’s the gratification of working hard to see new benefits come to fruition, putting them into place, and knowing someone will benefit from it.
“I know not every team member will use all our benefits,” she continues, “but when they do need them, it is a wonderful feeling helping them navigate the multitude offerings Tyson provides. I interact with team members from all walks of life, and sometimes I talk to them at the happiest moment in their life or the saddest. We are literally there for every life phase, and it can be extremely rewarding.”
“We are proud to support and partner with leaders like Elizabeth who champion health equity and whole-person care,” says Cal Kellogg, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “She is continuously focused on making sure that team members and their families become engaged in their own healthcare.”
Things were anything but simple during the pandemic. Tyson, designated an essential employer as a food producer, did not shut down. “Our company had to be nimble and agile,” Chappelear says. “We were tapping into [ideas about] how to keep operations running, and how to keep our team members healthy and at work. We had to get creative. What could we provide for coverage that was not being mandated by the government? Could we enhance short-term disability? What could we do for COVID testing? There are no handbooks for pandemics.”
Just as Chappelear remains passionate about benefits, so is she committed to benefiting her community. She serves as chairman at Interform, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering “greater levels of creativity and provid[ing] the right education and resources needed to support our designers and artists,” according to its website. “We uplift and center the creative works of those who are underrepresented by using our platform to encourage others to do the same.”
“I came across Interform through Tyson,” Chappelear says. “They sent out a list of organizations that needed assistance, and Interform immediately caught my attention. My daughter is deeply involved with the arts. I immediately signed up. Interform’s mission is very much a mirror of what I do: our board gives artists representing a cross-section of society a voice and a platform—a benefit, if you will.”
Chappelear also leads monthly socializing pack hikes on behalf of the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, which is dedicated to saving the lives of cats and dogs and finding them nurturing homes.
Throughout her career, Chappelear has been guided by mentors. The most valuable advice she received was to ask questions. “I was taught early on to not be fearful of asking questions, even if it doesn’t pertain to my job. It can come full circle. Asking questions has built my confidence and empowered me. Once you’ve got that knowledge, you can do anything.”
While Chappelear fell, as she says, into benefits, she knows firsthand about the transformative impact they can have. “I’ve been a single mother from the day my daughter was born,” she says. “I put myself through school, worked my way up the ladder, and I’ve made it to where I’m at. You can do anything you put your mind to utilizing the same benefits that our team members use, whether it’s tuition reimbursement or childcare assistance. That’s why I’m so passionate about my work, because I’ve been the same end-user of those benefits.”