Janet Monaco speaks the way you hope your own benefits specialist would. Take the tone with which the director of benefits at The George Washington University (GW) discusses the people she serves, the team around her, and her goals for employees—regardless of where they are in their employment journey. Immediately, you sense the care and consideration she puts into her role.
It’s not an attitude that can be feigned, and certainly not one that can be maintained by someone without vast experience in the benefits space. But in Monaco’s case, her goals and motivations seem free of any career baggage or cynicism that might accumulate over a couple decades. Her servant leadership has only become more conscious and attuned.
“Our goal here is to always lead with care for our faculty and staff, our community, and also ourselves,” Monaco says. “We’re here to support our faculty and staff from their first day through retirement, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously.”
“We’re here to support our faculty and staff from their first day through retirement, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously.”Janet Monaco
As Monaco has progressed in her career, so has the role that benefits and well-being play in employee lives, increasing exponentially in its scope and definition. The director has helped modernize GW’s benefits structure and meet the evolving needs of its wide constituents. And she’s doing it with a full heart.
The director came to GW in 2008 after significant work in the corporate space. Benefits, Monaco says, wasn’t even on her radar until her first boss took a chance on her. The director of benefits credits her role model’s patience, investment, and interest in Monaco’s development as pivotal in enabling her to gain industry experience.
While her first mentor provided an education in benefits, her second demonstrated servant leadership in action. “I can hear her over and over again,” Monaco says, laughing. “I would ask her something and her response would literally be, ‘Servant leader! I’m here to help you.’ But she meant it. She always said her goal was to grow her replacement, and that has always stuck with me.”
It’s imperative to recognize that Monaco’s own development and compassion is undergirded by tangible accomplishments. Her wide spectrum of talent extends to mergers, sell-offs, multiple request-for-proposal projects, an IPO, and benefits implementations galore. In coming to GW, Monaco saw the opportunity to bring some of the for-profit mindset to the higher-education space. The first move was an obvious one.
“One of the first things we needed to do was to get away from doing our enrollment on paper,” the director explains. “We needed to focus on modernizing enrollment and the ways in which we communicated for the betterment of our faculty and staff’s experience and engagement with the benefit program.”
The team continually focuses on improving access, outreach, and education for GW faculty and staff, including magazine-style communications that incorporate real-life scenarios of benefit applications and suggestions.
“We don’t want to add a benefit just to have a new link on our website. We want to fill a need or a gap in our program that we’ve heard from our community.”Janet Monaco
Whether they’re working with a first-time employee focused on saving money, more senior employees trying to understand family benefits, or the intricacies of short-term disability, Monaco says it’s her team’s job to help employees understand how their employer can serve them. And, just as importantly, that they’re there to guide employees through the process.
The benefits space has never seen more legislative overhaul than it has during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Monaco attests to the speed at which her organization has had to move to accommodate changes made to retirement, health, and welfare plans. And her team has worked to make new options available for GW to weather the isolation of the COVID era.
The benefits team launched a partnership with mediation and mindfulness app Headspace in April 2020, just a few short weeks into the pandemic. The positive feedback led to adding Talkspace online therapy to the employee assistance program.
“We don’t want to add a benefit just to have a new link on our website,” Monaco explains. “We want to fill a need or a gap in our program that we’ve heard from our community.”
“Community” is a word Monaco says often. Her team’s goal is to create a community of well-being, most visibly seen through the GWell brand. This helps connect users with the benefit, health, and well-being choices right for them. And Monaco knows there is no better way to understand the needs of her constituents than to build relationships with those she serves.
The benefits team continues its support through four focus areas: providing a competitive benefits program, enhancing the participant experience, building the aforementioned community of well-being, and maintaining compliance.
And while Monaco’s team continues to develop new capabilities, the director places a high priority on her people taking the time they need to be happy and healthy. “I think, as managers, it’s important that we encourage our teams to step away,” Monaco says. “Especially given the work/life changes we’ve all experienced, it’s so important for people to be able to recharge and take part in self-care that helps you refocus and come back energized.”
Monaco knows that serving her constituents starts with serving her team.
UnitedHealthcare offers a comprehensive array of consumer-oriented health benefit plans and services nationwide for large national employers, public sector employers, mid-sized employers, small businesses, and individuals. More than 26.5 million Americans rely on UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual through its fully insured and self-funded medical plans.