When Lisa Schwartzenburg was selected as director of benefits and wellness at Gonzaga University in 2014, she was presented with the university’s initial benefits package—she called it the Fab Five: medical, life, dental, vision, disability. “And that was it,” says the recently promoted AVP of Human Resources Operations.
Today? The Fab Five is only the beginning of an All-Star lineup. “I was asked to develop a benefits package that better embodied our mission statement. In the Jesuit community (Gonzaga is one of twenty-seven Jesuit colleges and universities in the US), it’s called cura personalis. It means ‘to care for the whole person.’ And so, I saw it as my and my team’s job to help solidify Gonzaga as a great employer who cares for that whole person.”
Creating a Best-In-Class Journey
One of the most significant evolutions Schwartzenburg has undertaken is the creation of benefit journeys (“GU Journeys” at Gonzaga) when it comes to the marketing and education around internal benefits and wellness plans. The point is to meet people where they are in their lives. Those early in their careers will get more education about copays, deductibles, and retirement plans.
Those nearing their retirement years will want more help and education with Medicare, retirement distributions, and other end-of-career transitions.
“This really turns the concept of employees having to figure out how to use a benefit on its head,” Schwartzenburg explains. “People often have benefits that they don’t even know about. I want you to get the most out of these options, but I can’t expect you to if you don’t know what you have. So, we’ve done the work for them, and it’s made such a difference.”
Taking a step back, Schwartzenburg underscores the importance of internal marketing when it comes to the benefits and wellness space. She knows marketing may sound strange when it comes to internal clients, but if employees aren’t reminded of the range of available benefits, they are far less likely to use the services.
“We have incredible utilization at Gonzaga, because we’ve broken apart the benefits and really demonstrated how they apply to each person at this time in their life,” Schwartzenburg says. “Just imagine your own benefits and wellness plans. How much do you really know about them?”
“Upon arriving at Gonzaga University, I was impressed by the benefit offering,” says Ray Kliewer, the university’s vice president for human resources. “As I have assimilated to the institution, I realized that the robust health and wellness offerings are part of HR living out our commitment to the care of employees in the Gonzaga community.
“Lisa has developed a layered approach to health and wellness that cares for faculty and staff in every stage of life,” Kliewer continues. “She has developed a portfolio of offerings that are rare for an institution of our size. I view this as a significant differentiator in competing for and retaining talent at Gonzaga.”
Why Go So Hard?
Lisa Schwartzenburg hasn’t just drawn ideas from other competing universities; she’s drawn from the best in business to create programs and policies to distinguish the university.
“I will look at companies like Amazon or Starbucks or Boeing and see what they are doing,” the director says, “and ask myself, ‘Can I bring that here?’”
Schwartzenburg says Gonzaga’s benefits and wellness package is a strong differentiator for the university when attracting and retaining high-quality talent who are good fits for her institution. She’s not just trying to grab the best talent from higher ed, either. She wants the best and the brightest from hospitals, corporate America, and other professional fields. She’s her own best example. Schwartzenburg wasn’t a benefits guru by design. Her college degree is in elementary education.
Ensuring top-tier benefits requires the cultivation of wholehearted vendor partnerships. Schwartzenburg points to Gonzaga’s nine-year relationship with mental healthcare provider CuraLinc and financial partner TIAA as particularly deep-rooted partnerships that created long-term benefits for the Gonzaga community.
For Schwartzenburg, it’s even more than that. Building a benefits and wellness package that is holistic and in concert with fantastic vendors and partners provides an incredible range of services for Gonzaga employees. The innovation, the push, and the evolution are the director’s real mission.
“I am happiest when I am serving other people, whether it’s in my professional or personal life,” Schwartzenburg admits. “That’s what motivates me, and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
That mission includes the director’s team. Schwartzenburg’s southern roots shine through, as she stops mid-sentence at least three times to call out the fact that she’s not doing all of this alone.
“Behind every leader is a successful team,” she says. “Once you build something this comprehensive, it takes a team of amazing people to run it. I’m so lucky to have that.”
Welcome to the Fam
Prior to the pandemic, Lisa Schwartzenburg had made five trips to China, taking teams over to work with orphanages and people with disabilities as part of her commitment to her faith. The second time she was there, she met Kai, a newborn orphan, who stole her heart.
The executive’s two older children were adults already, but that didn’t stop Schwartzenburg and her husband Lee from going through the adoption process to bring Kai home in 2017.
“I’m not just ready to sit on the couch yet,” this benefits leader says, laughing. Kai, now eight, is doing great, and Schwartzenburg is likely cooking up some Cajun cuisine for him to try at this very moment.
Premera Blue Cross, a not-for-profit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., is a leading health plan in the Pacific Northwest, providing comprehensive health benefits and tailored services to more than 2.75 million people, from individuals to Fortune 100 companies. Learn more by visiting Premera.com.
CuraLinc Healthcare marries technology and personalized advocacy to engage, empower and support participants through Employee and Student Assistance Programs that have a measurable impact on wellbeing, engagement, productivity, and emotional fitness. We are proud to partner with Lisa Schwartzenburg and congratulate her efforts to bring innovative benefits to Gonzaga University.