Tanner Brunsdale knows firsthand the importance of a strong benefits package to employees and their families. Though he was already working in HR when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his mid-twenties, he felt lost. Brunsdale didn’t know who to call, where to go, or how to access the care he so desperately needed. He eventually beat the cancer and now has a favorable prognosis, but the experience changed him, deepening his commitment to supporting every employee in every situation.
Now Lyft’s senior manager of benefits and mobility, Brunsdale spoke with AHL about what it means for the transportation network to build a flexible workforce, do DEI well, and provide the benefits that matter most.
In March of this year, Lyft announced it would become a fully flexible workplace. What has the response been?
The majority of our employees can now choose where they live and where they work. The response has been really strong, but we’re also seeing that there are inherent challenges in transitioning to a new way of working. Those are the times we’re in. Needs and expectations are changing.
What does that mean for someone in a role like yours?
It means that pay is no longer the only factor. People want to be paid well, and they want to have a benefits package that supports their families. They want to be somewhere where they can be their true selves and have their needs met. It’s not all about pay and a fancy office and other perks that might be trendy.
Are there challenges beyond identifying and meeting changing expectations?
The main challenges are around location. We have to find ways to support employees who might now choose to live in rural areas. They still need to have access to high-quality healthcare and everything else they need.
How can you address this?
I think virtual options and telemedicine will play a big role. We’re actively identifying the most innovative companies we can track so we can find the right partners.
You mentioned taking care of employees. How did you first get passionate about working in this space?
My mom was a nurse, and she always showed me her passion for helping others and caring for them, which led me into HR and benefits. I worked as a recruiting coordinator for a healthcare company, then as a benefits coordinator at the New York Public Library. That’s where I fell in love with the field, seeing the impact this work can have.
And I understand you experienced that personally?
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I got through it and have been in remission for twelve years, but it was hard to coordinate my own benefits and care even though I worked in the industry. It made me want to be that person employees can get support from if they are ever in a similar situation—in those scary moments.
What was it about some of those early experiences that made you fall in love with this work?
Benefits is that spot where your whole job is to provide support and make sure employees have the resources they need. You have to see employees as people. You have to figure out what that person needs to be a great employee and want to work in a particular culture.
How did that play out before you joined Lyft?
I had a couple of foundational experiences. I was working for US Airways and was able to help roll out their very first corporate wellness program. Then when we merged with American Airlines, I was part of the team that harmonized all the benefit plans. That took me to Dallas, where I launched a new benefits website and implemented a video telemedicine program and an expert second opinion program. Along the way, I got involved in the Pride employee resource group. When my husband’s job took us to San Francisco, I worked for GoPro and a late-stage start-up called Samsara, where I built out people operations and benefits as their first benefits hire. That really set the stage for my experience at Lyft.
You came to the organization in the middle of the pandemic and the Great Resignation. How did that impact you and your teams?
It showed the need for strong mental health support. We now work with Modern Health to offer free therapy, coaching, and mindfulness resources. And it’s not just for our employees. It’s for their families too.
What else are you doing that sets your plans and programs apart?
We want to meet the needs of our employees, and also let them have choice. High caring is our mantra. We focus on the benefits that matter most. We have a really strong fertility program that offers four full cycles. We offer support for employees who want to adopt or use a surrogate. We have rich gender affirmation benefits that cover associated cosmetic services, and our founders are supportive of women’s rights to healthcare and equal access. We’ve recently added travel benefits to our medical plan if people need to travel to receive in-network abortion care.
Lyft is growing. What issues are you watching most carefully?
We’re always thinking of how to adapt as we move into this flexible workforce model. We’re all used to doing open-enrollment events and in-person health fairs and on-site flu shots. We can’t do all those things exactly the same way anymore. We have to communicate well and add new options.
What benefits are especially important to LGBTQ+ employees and diverse communities?
We want to help people live their true and authentic lives. Early in my career, I hid who I was. When I came out as gay, it changed how I interacted with coworkers and how comfortable I was at work. Creating an environment where people are comfortable is hugely important. We have all of the benefits I already mentioned that contribute to this, and we also have family forming benefits that support alternative options to parenthood. There are inclusive leave policies. Lyft offers eighteen weeks of parental leave for all new parents.
What’s next in 2022 and beyond?
I think we’re going to see more caregiver support as people take care of elderly parents. I love that this field has to stay evolving and innovative. There’s always new technology and new ways of supporting people.
Are you still loving the work that you do?
I am. There are moments along the way that remind me how great it is. People sometimes come to me and show me sonogram images or baby photos and say that the benefits we put into place helped them have a family. Or they share how grateful they are for mental health therapy or easy access to healthcare. These things are changing people’s lives, and that makes it all worthwhile.