For Your Benefit

It’s Time to Get Political

By Jennifer Benz | Benefits Beat

I

n November, I spent a long weekend before the midterm election supporting my brother-in-law’s campaign for a state Assembly seat in rural Wisconsin.

We traveled to several campaign offices and spent the days knocking on doors in small towns. Approaching strangers’ houses to ask them about their political affiliations or their plans to vote can be an uncomfortable experience at first. But it quickly becomes energizing as you encounter incredibly interesting people and witness their reactions.

For me, being part of the boots-on-the-ground effort to motivate voters was deeply inspiring, and it renewed my appreciation for the tireless work that happens outside the cable news cycle.

I was struck by the varied examples of people stepping up and stepping into an opportunity to do something for their community. Whether actually running for office, as my brother-in-law did, or staffing a field office, managing a campaign, hosting an event or attending a town hall meeting, there are countless ways to engage in local issues. And it got me thinking about all the other ways I — and our industry — could be adding to important local and national dialogues.

HR Leaders know all about balancing competing interests, creating equal opportunities and managing complex health and financial programs.
Given the big challenges facing our country, I can think of no group more qualified or capable of influencing our political climate than HR and benefits leaders, who all have expertise in many of the areas being debated at the national level. HR leaders know all about balancing competing interests, creating equal opportunities and managing complex health and financial programs.

We know how to create policies and programs that can scale. We also know that a solid safety net benefits not only those who need it but also the community around them.

Katherine Eyster, deputy director of workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, agrees that HR leaders have valuable insights: “HR professionals have a key role to play in sharing their experiences with policymakers and advocates to ensure that legislation is thoughtfully and effectively designed with real companies and workers in mind.” Through her organization’s work, more than 75 companies and business leaders recently endorsed the need for a strong national paid family and medical leave policy.

“For too long the false narrative has endured that what is good for workers is bad for business, when evidence shows time and again that when workers thrive, businesses and the economy grow,” she said.

Adding our voices to the national debate is an idea gaining momentum among HR leaders. Rosemarie Day, founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies, has a forthcoming book about engaging in politics to protect access to health care. In it, she presents a “continuum of involvement” that shows the various ways to get involved.

She shares ways you can speak as a private citizen or spokesperson for your organization. The first step is getting (and staying) informed, followed by sharing information, supporting a cause, speaking up, showing up (at events, rallies and more), organizing people and even running for office.

“As a society, we need safeguards and safety nets,” she said. “Benefits managers can represent the human side of capitalism, and they know the limitations of what private companies can do and the gaps that are very critical for the government to fill.”

Renee Lutzen, director of healthcare product management at UMB Healthcare Services (one of our clients), is a member of the Employers Council for Flexible Compensation. In that capacity, she has been able to visit legislators and regulators and educate them about the issues we face every day.

“Legislative offices are interested in and very receptive to hearing real stories from real people — those of us who are working in the industry of health care, HR and benefits administration. We’re not just sitting at a desk crunching numbers against theoretical concepts. We have real-life examples we can share on how current health care policies are impacting individuals along with insights on the potential effects proposed policies will have,” she said.

This year, I’m vowing to get more involved and helping others do the same. As for my brother-in-law, he lost by a tiny margin, but I have no doubt he’ll have a fantastic career in public life. His efforts and the integrity and vision that guided his campaign inspired thousands of people in his district and beyond. I hope our efforts will do the same.


Jennifer Benz, is CEO and founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based employee benefits communications agency. She was honored as one of Workforce’s Game Changers in 2013. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.