Faces of HR

HR Is Not a Spectator Sport

For many, the paths employees walk in an organization often seem undirected. The sales representatives may watch a company grow, but they are not guiding it outside of their department. The same could be said of many. But benefits experts and HR professionals have a very different role: to grip an organization’s many moving parts and help move it forward, shaping it along the way. Today’s guest certainly feels that way.

Meet Misty Guinn, Director of Customer Advocacy at Benefitfocus.

What’s your HR superpower?

Oh gosh, there’s like no cupcake to this, you just come straight out of the gate with “what’s your HR superpower?”

Ha! It’s supposed to be an icebreaker.

You can’t spell “hero” without “HR,” right? One of my superpowers would be my ability to always have a voice and an opinion that I want to represent. I always like to be a voice and not an echo. I would say with that, my superpower is the ability to tell a story because I’m a huge data nerd, and I use the data to help tell the story. But I think things within HR and benefits historically have been very black and white and kind of boring to some extent. Part of my superpower has always been to bring the human-centric philosophy to the strategies we’re doing and to be that master storyteller to get people connected and engaged with what we’re trying to do.

There is a lot of power in a story. It’s our oldest method of delivering information, and it’s still a valid one. What’s your approach to storytelling?

My approach to storytelling is making it personal. It’s about finding the why because we know our strategies. We can say benefits are important or communication is important. But tying that to real-life examples people can connect with, internally and emotionally, is vital. I always joke that I’m not the “sit around and sing kumbaya” person, but I think tying the emotional aspect to strategies, plan designs, and the reasons we should be looking at engaging our employees and shifting to healthcare consumers starts with connecting with people. Next is supporting the story with data. I always try and find data points to bring those people who maybe are not as in touch with their emotional side along by having the data points to support it.

I could see the value of that in benefits. It can be a very dense thing. When I had my first experience with corporate benefits, I had to attend the information session three times before I even began to understand what was going on. They are complicated, and they have their own language. That’s why making that new information live with a story is critical. Now, I’m curious about when you said you were not a kumbaya person?

Yeah, I’m not the kind to sit around and sing kumbaya and do that emotional side of things. But I’ve found through storytelling that I can thrive with bringing emotion and empathy. The last 18 months have made us all talk about how you rebuild psychological safety and trust with employees. How can we truly connect and speak with them where they’re at in their life, whether it be enrolling in benefits or experiencing a life milestone or something unexpected like a pandemic hitting?

Having the skills to build resiliency in people and build that foundation has been a huge part of me—having that devotion to helping people improve their total well-being.

How did you decide this is what you wanted to do?

It’s always a great story for people. I was a pre-med in college and was going to do my doctorate in physical therapy. Throughout some of those rounds, I quickly realized I wanted to focus on preventive health rather than rehabilitative. I discovered my passion for being more proactive and preventive with people’s total well-being. I’ve always wanted to help people improve their lifestyle through the whole person approach, or holistic approach.

I originally got into corporate wellness and leadership development. I stumbled into benefits in HR but in the perfect arranged marriage. I’m someone who’s passionate about wellness, well-being, and development all now kind of coming together with benefits because we always want those to be working hand in hand.

When it becomes one person, it’s very easy to work hand in hand with that. It was that journey throughout corporate wellness and leadership development, and some other aspects, that then brought me to benefits and HR.

I’ve always wanted to also make a huge impact. And I believe there are 157 million people covered under employer-sponsored health plans. When you look at the capacity that employers and people within benefits have to really change the way people are interacting with the healthcare system and their benefits, that’s a very large captive audience to try and become more of a strategic partner.

Not too long ago, benefits and HR tended to be a transactional participant; it was a transactional experience. Us as leaders in our organizations were kind of seen as the black-and-white department. But now, throughout this paradigm shift and the reinforcement of well-being in a pandemic, we have that strategic seat at the table that we always should have had and are really coming into our own with that.

 

It’s one of those few roles that improved during the pandemic. And it’s not really a surprise. The research was out there for a long time about the value of considering the well-being of your employees and not just their health but also their mental health, whether they feel valued or not, whether they feel psychologically safe, and whether they belong. HR has always been the access point to that part of the company. Many organizations suddenly found themselves in a situation in which they really had to consider their people for the first time ever. All along, there was a champion or group of champions in their organization who were saying that. Wouldn’t it have been gracious of them not to have said “I told you so” at that moment?

We might have done the “I told you so” thing but behind closed doors. People in HR and benefits specifically have been lifting up the importance of serving the whole person, not just seeing people as their professional LinkedIn profiles walking around in your hallways but also seeing they are more. Maybe one of them is a dad who’s running out to coach his son’s soccer team or a daughter who’s caring for her aging mother at home.

Those stories behind the people who are working the 9 to 5 or sitting at a desk in your office buildings are what we’ve been trying to support. I say, we have that delicate balance of meeting a bottom-line objective and still improving our employees’ health and productivity in serving their families. That blend has always been something we’ve been lifting up. I always say I practice benefits because I feel like to truly become an expert, they’re going to change things on you, and they’re going to throw something out there at you. I’ve always been driven by an appetite for continuous learning and growth and opportunity to shape a place for people to be found and not really lost in. And so that mission to always help others I think is just a natural fit within HR and benefits. This is not a spectator sport at all.