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Johnson brings people skills to benefits position at Ole Miss

Oxford — Pam Johnson deals with benefits every day in the human resources department at the University of Mississippi. She finds pleasure in work that some people may see as tedious and uninteresting. That’s because Johnson has a warm personality and sees her line of work as a way of helping others.

“People think I’m crazy because I like benefits so much,” she says. “It’s rewarding because it’s helping people. I see it most when they have an issue or problem. I like to see them leave with a smile on their faces. In some cases I can make a difference and relieve pressure or stress.”

Johnson, 36, started working in HR at Ole Miss as a benefits analyst eight years ago. Her titles changed to HR generalist, HR generalist senior and most recently to manager of benefits and compensation. Now a manager responsible for other staff members, she will have less face-to-face interaction with employees but will still be involved in the work she likes.

She has an easy answer for why she likes working with benefits. “The people. There’s a lot of one on one interaction and I’m very people oriented,” she said. “While assisting employees with benefits we form relationships, some pretty close.”

Johnson also enjoys the diversity of the university setting where there are employees and students from all parts of the world. “We get a taste of foreign lands because employees tell stories while we’re assisting them,” she said. “We also see employees at all levels and I like that.”

Johnson was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and lived in several states as the family moved with her dad’s employment. That brought them to Oxford in 1985 where Johnson graduated from high school. She began working part time at the university as a student and completed a degree in business administration after becoming a full-time employee. She says the availability of taking employer-paid classes is one of the great benefits provided employees there.

She has taken some graduate classes but for now has her hands full with work and family responsibilities. Husband Michael works with a local company and 13-year-old son, Cameron, is a student busy with lots of activities. They attend all the Ole Miss sports events together — “bleeding red and blue” — and Johnson loves to read when she’s not working.
“We want to stay in Oxford and retire here,” she said. “We love it. It grows on you.”

But retirement is many years away and in the meantime Johnson wants to continue learning different areas of human resources. She praises HR director Clay Jones for the opportunities he’s offered her. “I’ve now assumed a role in compensation as well as benefits and I want to keep learning and stay with the department,” she said.

In her years there, she’s had some “off the wall situations” with insurance due to the many interesting individuals at the university. Now that she’s in a supervisory position she will miss the level of personal interaction she’s had in the past.

Some of the decrease in interaction is due to the Internet, although there are still quite a few employees without access to computers. “Now employees can find a lot of information online and people are doing that more,” Johnson said. “They can go through an orientation of benefits online before signing up, but they still have to meet the deadline.”

The electronic age has pushed the world of human resources closer to a paperless field, but Johnson thinks that time has not yet come. She hopes to see more changes toward making health insurance more affordable and with more coverage. The federal Health Information Patient Privacy Act (HIPPA) is the biggest change she’s observed.

“It didn’t affect us as much as it did others because we don’t maintain medical records,” she said, “but, before HIPPA we could sit down and go over a medical bill with an employee and we can no longer do that.”

Johnson says she constantly stays abreast of changes in benefits and compensation with a lot of reading and website studying. She also attends workshops and seminars periodically, especially those involving the state’s healthcare plan.

Because most people are intimidated by benefits, it can be difficult hiring employees. “We get a lot of applicants and once they get in, they usually like it,” Johnson said. “It’s not that difficult. You just have to read to understand it and as you explain it they become more comfortable.”

She sits down one on one with new employees to train them in benefits. “Benefits are an area where we have to be very careful in explanations to employees because a lot are scared by benefits,” she said.

In her new position, Pam Johnson is working a lot with Ole Miss employees getting ready to retire and she enjoys that.

“That’s a wonderful part of what I do,” she said. “They come in all excited and I get to share that with them.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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