City of Kansas City, Missouri: Optimas Gold Winner for Benefits

By Sarah Sipek

Nov. 30, 2014

Kansas City prides itself on more than just its beloved Royals, which made it to the 2014 World Series after a 29-year drought. It’s also a community that embraces differences and draws on the diversity of the community to make the city great.Kansas City Optimas Dec 2014

In the spirit of that ideal, the Kansas City, Missouri, municipal government strives to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce reflective of the community it serves. Given the nature of the nation’s changing demographics, this means making the effort to attract and retain those employees who self-identify as gay or transgender.

Optimas logo 2014Traditionally, companies compete for talent by offering incentives such as high compensation, stock options and cash bonuses. The private sector typically has access to more resources, which makes it difficult for those in the public sector to compete.

Kansas City countered by creating a benefits program attractive to any employee in a committed relationship, regardless of sexual orientation.

To avoid creating a morality or equal-rights issue that would invite resistance from gay-rights opponents, the government packaged its initiative as a way to ensure benefits to as many eligible employees and their dependents as feasible.

Health, medical and dental benefits have been offered to domestic partners since 2004, and have since expanded to include sick leave, funeral leave, fire pension benefits and death benefits.

While it’s difficult to record the measurable results of this initiative, Gary O’Bannon, Kansas City’s director of human resources, anticipates that creating a workplace climate that is supportive of all employee relationships has the potential to decrease employee anxiety and decrease conflict between work and personal life.

“One of the positive outcomes from receiving national recognition is the opportunity to share program details with other agencies looking to develop inclusive initiatives that positively impact human capital management as well as their community,” O’Bannon said.

For its program that uses employee benefits to facilitate workplace diversity, the city of Kansas City is the 2014 Optimas Award winner for Benefits.

Sarah Sipek is a Workforce associate editor.

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