Ann B. Prenatt, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources
Managing the Human Assets of the University

by Terri McClain

In human resources management, there is no escaping the bottom line: Benefits cost money. But Ann Prenatt, vice chancellor for human resources, liberally tempers this understanding with compassion and enthusiasm. Her concern for the University's faculty and staff goes beyond helping employees solve work-related problems—although that is, of course, a strong element of the job—to providing resources for tackling a variety of lifestyle issues. After all, personal matters such as child and elder care, financial and health issues, all impact the workplace.

Yet when Prenatt talks about these issues, she makes it clear that the workplace is not her primary concern. Her concern is for the people who make up the Washington University community.

"When we sit down to speak to an employee or a supervisor, there is rarely a single focus," Prenatt says. "Decisions about how to manage performance-related situations may have important benefit implications for the employee. The Family and Medical Leave Act may need to be followed, or the issue may impact an individual's ability to retire or to apply for long-term disability. So in the employee relations area, we look at situations from a broad-based perspective."

Prenatt joined Washington University in 1995 as director of employee relations, then became executive director of human resources in 2000 before being named a vice chancellor, effective July 1, 2003. Her understanding of the complexities of the institution and her strong grasp of the legal and financial issues involved—including compliance with federal and state regulations—have made her very responsive to the needs of the University community.

"Our focus tends to be in four areas," she says. "Those are service, the people, the quality of the programs that we have, and the cost-effectiveness of those programs. This coming year we are looking more at how we might expand wellness programs and initiatives—what we might be able to do through our benefits programs to encourage people to have healthier lifestyles. Working with our health insurance carriers, we will continue to investigate possibilities for structuring benefits, and perhaps premiums, in ways that encourage employees to take preventive health measures. In general we're always looking to improve our benefits but do it in a cost-effective way, making sure they're more efficient.

"And, of course, we are always looking for ways to effectively recognize the contributions of our faculty and staff members," she adds.

That's not always easy in the University's decentralized environment. One way the University acknowledges service is through Staff Day honors such as the Gloria W. White Award for exceptional contributions to the University, named for the late vice chancellor.

'There are a number of local programs throughout the University designed to recognize the contributions of staff members. Staff Day is just one of the ways used to thank those at the Hilltop and West campuses, who work very hard in support of the University's mission," says Prenatt, who became involved in planning the annual event almost immediately after joining the University. "We generally have about 1,200 people for the lunch buffet in Bowles Plaza. It's a great day."

Prenatt also oversees the University's annual United Way fund-raising campaign. Human Resources has long been involved in data gathering, pledge card distribution, and other behind-the-scenes aspects of the campaign, but under Prenatt's leadership, the office has taken a more active role in managing the campaign, substantially increasing both the goal and the ability to meet—and exceed—that goal. The 2002 campaign, with a goal of $450,000, raised nearly $500,000.

During her tenure, the Office of Human Resources has implemented a variety of programs designed to help University employees with myriad concerns, both personal and work-related. In addition to offering resource and referral programs for needs such as child and elder care, the Human Resources Web site links employees to a comprehensive list of vendors who offer faculty and staff discounts on services ranging from travel to home improvement. An agreement with YouDecide.com provides employees with access to discounts on insurance and financial planning.

In keeping with the University's mission, tuition reimbursement for full-time faculty and staff has been increased to 100 percent for undergraduate courses, up from 50 percent, and the dependent-child undergraduate tuition plan has been extended to cover part-time faculty and staff. The University also recently launched a college tuition savings program.

But Prenatt is perhaps most proud of implementing the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which seeks to help faculty and staff balance work and life issues, offering everything from financial and legal consulting to stress management services and marriage counseling.

"The primary focus is to provide intervention counseling for individuals who are in some form of crisis," Prenatt says. "The EAP has been very well received, offering a level of support resources beyond what can be offered in Human Resources. It has been gratifying to hear from those who have used this resource and received the professional, confidential assistance needed to deal with difficult issues."

Implementing a variety of work-life tools is an ongoing concern for Prenatt, who plans to continue building upon programs such as "Wellness Connection," an educational program designed to promote healthy lifestyle changes through seminars on such topics as nutrition, smoking cessation, and stressless workdays. "Wellness Connection" also connects employees with organizations offering exercise programs and other resources.

"Human Resources encompasses a lot," Prenatt says. "I think the more we can do to provide opportunities for people to learn and strengthen skills, to address work-life balance issues, and to proactively manage their health, the stronger the University will be."

Terri McClain is a free-lance writer based in St. Charles, Missouri.




Peer Review

"Ann is a leader of strong principles, competencies that run wide and deep, decency, and uncommonly good common sense. She has brought an unmatched level of professionalism and responsiveness to Human Resources that truly makes the University an 'employer of choice.' Ann also has, fortunately, brought an abundant sense of humor to the demanding role she is asked to play here, a particularly vital element of success in her field. Washington University is very fortunate to have Ann Prenatt on its team."
—Michael Cannon, Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel

"Ann has focused strongly on how the University can better support its employees. She recognizes that benefits and services are critical not only for individuals, but also for the institution, and she is constantly seeking ways to meet critical needs in ways that are innovative, creative, and expansive."
—James E. McLeod, Vice Chancellor for Students and Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

"Ann is the consummate HR professional and a highly competent administrator. I've enjoyed working with her. She is knowledgeable, analytical, and compassionate—attributes that are essential to someone in her profession. I know that I can always call on her for guidance and direction when dealing with personnel issues."
—Virginia Toliver, Associate Dean, University Libraries

"Ann Prenatt is our newest University officer, serving as vice chancellor for human resources. She is a most trusted and valued colleague who inspires others to do their very best. Ann is a person in whom trust is properly placed and has the confidence of all who come to know her. Ann has emerged as a vital contributor to the University leadership team. As the leader in Human Resources, she develops and oversees policies and procedures of importance to all faculty and staff. An effective problem solver, Ann handles sensitive and delicate personnel matters with care and fairness. Ann is an enthusiastic, positive force in advancing the mission of Washington University."
—Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor