At BC Hydro, the compensation is competitive with other organizations in the industry and the benefits are generous. However, because the utility company is a public employer, legislation dictates what it can, and cannot, offer in terms of these rewards. So what BC Hydro can’t offer in monetary rewards, it makes up for it with flexibility.

“If we can’t give them [more money] in direct base pay, we look at a way to package it all together,” says Peggy Walker, senior corporate HR advisor, benefits, with BC Hydro. “The key in our packages, in the past and moving forward, is flexibility.”

Management-level and professional group employees at BC Hydro have a flexible benefits plan. Employees get enough credits for mid-level coverage and have no premiums. If employees want to take less coverage, they can transfer their extra credits to an optional personal health spending account. And, like most flexible benefits plans, if employees choose to take more coverage, they can use extra credits to buy it. But where do these extra credits come from? Unused flex days.

In the 1970s, the provincial government legislated public sector employees to a reduced work week of 35 hours without a change in pay. “That didn’t work for BC hydro so we retained the longer workday and, as a result, we have flex days,” explains Walker. Therefore, in addition to a minimum of three weeks of vacation, employees also earn 20 flex days per year. Those days can be taken as time off, redeemed for cash or flexible benefits credits, or banked and used later in the person’s career, often as a way to phase into retirement.

“We allow people to use banked time off over a specified period of time with a predetermined change in their job,” says Yori Lue-Kim, senior corporate HR advisor, pensions. “We have a number of people who are eligible for retirement—a real bulge of people who could retire at any moment.” Allowing this type of customized phased retirement ensures that new people are properly trained and that there is minimal knowledge loss.

2008 Western Canada Report

Lue-Kim adds that the company struggles with attracting skilled workers and uses flexible work arrangements to alleviate some of the pressure. “We don’t prevent someone from being rehired [once they retire],” she says. “We would allow someone who is receiving a BC Hydro pension to come back on salary and collect their pension at the same time. They are not eligible to contribute to the pension plan, but financially, in most cases, they are still farther ahead.”

As attraction and retention continues to be an issue for employers, BC Hydro plans to continue promoting its benefits, pension and time-off options in its recruitment packages and look for more ways to increase flexibility across the company.

“I think, in many ways, we are ahead of the curve on our benefits,” says Walker. “ The trend is that people are moving more and more toward flex benefits. We are already there, and looking at ways to become even more flexible.”

To comment on this story, email april.scottclarke@rci.rogers.com.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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