The University Pension Plan’s chief people officer discusses expanding the talent pool, providing access to personalized and culturally relevant mental-health practitioners and finding time to enjoy the theatre.

Q: What top challenges do you face in your role?

A: As a new organization responsible for delivering pension security to 40,000 members, we need to attract and retain diverse, high-performing employees in a competitive talent market. Our people team partners with leaders across the organization to develop and implement tools and programs needed to effectively support their teams, while providing opportunities to optimize careers with us. To do so, we need to have a feedback-rich culture and a competitive total rewards program that is reflective of both our culture and deep commitment to delivering great value for our members. We also partner with numerous community organizations and schools to expand and diversify our candidate pool. Increasing Indigenous representation within the UPP is a particular focus for me.

Read: BNP Paribas expanding talent pool by hiring, supporting neurodiverse employees

Q: What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A: We’re always looking for cost-effective opportunities to improve on the services we provide to our employees. We’re rolling out a digital platform that offers personalized counselling and mental-health services. It resolves some of the challenges with employee assistance program services being limited in culturally relevant counsellors and the absence of care continuity when employees require continued support. We’re also launching an integrated digital health and benefits platform that’s a one-stop shop for employees to connect with health-care providers and services within minutes, fill prescriptions and have them delivered directly.

Career crib sheet

February 2022 – Present

Chief people officer, the University Pension Plan

January 2023 – April 2023

Adjunct professor, faculty of law, University of Ontario

January 2019 – February 2022

Chief people officer, City of Toronto

June 2017 – December 2018

Acting director, equity, diversity and human rights division, City of Toronto

June 2008 – December 2018

Labour employment and human rights counsel, City of Toronto

Q: What programs do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A: I’m proud of the work my team is doing on various fronts including on inclusion and reconciliation, particularly our UPP Reads program. In addition to offering employees equity, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation training programs, learning materials and resource guides, we launched a book club that enables us to learn together. For National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the entire organization read and discussed 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph. I’m also proud of our performance-driven variable incentive plan, which is market competitive and rethinks how we reward employees who go on protected leaves.

Q: What key human resources issues do you expect in the coming year?

A: We’re expecting a lot more work on pay transparency. As well, across the investment sector, stress and burnout continue to be very real concerns. Canadian pension plans are fast-paced environments, and coupled with external pressures like geopolitical turmoil, it can be a lot to navigate, particularly for employees balancing childcare and elder care. We’re doing everything we can to support our employees and foster their mental and emotional well-being.

Read: What do Ontario employers need to know ahead of new pay transparency legislation?

Q: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A: As a single parent to a pre-teen and teen, I’m usually chauffeuring them to activities in my ‘free time.’ Aside from that, I love theatre and it’s nice to sneak in time to see a play.

Q: What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A: I like the flexibility that both the UPP’s health-care and personal spending accounts provide. From a well-being perspective, employees know best what they need. By having wellness programs covered, the UPP signals its true investment in overall employee health and well-being and provides flexibility so employees can choose which supports work best for their needs.

Lauren Bailey is the interim managing editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.