When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Fluor Canada was ready with ample mental-health supports for its employees, all thanks to a mental-health strategy the company had put in place years ago and has continued to build on.
It began in 2018 when Fluor Canada’s newly appointed senior management team wanted to renew the company’s employee wellness mandate. The leadership team was already aware of growing mental-health challenges among Canadians and wanted to be proactive, said Michelle Desnoyers, benefits and human resources information system lead, during Benefits Canada’s 2021 Mental Health Summit.
“The management intent behind identifying people as an area of focus was to continue providing a healthy and progressive workplace for employees.”
As part of Fluor Canada’s new mandate, the company launched a wellness committee focused on providing employees with the tools to thrive under four pillars of wellness — mental, physical, financial and social. Desnoyers called the committee a “culture changer,” with both management and employee ambassadors taking part. Management representatives bring information from the committee up to the leadership team.
In 2018, the company also conducted an organizational health risk assessment, which helped identify the priorities for its wellness culture, policies and practices. It also ensured the organization would align with Canada’s national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace.
Based on the assessment, Fluor created a well-being strategy. It involved rolling out mental-health training for managers in 2019, something that the company identified as lacking. To date, more than 120 managers have taken the training.
“When we looked at best practices in the workplace, the leadership commitment and engagement always came up as a key element,” said Desnoyers. “What I think is really important, and what we’re doing at Fluor, is to not only have leaders speak about the importance of mental health but to also participate.”
In 2020, just before the pandemic, Fluor Canada increased its annual psychological benefit maximum to $5,000 for its 3,000 employees and their dependants. The company also added a wider range of mental-heath practitioners eligible for coverage to include social workers, psychiatrists, family therapists, psychotherapists and clinical counsellors.
Sylvana Leclerc, organizational health consultant for integrated health solutions at Sun Life Assurance Co., also presenting during the session, said organizations early on in their mental-health journeys can benefit greatly from just figuring out a strategy.
“Employers we work with begin to see positive change by just getting started with the right strategic approach to support their work environment. We find that just having this strategic approach really helped them and a focus on removing barriers is a great first step.”
The most common barriers for employees are access to counselling and costs, she added. “For employers, this means evaluating current benefits, looking at offerings, tools and resources to complement the [employee assistance program].”
In the early days of the pandemic, Fluor Canada began simplifying and focusing on its benefits communications to ensure employees, who were newly working from home, knew what was available to them. The company provided a wellness guide that summarized all the company’s benefits and resources, with one edition for managers and one for employees, said Desnoyers.
It also focused on building employees’ wellness knowledge with 28 webinars throughout the year on topics related to its wellness pillars, held two virtual mental-health training sessions for managers and, after a policy review, introduced a flexible workplace policy.
The strategy has been paying off. Fluor Canada’s short-term disability incidence rate has remained lower than the industry benchmark for the past four years. Short-term disability incidence related to mental-health disorders is also “significantly” lower than the industry benchmark — at the end of the third quarter of 2021, just 17 per cent of the company’s salary continuance claims were related to mental-health disorders, compared to 32 per cent for the 2021 industry benchmark.
While other organizations have seen rates of mental-health issue continue to climb in 2021, Desnoyers said Fluor Canada’s rates are returning to pre-coronavirus levels. It’s also seen the number of disability benefit days decrease 23 per cent in comparison to 2019 numbers and long-term disability premiums have decrease two years in a row by double digits.
“The culture of Fluor is working towards removing the stigma of mental health,” she said. “[And] those that need [help] are receiving the support they need earlier in their mental-health journey.”
Read more coverage of the 2021 Mental Health Summit.