With climate change impacting the lives of Canadian employees, there’s a range of things employers can do to tackle the issue head on.

As people in the southern and coastal regions of B.C. cope with catastrophic atmospheric rivers, SAP Labs Canada is among the employers that’s ready to support workers. Agnes Garaba, chief operating officer at SAP Labs, says senior leaders at the company’s Vancouver office quickly pulled the addresses of employees to find out who lives in the affected areas. “We’ve been in constant contact with them. At this stage, we haven’t had anyone who is directly impacted by the floods — which is great news, but we wanted to reach out and let them know if anything happens, we’re here to support them.”

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In a crisis, it’s important to find out what type of support employees need because everybody’s circumstances may differ, whether it’s finding out about their housing situation, whether their families are safe or if they need help connecting with emergency services, says Garaba. However, when events like this happen, flexibility is the No. 1 support employers can offer employees, she adds, noting SAP has different leave programs that staff can take advantage of to attend to their personal affairs.

Employers must also remember that people experience trauma when facing crises, such as natural disasters or the current coronavirus pandemic, says Garaba. “We have a fantastic employee assistance program that comes with 24/7 access to trained counsellors.”

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It’s important to constantly communicate the programs and benefits that are available to employees during tumultuous times, says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks Inc. When under strain, people may not register what resources are available to them, but with repeated messaging it will ring through later, she adds.

Accessing mental-health benefits or an EAP can be critical during emergencies as well, says Allen, noting employers can initiate crisis support by having their EAP provider help them facilitate outreach or specific trauma debriefing for employees. Providers can also help employers communicate other information, such as how to support children through times of crisis or how to coach managers to be supportive and flexible for employees.

SAP’s Vancouver office has a crisis management team that’s responsible for assessing how to best support employees, says Garaba. Although it’s been around for 10 years, the team’s importance and effectiveness has only increased significantly since the start of the global pandemic.

Read: Supporting an employee through trauma

Since the onset of the global pandemic, North America and the world has seen its share of natural disasters — from earthquakes to floods to forest fires — so it’s no surprise some employees may have anxiety related to climate change and a sustainable environment, she adds.

“We’ve found the best way to help employees with anxiety around climate change and sustainability is to get them involved so that they’re part of the solution,” says Garaba, noting it also helps them become more engaged, innovative and passionate in their own roles.

And SAP isn’t just talking the talk, but walking the walk when it comes to climate change issues. The organization has completely eliminated the use of single-use plastics in all of its Canadian offices and has employee-run green teams in almost all of its locations that focus on sustainability efforts. The teams have run several series on steps employees can take at home and at work to make their lives more environmentally sustainable, with SAP also bringing in experts to speak on the topic.

In Montreal, SAP recently moved from two offices into a brand-new building. In the process of the move, the organization decided not to replace the floors and ceilings in order to reduce the amount of construction waste, says Garaba.

Read: SAP Canada piloting data-driven office design for hybrid workforce

Purpose-driven work can also help build a lasting relationship between employers and their employees, she notes, especially when staff know their companies are putting actions behind their environmental, social and governance commitments.

Allen agrees, noting focusing on ESG issues is vital to employers’ attraction and retention efforts. “Employees want to know that the companies they work for are not, at a minimum, doing harm.”

As well, she says, organizations are realizing they may not have put issues like diversity, equity and inclusion or employee well-being high enough on the agenda. “But as we’re slowly figuring out what this new world of work looks like, there’s multiple points of information that says . . . doing the right thing and . . . creating sustainable change is going to make the difference for employers in terms of retaining or attracting top talent.”

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