Startling Discovery

The responses gathered from people working with disabilities were significantly more negative than those of the average Canadian worker. People with disabilities were much less engaged (55%) than the average employee (64%). They were also less satisfied with their benefits. Only 55% said that their benefits plans met their needs and the needs of their families well, 58% said their benefits programs were easy to use, 54% said they had sufficient choice in their benefits plans, 56% felt the organization’s communications helped them gain a good understanding of their benefits, and 47% said the same about retirement savings communications. In each category, the numbers were from seven to 13 points lower than the Canadian averages.

“Here is a clear issue,” says Crawford. “Here is a group of people who are feeling disenfranchised compared to the average population. This was a surprise to me, and I am guessing this is a surprise to many employers.” He suggests that employers spend time with employees who have disabilities to learn their challenges and reasons for feeling less engaged and less satisfied, and then address those issues. Doing so will become even more important as the baby boomer generation ages. “As we go forward with the broadening definition of disability, and the breadth of conditions…and as the workforce gets older, it means we are going to have more disabled people in the workforce,” he adds.

Lessons Learned

The companies in the 30 Best ranking are in tune with the needs and desires of their workforces, and other Canadian organizations can learn some important lessons from their strategies.

Talk Retirement – When employees across Canada were asked if the organization’s communications helped them gain a good understanding of their pension and retirement savings programs, the overall average was 55%. Those in the 30 Best scored around 70%. This was the lowest scoring category.

“While the employers in the 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans survey do it well, there is still a fair bit of room for improvement,” says Crawford. He adds that companies need to take into account how they communicate with people of different cultures and age brackets. “How we, in North America, traditionally see providing and protecting our families in the future is very different than those from other countries and cultures.”

Focus on Delivery – A program design that meets the needs of your workforce is just one part of having successful benefits and retirement programs. Delivery plays a big role in a program’s success. “Don’t put all your money into the program design,” advises Crawford. “Put money into your delivery system and the communication around the benefits. You can get a much better return on your investment if you do that.” Try to look at all of the aspects of managing the benefits and retirement programs.

Company Profiles

Create a Positive Environment – Make employees feel valued. Strive to provide a flexible workplace. These initiatives will reap better rewards for a company than just providing solid benefits and retirement savings programs. “If you’re creating the right kind of work environment overall, that is going to help increase satisfaction with benefits,” says Crawford. “Employees aren’t going to judge the benefits separate from everything else that is going on in the work environment.”

Looking Ahead

The workforce and employee needs have changed over the past five to 10 years. Tim Clarke, Canadian practice leader for benefits consulting with Hewitt, says three major trends have emerged.

1. Increased Choice – We are a consumer-based society that expects to have choice in our lives, and benefits plans are no exception. “Flexible benefits plans are becoming commonplace. Most large employers in Canada either have or have contemplated [moving to] a flexible benefits plan. With some of the improvements in technology around administration, I think we will start to see [flexible plans] in smaller organizations as well,” says Clarke. “Flex plans can increase employee satisfaction, and in a lot of cases, because of the education that goes along with these types of plans, flex plans can lead to cost reductions in the long term.”

2. Health Promotion – Employers are shifting toward providing tools and incentives for employees to stay healthy, rather than just looking to benefits to cover expenses when they get sick. One factor behind the wellness push, as Clarke explains, is that employers will start to see increasing health and disability costs as the baby boomers age. “Employers will have more of an incentive to help their employees stay healthy in the first place.”

3. Cost Control – The cost of providing benefits plans is increasing faster than inflation, so employers need to continue to look at ways to manage plans in a cost-responsible manner. “It’s really about getting the bang for your buck,” says Clarke, adding that companies are focusing on giving employees what they need at a manageable cost. “Sometimes, that means distinguishing between what employees need and what they want.” For example, an employer may cover generic drugs instead of brand name products. Also, due to changes in tax legislation, providing retiree benefits has become more costly. Clarke says there has been a noticeable reduction in retiree benefits, as a means to control costs, and he expects this trend to continue.

The Canadian workforce is a dynamic, eclectic mix of people. Employers need to provide retirement savings and benefits options that reflect that mix if they want to be competitive. As the baby boomers leave the workforce, attracting and retaining employees is going to become even more difficult. However, the 30 Best ranking shows that employees do notice and appreciate customized plans that are communicated well, making these plans valuable HR tools.

The 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans

Ranking Company Headquarters
1 Business Development Bank of Canada Montreal
2 AstraZeneca Canada Mississauga, Ont.
3 L’Union Canadienne Quebec City
4 Gibson Energy Calgary
5 Wellington West Holdings Winnipeg
6 Envision Financial Langley, B.C.
7 EllisDon Corporation London, Ont.
8 JTI-Macdonald Mississauga, Ont.
9 CONEXUS Regina
10 Prospera Credit Union & Insurance Agency Abbotsford, B.C.
11 Intuit Canada Edmonton
12 PCL Constructors Edmonton
13 Northern Savings Credit Union Prince Rupert, B.C.
14 National Bank of Canada Montreal
15 Midwest Surveys Calgary
16 Canadian Western Bank Edmonton
17 Ceridian Canada Mississauga, Ont.
18 OMERS Toronto
19 Abbott Canada St-Laurent, Que.
20 GlaxoSmithKline Mississauga, Ont.
21 Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Dorval, Que.
22 BC Biomedical Laboratories Surrey, B.C.
23 Business Objects Vancouver
24 Aecon Group Toronto
25 ATB Financial Edmonton
26 Deloitte & Touche Toronto
27 Nexen Calgary
28 Dillon Consulting Limited Toronto
29 Procter & Gamble Toronto
30 The Co-operators Guelph, Ont.


For a more detailed information about the 30 best companies, click here.


Communication is Key

PCL Constructors Inc. and Northern Savings Credit Union offer very different services in two very different industries. One provides contractor services in commercial buildings, civil infrastructure, and heavy industrial construction; the other provides investment and banking options to businesses and individuals. PCL’s organization in Canada has almost 2,000 employees while Northern Savings’ payroll carries fewer than 200 names. However, both companies have a traditional benefits plan with blanket coverage and a defined contribution (DC) pension plan.

How can these plans be so similar yet meet the needs of different workforces? It’s all about communication.

“We aren’t out there in front with the trendy benefits. We offer a solid, comprehensive plan that looks after our employees’ welfare,” explains Naomi Gould, manager, employment services, HR and professional development, with PCL. “We respond to their feedback and their input. We are willing to listen and willing to look at what we are offering employees to make sure that [the plans are] still meeting their needs.”

Ellen Little, manager, human resources, with Northern Savings in Prince Rupert (a small community in northern British Columbia), echoes Gould’s sentiments. “What we do is provide a well-rounded basic plan. I really believe that employees truly appreciate it, but it’s not specifically targeted,” she says. “We have done a lot of communication about what we have and what it costs for us to provide it.”

Benefits in Brief

PCL provides its employees with a traditional benefits plan that is 75% employer-paid. The plan includes health, dental and vision care coverage as well as a health care spending account (HCSA). Unused HCSA funds can be transferred into the group registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). PCL also has a DC pension plan in which it gives a 100% match on employee contributions, with company contributions capped at 5%.

The company has wellness committees at each district across the country, each with its own initiatives. For example, the committee at the head office has arranged for a massage therapist and reflexologist to come in on a rotating basis. PCL also offers third-party discounts on gym memberships. “As a company, we are very much in support of wellness,” says Gould.

At Northern Savings, employees also enjoy a traditional benefits plan and a DC plan with a 100% employer match up to 5% in the first five years of service, 6% in years six to 10, and 7% from 11 years of service onward.

Some of the other perks that Northern Savings offers include an education reimbursement program that covers the cost of professional development courses and what the company calls “employee space.” Two of the company’s six locations have already implemented the employee space initiative—both spaces are exercise/games rooms equipped with items such as exercise bikes and Ping-Pong tables. “We provide the space; they decide what to do with it. It’s really employee-driven,” explains Little.

Getting Satisfaction

The benefits and pension plans offered by PCL and Northern Savings are not Cadillac plans, but both companies have received high satisfaction scores from employees regarding these benefits. Why? Because they help their employees understand the value of their benefits. These companies do more than just listen to what employees want; they take an active approach in informing employees of what they have and what they are eligible for.

At Northern Savings, the communication starts before a job offer is made. “When I interview perspective employees, I don’t just talk about pay. I talk about pay and benefits and education,” says Little, adding that when people are hired on, “benefits information is at our employees’ fingertips through our intranet.”

It’s a similar situation at PCL. During employee orientation, new hires receive a detailed benefits package and the opportunity to ask questions in a one-on-one meeting. “We provide detailed information about all of our benefits via our company intranet site,” says Gould. PCL also issues company-wide bulletins whenever a change is made regarding benefits.

Even more important, benefits communication evolves according to employees’ needs. “We are actually in the process of collecting feedback from employees about our benefits communication and which components they would like more information about, and how they would like to receive that information,” she adds.

Despite the differences between the two companies and the plan details, both maintain the same focus on good communications practices—and, given their status on the 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans list, it’s clear that employees are taking notice.

April Scott-Clarke is the assistant editor at Benefits Canada.

For a more detailed information about the 30 best companies, click here.

For a PDF version of this article, click here.

© Copyright 2008 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June 2008 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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