During her 25 years in the HR industry, Sarah Beech has seen a lot of change. After graduating from McGill University in 1986, she began working as an underwriter for Canada Life. She moved to Hewitt Associates in 1990, where she initially worked as a benefits consultant. “When I started, we were 60 people,” Beech recalls. “It was all about collaboration and working as a team.”

Since then, Hewitt has grown from 60 employees in Canada to close to 2,000 employees as Aon Hewitt. And Beech’s role has evolved from individual contributor to leading the business as regional director for Aon Hewitt in Central Canada.

Over that time, Beech says, she’s also seen change in the industry—a move from pure pension and benefits consulting to more strategic HR consulting, with a focus on addressing employers’ business and people needs from a total rewards perspective. What’s driving this shift in mentality? When you get right down to it, pension and benefits are really about the people who use them.

“Clients have financial challenges, or they end up in situations where they have to make difficult decisions, but I’ve always tried to keep people top of mind,” Beech says, adding, “I’ve found that when you do so, it helps to put problems into context.”

She cites experiences with co-workers, friends, clients—and especially her two children, JR (18) and Tori (15)—as examples. “My kids have shown me first-hand the value of orthodontic coverage and the importance of physiotherapy after an injury, and they have enhanced my appreciation of benefits programs that meet employee needs. That real-life experience—the people perspective—has enabled me to work with clients to create more effective HR programs.”

Communicating and sharing insights is an important theme in Beech’s life and work. A frequent speaker at industry conferences, she feels a sense of responsibility to share so that other people can learn and challenge her. “I’m still terrified every time I get up [there,]” Beech laughs. “I love to do it, but I still get scared.”

Beech is also an active contributor to a number of industry advisory boards. For example, she’s been involved with the sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey since 2004. “It’s an important piece of work that gains insight that we don’t get anywhere else,” she says, explaining that she’s learned a lot from the survey results and from the comments of other board members.

When creating and implementing benefits programs, Beech believes that open communication is critical. “Never underestimate the importance of listening,” she advises. “We all get very excited about sharing our knowledge, imparting our wisdom, bringing our solutions to the table. I think listening—really listening—to what people are looking for gets a better result.”

And that’s true for both consultants and their clients. “You can spend an inordinate amount of time designing something spectacular, but if no one understands what it means for them or how to use it effectively, it’s not worth the time you spent on it.”

Beech feels fortunate to be able to help organizations design and deliver programs and strategies to employees. Going forward, she says, “It will continue to be important to me to challenge myself—to learn, make a difference and feel great about what I do every day.” She takes the same approach to her personal life: “I’ve taken up golf and have just bought a cottage that will require some attention, but I’m enjoying both.”

Beech adds that when you enjoy your work, it’s not a burden. “You need to have fun; you need to have passion and care about what you do. You spend so much time working that you need to get joy from it—and hopefully, you impart joy to others, too.”

Alyssa Hodder is editor of Benefits Canada. alyssa.hodder@rci.rogers.com

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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