Telus Communications Inc. is ensuring employees bring their best self to the job by supporting their well-being both in the workplace and at home, said Wade Domries, the company’s vice-president of global total rewards, during a session at Benefits Canada’s 2024 Vancouver Benefits Summit in May.

The organization’s current approach to well-being started taking shape in 2018, alongside development of its current employee benefits and pension strategies. “[These strategies] were led by well-being. . . . We really wanted to make sure we struck the right balance and established a healthy vision for our organization and for our team members. Traditionally, the organization was very programmatic in terms of wellness — we’d do a few campaigns, but didn’t really step back and say, ‘What does it take to actually build a culture around well-being?’

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The company first examined how to implement and maintain its systems of employee support, said Domries, noting various forms of data — including employee demographics and benefits utilization — helped shape a targeted approach to address different team member cohorts within the organization.

“If we looked at some comorbidity results, we could say, ‘Look, there’s certain areas and demographics in our business when we would start to run heart health clinics.’ We’d actually bring in team members and work with them to improve their circumstances and outcomes.”

The well-being strategy also assisted Telus as it assessed business risk during the coronavirus pandemic, when the organization was deemed an essential service by the federal government.

“We really had to quickly develop a framework that was extensible in our environment to protect our team members and customers [and] we established a medical advisory council. . . . One of the findings we had in assessing what happened with SARS specifically in Ontario was that isolation became a big driver of mental health. . . . We [also] did a lot of programming and webinar sessions around ergonomics, making sure employees were set up as best they could [be] in their homes.

Read: Are workplace mental-health programs evolving beyond the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace?

The strategy is based on five pillars of well-being — physical, psychological, social, financial and environmental — and recognizes the impact of each factor on other aspects of employee mental health.

“It’s a continuum — people could be feeling great, they could be feeling okay or not okay, and it moves around week to week, or even day to day sometimes. If one of these elements is out of balance, if you’re stressed out about finances, that likely will impact your mental health. If you’re stressed about your social environment, again, that can impact mental health. If you’re focused on your fitness, that can assist in mental health. They’re all interconnected.”

Among these five factors, financial wellness has been a key focus for Telus, said Domries, noting the company offers a flexible wellness account that allows employees to apply funds where they’re most needed, as well as three personal well-being days that can be converted to cash and the option to direct funds into a defined contribution pension plan, group tax-free savings account or group registered retirement savings plan.

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It was also important for the strategy to take a long-term view toward employee well-being, he said. “We had a long conversation with senior leadership, saying, ‘This isn’t a one-year or two-year [program], it’s going to be a three- to four-year journey to really get to the outcomes that are measurable and meaningful in the organization.

The wellness strategy is aligned with the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which helps Telus to continuously improve its approach to employee mental health, said Domries. This has been particularly helpful in supporting the mental wellness of Telus’ contact centre employees, who tend to have higher mental-health claims that go into short-term disability, accounting for roughly half of these claims across the company.

“What we did post-pandemic, a lot of our team members were still [working remotely] and we worked very collaboratively with our leaders in our operations areas to start to unpack the nature of work that our contact centre members were doing, how they were doing their work and how we could bring about a slightly different workflow for them that actually improved their mental health.

Read: 69% of global employees say their mental health has worsened in the past year: survey

“Part of that is getting some microbreaks into the day, so if you’re coming off a challenging customer call, having a minute or two [allows you to] do a bit of a reset. We also deployed [Queen’s University’s] mental-health training which is a two-day program for all of our frontline leaders — luckily, we had done that going into the pandemic.”

Diversity and inclusiveness are also key factors in Telus’ approach to employee well-being, supported by its network of employee resource groups as well as inclusive benefits such as gender affirmation coverage and Indigenous wellness benefits.

“Culture becomes your competitive advantage [and] our view is that leading with well-being is the right critical anchor for our culture, connecting that with our social purpose and ensuring that our team members are able to be their best selves at work and at home,” he said.

Read more coverage of the 2024 Vancouver Benefits Summit.