The Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic led to a win in the Coronavirus and benefits category for an employer with fewer than 1,000 employees at Benefits Canada‘s 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 18.

When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the organization quickly responded with measures such as a remote and flexible working arrangement. To support employees working from home, the ASEBP also began covering office equipment through its wellness account and launched a new code in its payroll management system, allowing employees who arranged for time to care for family members to track it without affecting their pay.

Anna MacDonald, director of human resources services at the ASEBP, says having an established pulse survey tool and an engaged workforce were key to the strategy’s success. “If you have an engaged workforce, they’ll engage with those tools. It’s also important to create a safe environment where people feel it’s OK to have adverse opinions because that’s where you get nuggets of information.”

Read: Who are the winners of the 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards?

The organization also provided employees with regular pandemic updates via video from chief executive officer Kelli Littlechilds. As the pandemic delayed return-to-office plans, the ASEBP added a $1,000 credit for office equipment to its wellness account in August 2021 and suspended costs for assigned parking stalls at its office, switching to a per-use rate last April as a hybrid working plan commenced.

The ASEBP also adjusted its vacation policy so employees earn an additional day per year in their first five years, beginning at 15 days to a maximum of 20 days. It also introduced a floating holiday that employees can use to observe days of personal significance or religious holidays.

“We have a [diversity, equity and inclusion] strategy, but it was really hard to determine which holidays to acknowledge,” says MacDonald. “We got a lot of feedback from employees on which holidays were most important to them and we realized there’s so many [holidays] among our diverse workforce, so we gave an extra vacation day so they can have a personal day of significance.”

Read: How employers are maximizing health-care spending and wellness accounts