Award finalists talk employee engagement, return on investment

When it comes to engaging employees on matters of financial and personal wellness, it’s increasingly clear one size no longer fits all.

In a roundtable in Toronto on Oct. 17, the 2019 Workplace Benefits Awards finalists focused their discussion on how to make sure their various programs and communication efforts were resonating with the multiple generations and different types of employees in their workforces.

It was a key element of many employers’ work around helping employees with financial wellness. At Fidelity Canada, Diana Godfrey, senior vice-president of human resources, said the company’s primary challenge is making sure its younger workforce understands the value of its retirement plan.

Read: Fidelity Canada wins award for holistic health program

“We do a lot of hiring at the entry level and we have a very generous retirement program, and I’m not sure all employees see the value in that when they join the organization,” she said. “[We need to find] a way to educate and help them understand the importance . . . [but] we struggle with finding an appropriate way to communicate and make sure people understand the concept of total rewards.”

The City of Mississauga has also found employees are lacking information on their pension plan, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System. “It’s a generous plan and you would think people understand how it works, but when we did some surveys a couple of years back we realized people actually don’t,” said Elena Shiganova, the City’s senior manager of total rewards.

In response, the City introduced group education sessions and invited its vendors to help make employees more aware of the plan and how it benefits them. It also introduced one-on-one sessions that would allow employees to meet confidentially with a pension analyst.

Stella Yu, senior vice-president of total rewards at Citibank Canada, said the company faced a similar challenge. Much of Citi’s multi-generational and global workforce didn’t appreciate the benefits of its total rewards program.

Read: Innovative benefits communication nets award for WSP Canada

At the bank’s technology centre, noted Yu, only about 50 per cent of employees take advantage of Citi’s employer matching program. “I ask people . . . ‘Why don’t you take advantage of that?’ Some people don’t understand, they don’t know.”

Language around retirement and savings products can be confusing, especially for younger employees, she said. “All of us have the challenge of speaking in [employees’] language so that these programs are resonating.”

Scott Heard, central region director of sales and service at Green Shield Canada, agreed. Referring to his own two children, he said they didn’t understand the complexities of their workplace retirement plans and noted communications have to be more accessible. “We’re using the same confusing acronyms but just making it more electronically accessible. My suggestion is, just because we make it electronic doesn’t mean we’re connecting with them. We’ve got to help them understand what’s in it for them.”

Goodyear Canada Inc. has tackled this problem by removing text-heavy pension plan booklets and less engaging forms of communication in favour of colourful, creative redesigns that are customized to the organization and designed to be relevant to employees through clever wording and puns. The company also highlighted different ideas of retirement in its messaging, as a nod to its diverse workforce.

Read: Goodyear Canada awarded for pun-filled pension communications

“The material we have reflects our diversity,” said Thak Bhola, Goodyear Canada’s manager of pension, investments and administration. “There’s [been] evidence of more engagement from the get-go.”

Simone Reitzes, vice-president of global pension and benefits at Scotiabank, said the bank has changed the way it talks about savings and financial wellness to keep its younger employees engaged. “We don’t only use the word retirement. We talk about short- and long-term savings,” she said, adding the bank also increased its employer match in savings accounts other than the pension program.

“If people are saving for a house or for having a family, paying down their student debt . . . that’s all healthy financial behaviour. By encouraging employees to think holistically about their savings we’re able to drive engagement for a more diverse group.”

Joy Sloane, vice-president of consulting at Morneau Sheppell Ltd., said financial wellness education can be a key area for employers to engage their employees. “Where we’ve seen really good success with employers is helping their employees learn what to do with money. You don’t learn it in school . . . so [employers] can be really effective with that.

Read: Scotiabank recognized for creating culture of diversity in workplace

On the health side, Christyn Oda, corporate wellness consultant at Franklin Templeton Investments, said she promotes wellness initiatives differently depending on the age of the people to whom she’s communicating, since they typically have different health needs. But, she noted, “the people that are most likely to absorb this information are people . . . that are looking for this information. It creates this gap . . . we’re trying to help other people and it’s so hard to reach them.”

At Ontario Power Generation, Tanya Hickey, senior manager of health and safety strategies, says the company has conducted engagement and total health index surveys, which found its baby boomer population is “very engaged, very productive and were our healthiest workers” compared to its millennial employees, who were lower in all categories. “We’re looking at that and trying to understand why, but we’ve got to understand millennials aren’t thinking about retirement. . . . We need to identify what we can do to keep them engaged in the moment.”

OPG has found rewards and recognition are more meaningful to its younger employees, she said. “They need affirmation, they need constant input. So it might just be, ‘Hey you did a really great job,’ but you need to be specific, too . . . that’s what they’re looking for to stay engaged, and it doesn’t cost anything.”

Scotiabank recently implemented a one-year service award to recognize its younger employees. “We’ve had long-service awards for a long time, which recognize milestones such as 10 or 20 years of service,” said Reitzes. “Recognizing early milestones allows more employees to feel empowered.”

Read: Niagara Casinos earns mental-health award for prevention, awareness strategy

While employers often highlighted the need to focus their communication and engagement strategies on young employees, older employees bring their own concerns, said Chantelle Tadman, senior benefits analyst at WSP Canada Inc. The company has about 50 employees over the age of 70 who are still working full-time, and some have had questions about what will happen when they do retire.

“[With] off-boarding in communications right now, we’re not doing much. When you leave the company we sever all ties . . . but we’re finding they want to stay in. We want to keep them engaged until they retire but when they start thinking a couple of years ahead of time — ‘What am I going to do when I retire? Do I get to keep my benefits with you?’ — we don’t want to affect their engagement in that regard.”

Employers also discussed measuring success and proving a return on investment.

According to Alison Minato, director at Interia Engineering + Design, the company uses a combination of claims data, surveys, employee feedback and external benchmarking to determine whether its programs are effective. It also sends out weekly questions to employees.

“You can start to see if a problem is brewing in a particular feedback and get feedback to managers,” she said. “We’re trying to get very proactive with our programs. . . . If you don’t take action [when something isn’t working] then people lose faith in it, but because this is a regular pulse and we’re committed to creating a good workplace, they can see slow and steady progress.”

Read: Nav Canada lights the way with Sanofi Canada wellness award

Lyne Wilson, assistant vice-president of talent management at NAV Canada, said quantitative data is important, but qualitative information can be even more relevant. Referring to the company’s dedicated focus on mental-health programming through four peer support programs, she said employees’ personal stories and experiences have helped her team understand that the programs are working, in addition to more traditional methods. 

“When you know you saved a life because of a program you have in place, you can’t put money on that. It’s how do you transcribe that and how do you tell that story? But from our end, we’ve been able to do those business cases.”

Jeff Finley, total rewards manager at 3M, said the company has seen a significant return from changing its short-term disability program. Previously, STD was paid at 100 per cent for six months, but the company decided to make changes because of studies showing the longer employees were off on leave, the more difficult it was for them to return to work. 3M’s program is now paid at 100 per cent for eight weeks, and 75 per cent for the remainder.

“We took all those savings and reinvested them into programs that help people ensure they don’t go off,” he said. “We put in [Morneau Shepell’s] InfluenceCare and the Depression Care, and we put in a counsellor onsite that’s available to employees. We put all those savings into mental-health programs to help all the employees to either not go off or to have additional supports, and we’ve actually seen a significant decrease in STD claims.”

Read: Franklin Templeton awarded for holistic employee health approach