At Benefits Canada‘s 2020 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 16, Scotiabank was recognized for a mental-health strategy that starts at the top of the organization and focuses on total employee well-being.

“It’s one thing for [human resources] to preach from the centre the importance of mental health, but it’s quite another — and quite inspiring — to see the leaders of the organization with vision and really role-modelling the behaviours that demonstrate the importance of mental health for all of our employees,” says Simone Reitzes, vice-president of global pension and benefits at Scotiabank.

“We’ve heard our leaders say, time and again, that a healthy workforce is key to a healthy organization. So hearing that from the leadership of the bank is part of what helps our mental-health initiatives truly integrate into the fibres of who we are as an organization.”

Read: Who are the winners of the 2020 Workplace Benefits Awards?

After a few years of reviewing disability claims data and realizing that mental health was a key driver of employee absenteeism, the bank knew it had to do more to support its workers. It was also aware that mental well-being couldn’t exist without total well-being, including physical, social and financial health, so it went back to the drawing board to get creative with its offerings in 2019 and 2020.

Following a full exercise to map its current programs and leveraging results of employee surveys, the bank’s new offerings include: two additional personal days per employee, taking the total to five (in 2020, during the pandemic, this was expanded to 10 personal days); a new parental leave policy supporting fathers, adoptive parents and same-sex partners in addition to birth mothers; five additional backup childcare days per child per employee, effective September 2020; a new virtual health-care offering for employees and their dependants, provided free until Oct. 31, 2020; an enhancement to the well-being account, including the ability to pay for mental-health services for extended family members; more mental-health services available under its $3,000 per year coverage; and a new online cognitive behavioural therapy program.

The results speak for themselves. More than 20,000 employees and dependants have enrolled in and used virtual health care. As well, at the time of the entry, more than 20,000 employees had used the well-being account, spending more than $12 million.

Read: Plan Sponsor Week: How Scotiabank supports staff during coronavirus

In measuring the effectiveness of its programs, the bank is able to continue reinvesting in them, notes Reitzes. “When we hear 20,000 employees have used [virtual health care], that’s 20,000 hours saved or more away from the workplace. So 20,000 employees got the help they need and didn’t spend the time in walk-in clinics, crowded emergency rooms and being exposed to other illnesses . . . . So those kinds of metrics are really powerful.”

As well, the majority (89 per cent) of staff said they’re satisfied with Scotiabank’s employee assistance program, with the same percentage saying they’d use it again. In terms of EAP engagement metrics, responses from employees who used the program in 2019 indicated a 45 per cent improvement in work attendance, 46 per cent found they were better able to cope with job demands and 45 per cent said they have better relationships at work.

“The feedback from our employees is critical to everything that we do, especially now as we’re all navigating the current situation for the first time — it’s not like we have a prior pandemic to look back at the effectiveness of our policies,” says Reitzes. “And the other thing that’s always underpinned our strategy is building in, or accounting for, the diversity in our workforce and rolling out policies that underpin flexibility and accommodate as diverse a group as possible. And oftentimes, we’re not aware of all of those diversities unless our employees speak up about them.” 

Read a full list of the 2020 Workplace Benefits Awards winners.