With almost 100,000 employees in 30 countries, Scotiabank’s approach to global benefits provision is more about aligning philosophy or guiding principles than it is around aligning specific tactics of the benefits plan.

“No surprise, every country, every region has its own set of legislation, social norms, priorities, different health-care infrastructure and different maturity in terms of the technology space,” said Simone Reitzes, the bank’s vice-president of global pension and benefits, during a session on the first day of Benefits Canada‘s 2020 Plan Sponsor Week earlier this month. “So to take one benefits plan and try to fit it into all of our countries is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”

Scotiabank looks at its guiding principles around total well-being and works with its business partners in all of the countries in which it operates to fit each benefits plan into the local infrastructure, she added.

Read: Plan Sponsor Week: Globally mobile workers need extra help dealing with pandemic stress

The bank also works closely with its vendors to collect current data and then looks at trends in its own experience, as well as its vendors’ other plan sponsor clients, to find opportunities to implement different strategies.

“Especially around mental health, we’ve been very open over the past few years about sharing our approach to preventative mental health and data is really key there to knowing the right investments to make, both in terms of ensuring the health of our workforce and the health of our organization,” said Reitzes.

The other big influencer on Scotiabank’s benefits strategy is employee feedback. It surveys its workforce multiple times a year, with many of its best ideas coming from employees. “Especially this year with COVID-19, employee feedback has been more timely than ever to help us shape and make sure we’re doing the right thing for our employees next.”

The bank’s annual benefits year runs from April 1 to March 31, so it started the year with its usual rollout in January and February. “Before we got to April 1 to kick off the benefits, our whole world had changed,” she said.

Read: Plan Sponsor Week: Using analytics to monitor non-adherence, disease states

This year’s communications moved to a much more interactive format. Rather than the huge benefits booklets of the past, Scotiabank now uses short videos in small bites through its internal social media. “Trying to get to a consumer grade in our benefits communications has been a big investment for us this year and it turned out really well.”

In advance of the pandemic, the bank had planned to expand its fully-paid personal days. In Canada, it increased annual personal days per employees from three to five days. By April 1, that was expanded further, to 10 days for the duration of 2020, said Reitzes, noting that was in recognition of employees’ various personal obligations, such as dealing with the early days of school closures and even lining up for grocery stores.

“Directionally, we were already looking at more personal time and COVID-19 really amplified the need to support employees on a short-term basis.”

Earlier in the year, Scotiabank also expanded its paid parental leave program for all parents. Previously, it was specifically geared to birth mothers, but the bank wanted to have a more inclusive strategy that supports financial well-being and the mental health of the entire family. “And also supports our gender equality advancement agenda by letting all employees spend time with their families and really removing the stigma around only women taking time out of the workforce as primary caregivers,” she added.

With plans to introduce virtual health care for all employees in Canada, the bank moved up its launch date of April 1 to mid-March to support staff as soon as the pandemic arrived in Canada. “Helping employees and their families get access to the care they needed was hugely important and obviously well received by our employees.”

Read: Scotiabank expanding parental leave top-up, adding virtual health care

In direct reaction to the coronavirus, the bank also provided all employees with an additional $500 in their wellness account to support them with any added costs and expanded the definition of the account to reimburse employees for home office equipment and food delivery services. “That actually came from someone on my team who was too nervous to go to the grocery store and was ordering Uber Eats every night . . . . He said, ‘If you ask me what I want, that’s where I’m incurring additional expenses,” said Reitzes. “So listening to our employees is what helped us come up with some of those ideas and roll them out very quickly.”

During the Q&A discussion, she also shared Scotiabank’s focus on diversity, referring to the bank’s recognition in the diversity program category at Benefits Canada’s 2019 Workplace Benefits Awards.

“It’s something that’s always been important to the bank and amplified this year more than ever. We have the support of our [chief executive officer] in terms of being one of the first organization’s to sign onto the [United Nations’] diversity and inclusion principles last year and just recognizing that diverse organizations outperform. It’s not only the right thing to do for the communities that we live and work in, but the right thing to do for the bank and our shareholders.”

Indeed, in the past few months, the bank has introduced and enhanced some of its diversity and inclusion initiatives. Earlier this year, it rolled out an employee diversity survey, which it relaunched in July to better understand its employee population, any diversity representation gaps and extend reporting beyond just visible minority to include race and ethnicity.

Another initiative was providing senior leaders with the opportunity to hear directly from employees who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of colour across Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

Read: Scotiabank recognized for creating culture of diversity in workplace

“So we set up listening sessions . . . where our senior population heard directly from employees . . . about their experience living, working and banking with Scotiabank. They were open sessions, where hundreds of other employees could dial in to listen,” said Reitzes.

“That was a fascinating experience. I think it’s really easy to hear about racism on the news and say, ‘That’s something that happens somewhere else.’ But for everyone to take a stand and say we need to understand what’s happening in our homes, our backyards, our organizations — those were powerful sessions and I’m sure those stories will result in further action from our leaders.”

All of the 2020 Plan Sponsor Week sessions are available on-demand at benefitscanada.com/webinars.

Read: Scotiabank to increase workforce diversity, combat racial discrimination in workplace