Epcor Utilities Inc.’s senior manager of pension and benefits talks mental-health training, volunteering benefits and whitewater canoeing.

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. A big challenge is employees . . . thinking the company is 100 per cent responsible for all of their paramedical [and] dental costs, and that any appointment should be on work time. We’re trying to shift the culture a little bit to encourage wellness and encourage employees to look after themselves, but [showing] it’s not the company’s responsibility. They have to take ownership for their own good.

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. In 2019, we partnered with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and our 3,300 employees went through a four-hour compliance training on mental health. And every people leader within the company had eight hours of training — the four hours of employee training and an additional four hours — on how to build their own competency as managers dealing with employees or peers who have mental-health challenges.

Read: Five tips for successful workplace mental-health training

Q. How do you judge the success of a program or initiative?


November 2017 — present
Senior manager, pension and benefits, Epcor Utilities

January 2014 — November 2017
Talent management consultant, Epcor Utilities

February 2013 — January 2014
Senior manager, health, safety and environment programs, Epcor Utilities

September 2006 — February 2010
Senior HR business partner, Epcor Utilities

May 2000 — September 2006
Director, HR Canada, RailAmerica Inc.

A. One of the things we’re looking at is the increased utilization rate of our [employee assistance program]. Another is looking at our short-term disability and absenteeism rate and the duration of time employees are off work. The third factor I’m quite excited about is we’re looking at both quantitative and qualitative measures around our manager confidence. In the mental-health training, we asked managers, “How confident are you dealing with employees on your team who might confide in you?” Managers primarily said, “I’m not comfortable having that conversation.” After the training, we asked them again and, overall, their confidence in that area has increased.

Q. What program do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A. My team is increasingly speaking business language to our business unit leaders. And so, when we go to business unit meetings and we’re presenting information, it’s not just [human resources] speak. They understand the cost of employees not being back at work and the cost of unproductive employees, that type of thing. I’m most proud of the partnerships we’re building within our business units and how they’re seeing us as not just HR practitioners but as co-workers helping them with their operating challenges.

Read: Controlling benefits costs a top concern for HR professionals

Q. What key human resources issues do you expect in the year ahead?

A. I think key HR trends to expect in 2019 and 2020 will be pursuing sustainable benefits plans. With the skyrocketing costs, how can we create a plan that supports employees but is sustainable for the company? The other key trend we’ll be hearing more about is a greater focus on prevention and wellness, and working upstream of medical issues instead of always downstream.

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

A. My husband and I have three kids. It’s always been a value of our family to be active and participate in lifelong sports, like hiking, backpacking, bicycle touring and canoeing. We’re really seeing the positives of that now because our two oldest kids are going to university and our youngest is in high school and we’re still able to do activities together. Both of my daughters are whitewater canoe guides and we just came back from a one-week canoe trip. At Christmas, we took time off and cycled across Cuba.

Read: EPCOR Utilities wins award for absence management process

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. A community volunteer benefit the company calls the Helping Hands Grant. If you volunteer in the community [for 30 hours or more], then you just have to log your hours and the company will write a $300 cheque to the charity of your choice in your name. I really love that one.

Kelsey Rolfe is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.