The City of Mississauga’s acting senior manager of total rewards talks virtual health care, pension communications and spending time with family.
Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?
A. I think we can say there are two worlds: pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus. In the current situation, the top challenge is making sure our employees have the right coverage at this time while continuing to be fiscally responsible for the benefits plan. Sometimes this means adopting virtual coverage for certain elements of our plan, finding new ways to administer the benefits, going digital with forms or expanding benefits to essential workers.
Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?
A. Again, there’s our normal cycle of benefits changes and what’s happening today in the context of the coronavirus. We completed a major review of our benefits plan in 2017/18. We listened to our employees’ feedback regarding plan design and have given them more flexibility and choice while making sure the plan remains competitive and sustainable.
We also review and make changes to our plan on an annual basis — last year, we introduced a parental leave top-up and this year, we extended some paid leave to part-time staff. Speaking of today’s world, we are now offering access to virtual care — dental appointments, paramedical practitioners, etc. We also provide temporary access to virtual walk-in clinics, which is very helpful if you can’t get out of your house. I think the spirit of this year is going virtual and making sure we remain agile in meeting the needs of our employees.
Q. What programs do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?
A. It’s definitely the introduction of our wellness/personal spending account. More than 90 per cent of our surveyed employees asked for more flexibility in the allocation of their funds. Therefore, we expanded the existing benefit to give employees the flexibility to allocate their funds between health-care spending and a wellness account, which is a taxable benefit that can be used for expenses related to fitness, childcare, elder care and more. We’ve seen a 72 per cent increase in the usage of the wellness account in the past year and a lot of positive feedback from our employees.
Q. What key human resources issues do you expect in 2020?
A. With today’s reality, I think we’ll be seeing some major shifts in company cultures around physical presence at work, while making sure employee engagement remains strong. Many people will have worries and anxiety around going back to work, so how do we support our leaders, give them the right tools and prepare them for a different challenge?
I also think the current situation is driving a lot of innovation and outside-the-box thinking. My team is an amazing example, as they’ve come up with various ways of running operations without physical signatures, in-person meetings, paper printing, collecting physical cheques and more.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
A. I love spending time with my family. We hike in local parks, go for walks along the lake, watch movies and read. I’m a big fan of yoga and I’ve discovered some great apps that give you the flexibility of timing and duration, which is exactly what I need with my hours of work and familial responsibilities.
Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?
A. For me, it’s flexible working arrangements. I can’t put a price tag on the ability to work from home or flex my hours when my child has a concert, parent-teacher interview or when I simply have to focus on delivering on a major work project. At the City, we take pride in making sure we provide our employees with various options that work for their unique work-life balances.
Cassandra Williamson-Hopp is conference editor at Benefits Canada.