Employers across Canada are facing a number of challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, including staying connected with employees and looking after their well-being.

“Our people are our most important resource,” says Michelle Desnoyers, Canada benefits and human resources information services lead at Fluor Canada Ltd. “At such a challenging time, we want to do whatever we can to keep our connection to them and support them mentally, physically, socially and financially where possible and appropriate.”

Read: How should Canadian employers be responding to the coronavirus?

The multinational engineering and construction company has about 1,500 employees across Canada, from its headquarters in Calgary to offices and project sites from Vancouver to St. John’s. As the coronavirus crisis continues to change the way employees are working, Fluor Canada is leveraging its wellness committee to support employees’ overall health.

Staying connected

On physical health, Fluor Canada is highlighting MoveSpring, a fitness tracker and activity challenge platform it introduced in January 2020. Employees can download the app to their smartphone and then participate in ongoing challenges. Before the pandemic, the two-week challenges were monthly, but now they’re running back to back.

“Our current challenge is asking for 30 minutes of physical activity a day and it’s going on for 14 days . . . and then there will be another challenge after that one,” says Desnoyers, noting employees can also add colleagues so they can stay in touch.

“We’ve got a chat going on right now where people are talking to the general manager and staying connected and encouraging each other to keep moving. Of course, there’s always that physical distancing component and they’re advised to follow any guidelines where they’re located, but it is encouraging people to get up and get moving.”

Read: BMO highlights health supports for staff during coronavirus

While the majority of Fluor Canada’s employees are working at home, some people are still in the office and others have been temporarily laid off due to work stoppages on certain projects. For the latter group of employees, the company has negotiated with its benefits carrier to keep their extended health benefits.

In addition, a wide range of services are provided to all staff through the employee assistance program. “There’s a kit that people can request, either digitally or mailed out, that addresses physical health,” says Desnoyers. “Or they can contact a nutritionist or a dietician or a fitness counsellor — and all of those are available through telehealth services.”

Fluor Canada also rolled out a new telehealth service, which was available to employees for the whole month of May.

For employees’ mental health, the company has also asked its service providers for additional support. While it already had virtual and telephone support through its EAP, it now has a specific focus on ensuring support for employees who aren’t able to leave the house. The service is also extended to employees who’ve been temporarily laid off.

In addition to the resources available on its intranet, One Fluor, the organization is also sending out regular newsletters that link to other articles and resources. “We provide any new information that we have about supports for different locations,” says Desnoyers, noting this included the various coronavirus self-assessment tools as they were introduced across the provinces.

Read: How to talk about pensions and benefits during coronavirus

“We also provided some of the other additional mental-health resources that are available in those different locations, because every province has its own content. The information that was coming out was overwhelming and . . . was moving quickly, so we wanted to be able to give employees a place to go and review that information. When it came to certain jurisdictions, we created a comprehensive list of the self-assessment tools, the mental-health resources and any other applicable information for employees in that province.”

Employer considerations during coronavirus

86% of Canadian employers are aware their employees can’t conform to a regular working schedule while at home during this time, according to survey by the Conference Board of Canada.

30% of U.S. companies are implementing telemedicine services, according to a survey by WorldatWork.

70% of employees are satisfied with their employer’s communications around the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by Fierce Inc.

Indeed, Bill Howatt, president of Howatt HR Consulting, notes a lot of free tools and resources are available right now. “Organizations, at this time, would be wise to get a baseline for their workforce mental health. Don’t hallucinate, just because you have a bunch of programs, that things are actually working. We know the adherence rates of these programs, . . . so you want to be aware and mindful of what’s working and what’s not working, how is it providing benefit [and] what you can do to impact people’s experience.”

A helping hand

For employees’ financial health, Fluor Canada set up a webinar, hosted by its retirement plan provider, in early April. “It was focused on managing market volatility and giving employees some information to consider so they feel a bit more prepared and they understand what’s happening,” says Desnoyers, noting Fluor Canada is planning to share additional webinars with employees in the coming weeks.

In terms of employees’ social health, the company introduced the option for staff to volunteer virtually, whether that’s by mentoring or tutoring young people or participating in friendly calls to isolated seniors. “Our intranet site has a number of links to different opportunities like that,” she adds.

Read: Canadian public pension heads call on employers to focus on coronavirus

In addition, at the company’s Calgary head office, its in-house cafeteria is offering catering services. “We were aware of the fact that some employees are still coming into the office, some employees might not be able to make it to the grocery store and need support in that way, so . . . if our employees want to order meals that are pre-made, have them delivered or they can pick them up at the cafeteria, those services are available.”

Fluor Canada is also supporting working parents through its partnership with daycare provider Kids & Co. Typically, employees have four free emergency daycare passes per year to use when their regular childcare falls through. “Of course, that is not available to them right now, but Kids & Co. has done a great job at continuing to support parents, because we’ve got people who are home with children and some people are running out of ideas of how to keep them occupied,” says Desnoyers.

“Kids & Co. is hosting a number of ongoing webinars — posted to our intranet and promoted through those newsletters. They did a family singalong one lunch hour, they did sleep strategies for families and they’ve also got a number of other resources online for parents that include crafts and bingos and some other ideas to help parents who have children at home.”

Read: Ryerson provides virtual lunch and learns, remote work guide for staff during coronavirus

Finally, to ensure Fluor Canada is keeping track of what its employees need, the company has a “talk back” survey so staff can ask questions anonymously and receive a response within a couple of days. “The way we interact with employees and the opportunity to engage in conversation has changed,” says Desnoyers. “We want to stay connected to our employees and we know that they want to stay connected to us. This tool allows us as a team to maintain that connectivity even though our work environment may be different.”

Howatt also highlights the importance of talking to employees to learn how they’re finding any programs or initiatives. “For whatever the reason, we’re not doing enough qualitative conversations with folks. Ask and ask and ask.”

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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