Alberta Health Services was the recipient of the Communications Award (1,000+ employees) for Benefits Canada’s 2011 Pension & Investment Awards.

When Alberta Health Services (AHS) was formed in 2008 as an amalgamation of the province’s former health regions, it had a difficult task: consolidate the benefits and pension program for approximately 90,000 employees spread across Alberta and based in close to three dozen sites. To complicate matters, AHS’s staff includes both unionized and non-unionized employees, and many employees work rotating shifts on a 24-hour schedule, seven days a week. Combine that with varying degrees of retirement planning knowledge among plan members and it became a very daunting project.

“We were an extremely large organization changing in a very rapid fashion, moving to a provincial model from a regional model, consolidating more than 11 payroll systems into one,” says Darren Sander, HR director of employee benefits and retirement programs for AHS. “It was an extremely challenging task to do this in a relatively short period of time.”

Because AHS has such a range of employees—unionized and non-unionized, clinical and administrative, nine-to-five and shift workers—the consolidated plan and communication efforts needed to reflect that diversity. Legacy intranet sites had been carried over from the amalgamated regions but were maintained at varying levels; there was no single source of plan information.

To help communicate the changes taking place, AHS developed a microsite, in partnership with Standard Life; this site would not only ensure that all employees had access to the same information at the same time but would also offer a one-stop shop for group savings plan information. The new microsite would become the central hub for educational materials to help members with their investment selections and retirement planning, such as online presentations, enrollment instructions and financial planning tools. The microsite launched on May 3, 2010, and was promoted in informational flyers, cards and emails sent out to all employees. Since its launch, the site has received more than 60,000 unique page views—that’s two-thirds of all AHS employees.

To support the plan implementation and explain plan details, AHS sent out communication pieces containing FAQs and plan summaries. It also set up 300 live educational sessions to provide investment information and help employees enrol. As well, a special 1-800 number was established for employees to speak with Standard Life financial representatives, obtain enrollment assistance and determine which investment options best suit them. With each communication, AHS stressed that employees were responsible for securing their retirement plans but that AHS was also there to help. The efforts worked. Traffic to the site spiked during the implementation period and then later on, during the November educational sessions, and in December just prior to enrollment deadlines.

“Our plan is not just one plan per se; it’s a multitude of options that feeds into one multi-dimensional program,” Sander remarks. “There were lots of bumps and scrapes along the way…and change for employees. However, they have seen, and are seeing, that the program is designed with a lot of flexibility in mind to meet their needs, and that’s had a lot of success.”

Tammy Burns is associate editor of

Get a PDF of this article and other coverage from the awards gala.

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

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