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At Sun Life, employees have opportunities for personal growth and professional development in its sabbatical leave program.Provided

A few years ago, Denise Mayen and her husband decided they’d like to take in a foster child to join their two young daughters. But it turned out the arrangement would involve taking several weeks off at the outset. “We couldn’t afford it,” says Mayen. “We were very disappointed.” Then came 2019, and her employer, Sun Life, introduced a sabbatical leave program where employees could take up to six weeks off every five-year work anniversary. “We jumped on it in 2020, when I celebrated 15 years with the company,” says Mayen.

And into their lives came a six-year-old girl, now going on nine. “Our biggest dream was made possible,” says Mayen. “Those weeks just focusing 100-per-cent on my family were amazing. Making sure our foster child felt welcomed and safe and loved was really crucial. Without those weeks off, I’m positive I wouldn’t have been able to create that connection that was so essential to our family’s well-being.”

As a business systems consultant, Mayen spends a lot of time in the GTA, helping smooth operations in the company’s call centres. The benefits she’s received, she notes, are available to Sun Life employees across the country. With the challenges of handling three kids, she says, she’s also found it very helpful to use the company’s Virtual Care service, connecting with medical professionals online, as well as getting tips and advice from a mental health coach. “It’s really made a big difference in our life.”

Given that a significant part of Sun Life’s global business in asset management and insurance involves managing benefit programs, it’s not surprising that it puts forward its own benefits as a major draw in recruitment and in making its employees feel secure. “We care deeply about our people,” says Shelley Peterson, senior vice-president of careers and rewards. “We prioritize their overall well-being, and we foster a culture that’s inclusive, flexible and caring.

“Our sabbatical leave program is a great example of that, how we support the well-being of the person on sabbatical. It’s a break from work so they can pursue personal growth or professional development, contribute through volunteering or spend time with the people that are special to them.”

Sun Life states its purpose is “to help our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives.” “We live by our purpose internally, as well,” says Peterson.

That includes a broad hybrid work policy, in which where you work is determined by the needs of the job. “We’re focused on blending in-office with virtual work,” says Peterson.

Mayen says Sun Life has done a great job on that blending since the pandemic kept people at home. “I come to work at least once or twice a week,” she says. “And I’m always so happy to see my colleagues.

“Sun Life puts in place special events to help us get that connection back, and that makes all the difference. It’s actually fun coming in.”

Senior leaders often speak at quarterly meetings and town halls about well-being, especially mental health, she says. “And what is especially laudable is hearing from our higher-level people about their own experiences with mental health, and they do this often. Talking with friends at other companies, I have no doubt in my mind that Sun Life is handling all of this very differently.”

Mayen notes that she has no idea how long her foster daughter will be with her, but she knows Sun Life will support her on the journey. “That’s why I’ve been here 18 years and counting.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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