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Without in-person connections, employers must come up with new ways to support employee wellness.

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With millions of Canadians still working from home, the in-person connections we have relied on to engage employees have been replaced with virtual interactions. As a result, employers have had to adopt new ways of supporting their employees’ physical, emotional and mental well-being at a time when, more than ever, people are feeling stressed.

According to global people analytics firm Great Place to Work, employees are most motivated to bring their best selves to work when they feel valued and cared for as people, not just as employees. “Frequent sincere thanks and acts of caring have a big impact on building trust with your employees,” says Alison Grenier, head of culture and research for Great Place to Work Canada. This is particularly true when employees are faced with having to juggle both work and home duties simultaneously as we work our way through the pandemic. Employers can demonstrate they care in a number of ways such as flexibility and wellness benefits.

Take Montreal-based technology consulting firm CGI, for example. It has leveraged its in-house employee wellness platform to offer enhanced support during the pandemic. Some of the newest initiatives include training managers to fully support their teams, virtual access to health consultants across Canada to provide physical well-being support and an internal network of Mental Health First Aiders. This group of more than 100 employees – all volunteers – have been trained by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to provide peer-to-peer mental health support throughout the pandemic and beyond.

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Similarly, Calgary-based Avanti Software has introduced a range of supports to prevent burnout, including weekly meditation breaks to manage stress, virtual happy hours to maintain social connection, “Coffee Buddies” to help team members get to know each other and “Thrive Thursdays” where teams share their work. All of this is supported by generous wellness benefits.

Company wellness initiatives need not be expensive. But assigning a budget demonstrates to employees a serious commitment to their well-being. Formal programs that support mental wellness as strongly as physical wellness are becoming more common as an increasing number of organizations realize the return on this investment.

— Alison Grenier, Head of Culture and Research for Great Place to Work Canada

And while creative efforts to care for employees is important, sometimes a direct boost to the bottom line can go a long way in easing financial stress. Halifax-based Admiral Insurance made it a priority to remove any potential financial burdens employees may face as a result of working from home. Admiral expanded personal spending account criteria so staff could quickly claim back expenses like internet and hydro bills. Every employee received $85 to improve their home office ergonomics, and frontline employees were given thank-you bonuses for adapting to a brave new world of telecommuting while continuing to provide excellent customer service. Most importantly, all employees had the peace of mind that they would continue to receive regular uninterrupted pay regardless of their personal circumstances as a result of COVID-19.

Such wellness-focused pandemic responses by businesses demonstrate a strong commitment to employees. In fact, 83 per cent of the Best Workplaces in Canada offer workplace wellness or health promotion programs. “Company wellness initiatives need not be expensive,” says Ms. Grenier. “But assigning a budget demonstrates to employees a serious commitment to their well-being. Formal programs that support mental wellness as strongly as physical wellness are becoming more common as an increasing number of organizations realize the return on this investment.”

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we need to take care of one another. Employers that step up during this unprecedented time will likely see the payoff for years to come.


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Medavie Blue Cross. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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