Revisiting total rewards a constant cycle

Saskatchewan employer always tweaking program to meet employee needs
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/16/2011

A visit to the careers page of the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC)’s website reveals an impressive rundown of its offerings: a diverse work environment, continuous learning opportunities, work-life balance and a comprehensive total rewards program.

Each element is described in detail to entice “talented team players, problem solvers and innovators who want to build a career while exploring new industries and opportunities in Saskatchewan.”

And enticement is needed as the Treasury Board Crown corporation requires highly specialized employees. Based in Saskatoon with offices in Prince Albert, Regina and Uranium City, SRC conducts research in a number of fields and lab services for Canadian and global clients. Established in 1947, it has 450 full-time employees.

“Because we have so many diverse businesses, the populations or market we’re trying to reach in our hires is very diverse as well, from mid-career hires to brand new graduates to scientists from across the globe,” says Toby Arnold, vice-president of organizational effectiveness at SRC.

“Each one of them is looking for something different so to have a flexible design in our total rewards program, we can deal with the demands from the recruits that we’re looking at. Some are all cash-intensive and some are looking for retirement and some would like some flexibility in their work-life balance and we’re able to do that within a program like this.”

The company has taken a total rewards approach for years, making changes and tweaks as the economy and its population change. The program covers everything from base salaries and insured benefits to a health spending account (HSA), paid time off, sick leave, tuition refunds and a group registered retirement savings plan (RRSP).

The rewards are influenced by feedback from employees that is conveyed through regular employee engagement surveys, focus groups with independent consultants and a staff relations committee and pensions advisory committee.

“Those types of discussions have been very helpful for us in HR to try and tweak our programs to suit what they’re looking for,” says Arnold.

Their feedback, for example, led to changes with health benefits. Some employees were unhappy with the benefits coverage, so SRC introduced a health spending account. Employees understand the cost of the benefits and the give and take involved because the company talks about that in its total rewards, says Arnold.

While SRC’s vacation benefits are generous (18 days on the first day of employment, 23 days at 10 years), some employees were not as keen to have additional time off with 18 earned days off per year. So HR introduced an option to allow employees to take cash if it’s preferred.

“Instead of making a universal decision, we allow employees to choose, within guidelines and approvals and all the rest. That’s where we can help them with work-life balance,” says Arnold.

Employee comments are also leading to change in the area of career development as there was need for improvement, she says.

“We have MBAs and PhDs and some advanced education and those programs have been in place for a long time but now we’re going to look at other types of training that isn’t so scientific-based. More project management skills and some of the softer skills will be included in a career development package we hope to introduce this fall.”

Education and learning have always been an important part of SRC’s total rewards package because of the nature of its employee population, says Arnold.

“We have a highly scientific and engineering population that’s very focused on that so, to be able to do research, they have to stay on top of the latest and greatest research and practice out there, so there’s a lot of emphasis on training, conferences, professional development, for sure.”

Also in the works are changes to SRC’s programs around retirement savings and mental health. The company is reviewing its defined contribution pension plan and hoping to introduce greater flexibility through a life cycle approach.

“Whether you’re young and trying to save for a mortgage or whether you’re closer to mid-career and you want to focus on retirement, we’ll allow our pension plan to have some flexibility there,” says Arnold.

SRC has provided an employee assistance program (EAP) for several years but is in the midst of introducing a program called Lifespeak. Through video on demand, employees will have access to information on topics such as mental health, physical health, raising children and the sandwich generation.

The video clips feature North American experts and employees can access them from work or home or even download them onto portable devices, says Lynne Gorgchuk, manager of HR at SRC.

Communicating the benefits

Total rewards are branded on the company’s website along with being featured in recruitment brochures for career fairs. Total rewards statements are also given out to employees, showing the company’s total cost for the package along with a personal statement.

“Of all the challenges, it isn’t so much the design as the communication,” says Arnold.

And with the economy slowly improving, the focus on total rewards will continue as SRC works to recruit and retain the best and brightest in yet another war for talent.

“Saskatchewan was pretty much cushioned (during the recession) so, for us, when the rest of economy might have been depressed, we continued with merit increases and our market adjustments and all the rest to better position ourselves because we could still afford to do so,” says Arnold. “We really didn’t see much of an impact. We were still having trouble recruiting in some areas.”

And the total rewards program is being revisited all the time, say Arnold and Gorgchuk.

“We started with compensation structures, moved on from that to the health spending account, now we’re doing pensions, then it’ll be the education programs through development, and then recycle back onto the base compensation because we do expect the country’s economy to change. So we’re going to need to look at our market-based pay and all the rest,” says Arnold. “It’s just a cycle. We finish one and pick up another one.”

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