Retiree perks growing among Top 100

Top ups, green initiatives and extra paid days off also popular
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/04/2009

Taking care of employees is important to Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which is why it has been offering health benefits to retirees, without an age limit, since 1986, says the Calgary-based rail company’s director of benefits.

“We think it’s an important commitment we have to our employees. We have a lot of long-service employees who have worked all their careers with Canadian Pacific,” says Judy Au.

Over the years, the benefit for retirees has evolved from a set package to a health savings account, says Au. This benefit, along with financial support for training and development and maternity leave top ups, is one of the reasons CPR made the list of

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

for 2009.

Many other employers put age limits on health benefits for retirees or are doing away with the benefits altogether to cut costs, says Tony Meehan, president of Mediacorp Canada and publisher of the list.

“The trend in Canada, unfortunately, is to take away health benefits for retirees,” says Meehan. This is hard on retirees, many of whom can’t afford health insurance on their own, he adds.

The cost burden on employers is increasing as the baby boomers begin to retire but making employees suffer isn’t the answer, says Meehan.

“We know there has to be cost containment, but what we’re saying is ‘Don’t take it out on retiring employees,’” he says. “We’re very, very conscious of this problem and we go out of our way to find employers that don’t do that.”

Of employers that made the list this year, 35 per cent offer health benefits to retirees, either up to age 75 or with no age limit at all. Many employers also offer phased retirement plans.

“This issue is going to become more and more prevalent as the population ages because people are working later into life and these issues are moving to the forefront in a way they haven’t before,” says Meehan.

Maternity leave top ups the norm

The list is all about improvement. When Mediacorp Canada first began publishing

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

nearly a decade ago, maternity leave top ups were the exception, rather than the rule. Now 90 per cent of employers on the list offer some kind of maternity leave top up and many offer paternity leave and adoption leave top ups as well, says Meehan.

Paid vacation has also increased, with 85 per cent of employers on the list this year offering three or more weeks’ vacation to start, he says.

“Hopefully next year, or the year after, those numbers will be close to 100 per cent.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), based in Toronto, made the list for the first time this year and offers maternity leave top ups of up to 93 per cent for 52 weeks and paternity leave and adoption leave top ups of up to 93 per cent for 35 weeks.

“Having family friendly benefits is absolutely essential to having a diverse and skilled workforce,” says Janet Mawhinney, senior diversity consultant at CAMH “It’s really important to support people to have the time to have a good work-life balance, and maternity and paternity leave (top ups) are essential to do that.”

Employers have also taken the lead with compassionate care top ups, with 30 per cent of employers on the list offering top ups for employees who take the eight-week leave to care for a dying family member, says Meehan.

Green still top of mind

The environment continues to be a growing concern for employees and more employers are implementing green initiatives to attract and retain talent, says Richard Yerema, managing editor of

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

. Green initiatives make employees proud to work for an employer because they feel like they’re giving back to the community, he says.

Software firm Adobe Systems Canada takes being an environmentally responsible organization very seriously. It bought 3,000 megawatts of sustainable energy (wind power and low impact water power) from Bullfrog Power this year to completely power its Ottawa headquarters.

It also stocks all employee cafeterias with biodegradable cutlery to reduce waste, subsidizes employees’ public transportation costs and provides on-site showers for employees who bicycle to work.

“From Adobe’s perspective, it’s part of our value base of being a socially responsible organization,” says Walter Pranke, senior HR manager at Adobe.

A recent employee engagement survey found 97 per cent of employees are happy with what Adobe is doing to give back to the community and environment, he says.

Employers learn from each other

Employers in the same industry continue to learn from each other and keep upping the ante in their benefits offerings, says Meehan. For example, when accounting firm KPMG introduced an adoption subsidy, its competitor PricewaterhouseCoopers was quick to follow suit, says Meehan. However, Yerema would like to see more cross-industry learning because different industries are competing for some of the same talent.

This is something FSC Architects and Engineers in Yellowknife noticed. The firm’s stiffest competition for talent isn’t from other architectural firms but the civil service and mining companies in the North, says Warren McLeod, a civil engineer at the firm.

“They’re able to pay them so much more than we can,” he says.

A few years ago the firm conducted an employee survey to find out what kinds of perks would encourage employees to stay with the firm and the biggest response was a pension plan, something very common in government jobs.

The firm set up a matching RSP program, with matching levels increasing when employees reach certain years of service.

“We wanted to encourage people to stay longer,” says McLeod. “The longer you’re here, the more money we can give back to you.”

Time off work

Another area where different industries are learning from each other is in paid days off in addition to vacation days. The concept started in the West, in particular among oil and gas employers, with Enbridge now offering 12 paid days off in addition to vacation and Shell offering an extra 16 days, says Meehan.

But now other employers are following suit. Chatham-Kent Health Alliance in Chatham, Ont., offers an extra four paid days off and Farm Credit Canada in Regina offers an extra six days.

Benefits here to stay

Because it took decades for the perks and benefits offered by employers on the list to develop to the level they’re at now, they’re not going to go away any time soon, even with fears of an economic slowdown on the horizon, says Yerema.

“That would be counter-productive,” he says. “Employers need to focus on the longer-term picture.”

Employees are more savvy about benefits today than they were even five years ago, says Meehan.

“The average employee and jobseeker are much more literate when it comes to these issues,” he says. “It will hurt your company over time if you’re not competitive with these things.”

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