TD takes family-friendly benefits to the bank

Employees value easy-to understand policies
By Danielle Harder
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/04/2009

Editor’s note: This is the sixth of a seven-part series taking a look at some of the best practices of Canada’s award-winning employers. Here, we take a look at health and family-friendly benefits at TD Bank Financial Group and why they make it such a great place to work.

Every year, TD Bank Financial Group asks employees to name two tangible things they would like to see improved within the company. Typically, the Toronto-based bank receives about 20,000 suggestions. Two consistent themes from that survey — more flexible work hours and improved benefits — have translated into successful policies that have earned TD Bank an exceptional rating in the area of health and family-friendly benefits.

“That’s all part of our strategy to make sure we are viewed by our employees as a great place to work,” says Peter McAdam, vice-president of consumer experience. “This ties back to our efforts to make sure we have the most engaged workforce out there.”

Over the past few years, TD Bank has simplified its benefit plan while increasing its subsidy by $12 million annually. Every employee gets 100-per-cent coverage for basic life, health and medical insurance. They’re also given credits to help with optional coverage for additional benefits. That subsidy is based on the number of dependents.

“Part of our philosophy is that they have an opportunity to create a personal benefits package that meets their needs throughout their entire life cycle while they work at TD,” says Sherry Thodt, vice-president of retirement and benefit plans. “They pick and choose across a menu but when we deliver those benefit credits to them, we make it very clear and transparent how much we’re providing to help them buy those additional benefits.”

In addition, employees who work 15 hours a week receive health coverage, as do retirees with enough service. Employees can also register for pre-arranged emergency short-term daycare in cities where the service is available

There’s a strong business case for providing such extensive benefits, in terms of employee engagement, says McAdam. It’s an argument the executive team not only understands but supports, especially since surveys show a measurable improvement in engagement over the past couple of years.

“They bought right in,” he says. “We’re fortunate that we have a senior executive who, besides understanding the business case, also feels very strongly that this is the right thing to do for our employees. We hope this is a bit of a virtuous circle. If the employees feel better, then it just looks after itself. So far, we’ve managed to afford all of this and still have great returns to shareholders.”

HR doesn’t necessarily go looking for new money every time it has a recommendation, says McAdam. Most often, these have to be budgeted into existing expense plans and HR has to either cut somewhere else or “just expect that the other revenues will keep rolling in.” That may be more difficult in the days ahead, given the current economy, he admits.

Even in good times, increasing benefit subsidies and flexibility in the workplace is “never a slam dunk,” says Thodt. Decisions have always been made after lengthy discussions with the entire senior management team, she says. Sometimes there is a “staging” of the delivery of the HR department’s recommendations.

“The reality is that there’s always lots of ways to spend money and there’s never unlimited funds,” she says. “We can’t do everything all at once and it’s not a matter of ‘No, you can’t do that.’ It’s about ‘Let’s do this one this year and then lay out that action B and action C for the years after.’”

Within the senior HR team, there has been a lot of debate about budgets as well as capacity, says Thodt. How much change can the bank and its people make at one time?

Fortunately, most of the team’s initiatives have gone over well with senior executives, she says. This speaks to how well the bank listens to its employees.

“We’re not going forward with things that are not aligned with them,” she says.

One of the biggest changes to the benefits plan — that had the unequivocal support of senior leaders — was simplifying the language and design, says Thodt.

“Make the program and policies as simple as possible. The easier to understand the programs are, the more employees will value them,” she says. “If a program is too complex, I don’t think you reach the perceived value that really the program is worth to your employee group.”

Flexibility is another area where TD Bank has performed well. The bank has opened up more opportunities for flexible hours, part-time work, shortened workweeks and telecommuting, says McAdam.

The challenge now is achieving consistency across the bank’s vast network of locations, he says. It has more than 42,000 full- and part-time employees worldwide.

“It’s not a tough sell to get the policy created and get senior management to buy in. They’ve been good at that,” he says. “It’s a challenge across an organization that has thousands of offices.”

Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.


Employer snapshot

TD Bank Financial Group

Head office:
Toronto

Number of employees:
42,825 worldwide

Who does HR report to?
CEO

Year company founded:
1855

What company does:
Provides financial and banking services to about 14 million customers worldwide.


Seven-part series

Topic overview and schedule

This is the sixth of a seven-part series on best practices. Here’s what’s been covered and what’s on deck:

Dec. 1: The physical workspace at the University of Toronto.

Dec. 15: Employee engagement at Microsoft.

Jan. 12: Vacation and time off at McGill University Health Centre.

Jan. 26: Community involvement at SaskTel.

Feb. 9: Training and skills development at Sierra Systems.

March 9: Benefit consultations at Simon Fraser University.

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