Many Canadians not accessing benefits: survey

'HR teams should ask themselves: 'Where can we simplify how people access our tools?'

Many Canadians not accessing benefits: survey

Workplace wellbeing continues to be a challenge for many employers and employees, judging by a recent Canadian survey.

Wellbeing has worsened for around one-third of respondents — and the numbers are even more dire for remote workers, as 55% reported more negative health outcomes.

And while many employers have extensive health benefits on offer, 40% of employees said they face financial barriers in accessing help and another 32% of workers reported lack of time as a significant reason why they are having trouble getting help, finds the survey of 1,502 Canadians in January by digital health services provider Dialogue.

So how can employers help bridge this divide?

“I think the number one thing organizations can do is they can make wellbeing an organizational priority. It can’t just be something that you talk about in crisis, or moments of need, it needs to be embedded into who you are as an organization,” says Gena Restivo, vice-president of corporate affairs and sustainability at AstraZeneca in Toronto.

“First, you have to prioritize it and you need to have the resources available and then [you] want to spend time in a place that allows you to be your whole self, so you can actually thrive in the workplace.”

Boosting awareness of the EAP

One of the best ways that employees can receive appropriate support is through employee assistance programs (EAPs) but 40% of respondents reported they have never accessed EAPs at work, and one in five don’t even know how to do so.

For HR, the best way to make it more attractive to employees is “simplify, simplify, simplify access to your tools,” according to Restivo.

“There’s never been more information that has been thrown at employees — and more distraction — so HR teams should ask themselves: ‘Where can we simplify how people access our tools, so people can access them, and then have an impact faster?’”

A one-stop shop where that is regularly refreshed is key to making employees want to visit for a fulsome look at the available resources, she says.

“It’s something that isn’t just static: we constantly keep it up to speed, up to date on the things that our people are accessing, that they’re finding valuable. It’s where people can rapidly access details about all of our wellness programs.”

More than half of employers in another survey said they have an ethical responsibility to provide employee support.

‘Make wellbeing a priority’

An overwhelming majority of workers in the survey (nine out of 10) said it’s crucial for employers to provide assistance but less than half (45%) reported their employers are actually doing something around this.

To change these perceptions, HR departments need to listen to employees and begin conversations around what they are looking for, says Restivo.

“You make wellbeing a priority… you also need to keep your ear to the ground as leaders in an organization around what your employees are telling you and make sure that you’re listening, and then adjusting to make sure that you are creating the right environment and the right set of tools and resources that set your people up for success.”

At AstraZeneca, the pandemic effectively forced it to make benefits adjustments, she says, and these include new virtual coaching programs, four weeks of vacation for new employees, gender affirmation coverage and new parental offerings “that includes every definition of parent you can imagine.”

“This is where I honestly believe organizations can differentiate themselves,” says Restivo.

“It’s around staying current, staying up to speed to make sure that you have the resources that meet their needs because that can be a financial barrier, as well, if people don’t have access to what they need to be able to support their wellbeing needs.”

For employers, these questions must be resolved or employees will walk out the door, says Restivo.

“The thing that HR leaders and every business leader should keep top of mind is that employees will make career decisions based on what they see and hear around how organizations are stepping up on some of the biggest issues for their own health and wellbeing because if we do that, you’re going to be able to retain your best talent.”

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