Changing Perspectives About Benefits Plans and Work Culture

Canadian employers are facing increasingly complex human resource issues and challenges. These challenges adversely impact organizational health and productivity, which are important determinants of business success. By providing employee benefit plans, employers expect to achieve high standards of organizational health and productivity, attract and retain talented staff and maintain high levels of employee engagement. Go to any conference on employee benefits and read articles on workplace wellness, and you will see that there is ample evidence that organizations are struggling to find the ideal mix of benefits to meet the needs of their workforce and that positively impacts health and productivity.

Business leaders increasingly express the need for strategic advice and actionable solutions to these challenges without adversely impacting the financial health of their organization. Unfortunately, the need to contain costs associated with higher insurance premiums resulting from increased claims, very often drives the final decision on the range of services covered in the plan. Employers also want to see proof that there is a return on investment from ancillary services such as health and wellness / prevention and employee assistance programmes (EAPs).

A holistic approach For benefits plans to be successful, a holistic approach involving the collaboration of all service providers is likely to lead to the desired outcome of a healthy, productive workforce that supports business success. Employers, when shopping the market for benefits plans, should mandate their benefits advisors to firstly uncover the underlying reasons for higher claims that lead to increased premiums. This assessment should involve an analysis of the claims experience, the state of organizational health and wellness and patterns of absenteeism and trends that lead to short- and long-term disability. Instead of asking insurers to present a set of desired services, advisors should identify and work with insurance carriers that go beyond claims payment adjudication processes and risk assessment and that offer innovative, customizable solution sets. The specialist services of EAPs, medical clinics and paramedical service providers ought to fit with the objectives of the client and insurer and work in partnership with them.

The best designed benefits plan may fail to support the employer’s objectives if employees are unaware of the services offered, and more importantly, cannot see the connection between their daily experience at work and the desired outcomes of good organizational health and productivity that the benefits plan aims to support.

This begs the question, how can employers create an obvious connection between the benefits plan and the workplace culture?

The employer, working closely with the benefits advisor and providers, should implement activities that allow employees to collectively experience the plan in the workplace on a daily basis. More specifically, this can be done through on-site programmes in which all employees participate, and by establishing policies that support prevention and cost containment. Consider:

Mandatory business practices that support behavioural changes leading to better health

  1. Mental health and stress reduction practices like creating policies on the transmission of e-mail after business hours, and
  2. Enforcing vacation requiring that employees use vacation at least once every 12 months.
  3. Physical well-being promoted through structured physical exercise programs for employees, and
  4. Improved workstation design, and
  5. Healthy and nutritious choices in cafeterias; and
  6. On-site medical assessments to identify early signs of chronic diseases.

Communications material and tools to enable employees to make better choices when selecting options and services covered by the plan

  1. Communicate how employees can take preventive actions, and
  2. Share how to better manage prescription drug costs; and
  3. Recommend the frequency of use of some services, for example, dental checks once every 12 – 14 months instead of every six months, where possible.

Employee Assistance Programme modules that can be accessed while at work

  1. Periodic on-site seminars on issues specific to the employee profile of the company, for example, wellness promotion, work-life balance, challenges faced by the sandwich generation, etc.; and
  2. Intranet portals providing on-line resources and tools that encourage employee engagement in their health and wellness.

These recommendations call for a change in perspective from viewing a benefits plans as a health care cost to perceiving it as an important tool to support a healthy, productive team. The benefits of a thriving work culture are generally seen in better bottom line results and sustainable business success. A change in perspective in benefits plans may be well worth it! What do you think?

Camille N. Isaacs-Morell is a marketing professional who has had extensive experience in the development of marketing strategies to promote employee benefits plans. She passionately believes that employee engagement and the alignment of personal and corporate values are essential to make work a gratifying and satisfying experience. Read more at,

This blog post was originally published on on 24 September 2013


Going beyond corporate social responsibility – moral and ethical responsibility in business

When corporations cause harm to the society, their corporate licences can be revoked, fines and other sanctions can be imposed under the law or society can withdraw its patronage and profits, placing the corporation’s existence in jeopardy.

Many corporations invest significant resources in philanthropic acts which are collectively packaged and promoted as corporate social responsibility (CSR).  CSR reports offer the public some proof that corporations are acting responsibly and are contributing to the well-being of the society.

Some corporations have established corporate codes of ethics to set standards of business practice that go above the base-line requirements of the law.  In addition, corporations define moral values that shape the corporate culture, with the expectation that these values will be evidenced in the personal and professional conduct of employees.

We now live in an information age in which corporations are under constant public scrutiny.  The actions and implied intentions of corporate agents are very often judged, using moral and ethical principles as the standard, and not just the base-line requirements of the law or the content of CSR reports.

A case in point

Citizens of Lac Mégantic, Québec, were outraged at the delayed response of Ed Burkhardt, president of MMA, the company whose derailed train carrying crude oil devastated their small town.  During his first (and only?) visit to Lac Mégantic five days after the disaster, Mr. Burkhardt focused his communication in his brief contact with the population, on potential legal liabilities and insurance claims, blaming an employee and implying that the fire department may have played a role in the disaster.  The widespread outrage at Mr. Burkhardt’s reaction is understandable and justified.  His behaviour demonstrated his concerns were primarily focused on base-line legal responsibilities.  And yes, there is much that is ethically and morally wrong with a corporation’s president enjoying the comfort and safety of his office and home many miles away from a disaster area where hundreds of people remain homeless, jobless and in the case of nearly 50 people, lifeless, as a result of the corporation’s actions – regardless of who eventually is found to be legally liable for the disaster.

The BIG picture

Corporations must accept that they are not only legal entities with legal obligations.  Corporations have moral and ethical responsibilities to ensure that their actions, whether intentionally performed or accidentally caused, do not harm the society.  This, in my view, is the BIG picture.

Putting public safety above profits is the true test of whether or not a corporation is acting in a morally responsible fashion.  The swift response and remedial actions of Johnson and Johnson in the Tylenol capsule crisis  in spite of multi-million revenue losses, demonstrated that corporation’s recognition of its self-imposed obligation to avoid harming the public even though it did not directly cause the contamination of the capsules.

Focus on what’s important

Because moral and ethical responsibilities are self-imposed, corporations should find specific, clearly defined ways and means of ensuring that they are fulfilling these responsibilities.  A few suggestions:

  • Annual training for employees on the code of ethics – Each employee should review and sign the code of ethics, attesting to their understanding and compliance.  Part of the training should include likely scenarios in which employees will need to apply the corporation’s ethical and moral standards.
  • A moral audit committee – Establish a committee that addresses situations that present ethical and moral dilemmas for employees and for the corporation.  In addition the committee should periodically review the ethical and legal implications of the corporation’s business practices.  For example: pricing and special promotions, supplier relationships and the award of contracts, competitive positioning in advertising and potential conflicts of interest in talent acquisition.
  • Whistleblower’s hotline – The provision of a secure way for employees to disclose business practices and employee behaviour that are contrary to the company’s code of ethics and corporate values.
  • Protocol for crisis management – The protocol should include guidelines for transparent communication and codes of conduct for the corporation’s representatives that focus on empathetic, remedial actions and intentions of the corporation.


See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.