In The Worksite

Beyond Benefits

How employee well-being is changing how we work

by Shareen Luze

Ms. Luze is head of culture and field experience, RBC Wealth Management-U.S.

So much has changed since March of 2020 when a global pandemic transformed how we lived and worked. We’ve gone through so much — pivoted, adapted and, in many respects, grown stronger.

One of the best pivots, in my opinion, has been the growing recognition among companies and their leaders that a new level of support is needed for their employees, prompting new benefits focused on employee well-being.

Employee well-being is a term that really resonates with me because it indicates the “humanness” of us all, meaning that we have a life inside and outside the office. Plus, well-being isn’t just physical, there’s a mental health component too.

In my role as Head of Culture and Field Experience, I feel a special responsibility to encourage employees to bring their authentic selves to work. That was especially true in my life during the height of the pandemic, working from home and having my family make surprise appearances on my video calls! Today, there’s greater acceptance of these little interruptions that demonstrate our work and home lives are more interconnected than ever before. The pandemic allowed a vulnerability that wasn’t evident before in corporate America, especially in financial services.

A Broader Concept Of Well Being

I am so glad to see companies waking up to the broader concept of employee well-being, beyond benefits. What started years ago with tech companies promoting employee perks, like a ping-pong table or free snacks in the breakroom, has evolved into more meaningful support for employees, like true workplace flexibility. Enabling a greater portion of the workforce to work remotely allows greater flexibility for employees who, for a multitude of life circumstances, can’t always be in the office from 9 to 5. At RBC Wealth Management, we’ve committed to flexible work schedules with time in the office (when it’s safe to do so) and time at home.

But workplace flexibility is just one part of employee well-being. The ability to take time off, whether it’s caring for a new baby or an ailing family member while maintaining financial security is just as important. Long before the pandemic took hold, RBC Wealth Management restructured its maternity leave pay to account for commission-based employees. Today, the maximum amount of pay RBC’s commission-based financial advisors can earn on leave has been doubled to better reflect their current earnings.

RBC also offers 11 weeks of paid maternity leave, far more than the standard six or eight weeks. Better still, RBC Wealth Management supports breastfeeding mothers who travel with a service called Milk Stork. It provides pre-labeled and postage-paid cooler kits to safely ship or carry breast milk from domestic and international destinations. With more than 2,100 advisors around the country and many of them traveling, it’s important to me in my new role that the advisor experience is just the same as those in our home office.

Women, no matter how you slice it, are disproportionately responsible for childcare, eldercare and home responsibilities. And the pandemic caused it all to collide...

Another aspect of supporting employee well-being is recognizing the growing role of caregivers, especially women. About 1.8 million women left the workforce because of the pandemic due to growing responsibility at home, like helping kids with virtual learning. Women, no matter how you slice it, are disproportionately responsible for childcare, eldercare and home responsibilities. And the pandemic caused it all to collide. In response, RBC offered 10 days of emergency childcare leave which it later increased 20 days to allow time to adjust and arrange for virtual learning. For those who are responsible for adults in addition to children, a growing population known as the “Sandwich Generation,” RBC offers four weeks of paid leave in addition to standard paid time off to care for an immediate family member.

Pandemic Stressors

As someone who has struggled with mental health, specifically post-partum anxiety, I had a unique perspective as the stressors of the pandemic began to mount. That’s why I wholeheartedly promoted the use of RBC’s mental health benefits — we needed to make sure employees knew they existed and how to tap into them. Medical plans already included telehealth options, and we made it easier to use those services by temporarily providing no-cost visits (no co-pays or co-insurance). We also have several programs that offer free, confidential counseling and coaching services for employees and their family members who may be experiencing stress, depression and other mental health concerns. Employees can receive personal support by phone or videoconference — without leaving their homes.

Still, benefits are just one piece of the employee well-being puzzle. Some of the greatest support comes from each other. Our employee resource group, Women Empowered (WE), hosted virtual meetings focused on work from home boundaries, communication skills and mental health topics, like mindfulness. We even had a little fun with workshops where members would show off their talents, everything from sewing masks to making cocktails and yoga. It was a chance to learn something new, relax and laugh — something we all need.

Perhaps of the most important parts of employee well-being stems from authentic leadership which starts with real conversations — the kind of conversations that go beyond pleasantries and focus on making real connection with people to create a workplace where employees feel respected and valued. There’s a lot of opportunity that comes from embracing your vulnerability and sharing struggles. As I’ve talked about my mental health journey, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve genuinely connected with people who’ve felt comfortable enough to share that mental health is a priority for them, too. It’s not easy to let down our guard but it’s so worth it.

Those little connections can make a big difference. And as the concept of employee well-being evolves, here’s hoping more and more employers are willing to take that leap.