Talent Management


When Keeping Equals Caring: How Organizational Family Care Policies Are Impacting Retention Across Canada

Earning a reputation as a compassionate employer is more than a “nice to have” status. Increasingly, it is the difference maker on employee retention.
— By Donna Chan

It is a tough work market for employers in Canada right now with unemployment rates at 40-year lows. Quality employees have a lot of options to job hop if they wish, so firms have to offer more incentives to top talent to keep turnover rates down. In an increasing number of cases, the difference maker is a company’s status as a compassionate employer.

Compassionate employers are companies that are able to support workers who also serve as family caregivers. This can take the form of paid or unpaid leave, employee assistance programs, flexible schedules, and more.

Here, the basics of compassionate care will be covered, along with popular programming features, employee engagement tips, and a summary of the biggest benefits of pursuing a reputation as a compassionate employer in Canada.

Hitting the Basics of Compassionate Care
Nationally, Canada’s Labour Code puts down a basic “floor level” mandate for compassionate care. The employee’s job is protected, and while the leave itself is unpaid, certain caregiver benefits may be available through adjacent social programs.

However, while granting leave of up to 28 weeks out of 52 weeks is required to comply with the law, it is the bare minimum. Simply following the letter of the law will not earn a firm a reputation as an employer that goes above and beyond to help employees manage compassionate and caregiving needs.

Plus, province by province, norms are slightly different. To be competitive, firms need to be aware of what other companies are doing, both in their niches and in adjacent industries. After all, talent will flow to the organizations where it is treated best.

Popular ‘Level Up’ Moves Organizations can Make on Compassionate Care
To stand out as a compassionate employer, firms can make a variety of “level up” moves. Some of these moves provide employees with extra liquidity during leave periods, while others add flexibility around scheduling leave or offer additional support for caregivers under stress.

At Bank of Canada, adding “top up” payments to leave has been a popular move. The company was named one of 2019’s top Family Friendly Employers in Mediacorp Canada’s Top 100 Employers list, and offers employees top up payments equal to 93 per cent of full salary while they are on leave. At Toronto Hydro, top up payments are available up to 95 per cent of salary, and some firms even offer as much as a 100 per cent salary match during leave.

This reputation as a compassionate employer is not merely a “nice to have” accolade.
Meanwhile, at Desjardins Group, another of 2019’s top Family Friendly Employers, the company offers “phased in” retirement scheduling. As many workers at or near retirement age also serve as frontline caregivers, this flexibility helps juggle their own careers with the need to care for spouses, elderly relatives or aging parents. In some cases, a reduced workload can allow for more presence with loved ones and help avoid stressful crisis care situations that would require weeks of full leave.

Other firms, including up to 25 per cent of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, have added compassionate care and end-of-life counseling to their employee assistance plans. By giving employees more supporting resources, firms reduce stress and anxiety for staff, as well as reducing caregiving-related turnover. This also directly addresses one of the earliest and most persistence criticisms of compassionate care policies, which is that they can be difficult to understand and implement all on one’s own.

Maintaining Engagement While Employees Take Leave
Of course, with employees away from work for extended periods of time, it can be difficult to maintain engagement with coworkers and management. Firms that lead the way in support for compassionate care have also developed strategies for helping employees feel supported and engaged with work, even as they provide critical care for family.

A first step is ensuring communication channels are clear and clearly understood. It seems simple, but many who complain about care policies reference not knowing who to speak with about their situation or what to do to provide and receive updates. Leaning on formal employee assistance programs here is helpful.

With good communication established, holding the workspace for the employee to return to is a strong follow up step. Obviously, the work needs to be covered in the employee’s absence, but documenting project progress and task status makes it easier for staff to feel as though they can step back into their former role and keep up. Where appropriate, this documentation can be sent to staff as reference material while they are away, reducing feeling of alienation and disconnection (though care must be taken to ensure employees do not feel pressure to do work while on leave).

Reaping the Benefits of Being a Compassionate Employer
At any given time, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Canadians are serving as caregivers, often on top of full-time work.

Faced with the need to balance their loved ones and their careers, these workers show a preference for firms with flexible, supportive and enhanced compassionate care policies. Without the support of compassionate care policies, many workers would be forced to abruptly quit their jobs, leaving employers unexpectedly bereft of talent at every level of the organization.

This reputation as a compassionate employer is not merely a “nice to have” accolade. It is a distinct business advantage that can improve retention, reduce employee stress around care, and pull in top talent from other organizations.

By understanding how to implement the basics of compassionate care, choosing popular “level up” enhancements, and maintaining engagement with employees throughout their leave, firms can reap the benefits of being a compassionate employer.