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Study: Canadian workplace health benefits critical for employee retention

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November 16, 2021
By Talent Canada

(Blue Planet Studio/Adobe Stock)

A survey conducted by The Conference Board of Canada together with TELUS Health found an up to 83 per cent gap between the health benefits Canadian employees report they have and what they want when it comes to extended health and well-being support from their employers.

The survey, conducted amidst a global pandemic, suggests that this gap is significant enough to create employee disengagement and has the potential to cause significant organizational turnover at a time when hiring and retaining employees is increasingly challenging: nearly seven in 10 employers globally are struggling to find workers for specific positions, marking a 15-year high.

The data suggests that Canadian employers need to consider more personalized and flexible workplace health benefits plans that offer more preventive health services and allow for more choice and ways to stay healthy.

One way to achieve more flexibility is through virtual health care and telemedicine which may help in attracting and retaining top talent.


“The survey was designed to gain a deeper understanding of the current and evolving needs of Canada’s workforce amidst a global pandemic when it comes to their health needs and we found that between 33 and 59 per cent of respondents said that health and wellness support offered by their employers does not reflect their current needs,” Lauren Florko, senior research associate, The Conference Board of Canada, stated in a press release.

“What’s more, the same number of respondents reported that they may in fact seek out new job opportunities in pursuit of improved or more holistic health and wellness support plans.”

Key findings

  • Forty per cent of respondents reported using virtual health care for either physical or mental health services, indicating that virtual health care is key to allowing Canadians and organizations to thrive as we move to a more digital age.
  • Of the employees surveyed who have a personal health spending account (HSA), 42 per cent do, or would, spend funds to top up on basic dental and vision care, and prescription drugs expenses rather than paramedical services like mental health-related consults.
  • The top five health benefits reported as most important according to those surveyed are: basic dental services (81.9 per cent), eye exams (81.8 per cent), glasses/contacts (80.4 per cent), and both pension and retirement savings plans (73 per cent).
  • Flexwork and telework appear to have increased in importance as an ancillary benefit with most respondents rating them as essential (65 per cent and 72 per cent, respectively). As expected, as more organizations facilitate this way of working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are recognizing the broader benefit to their overall quality of life.

In today’s competitive and changing labour market, organizations need to offer more than just competitive salaries to recruit, attract, and retain employees.

Benefits are the second-most important factor when employees consider different job offers, beyond salary and health benefits have more weight than they used to — most employees believe it is a fundamental right.

In fact, many employees (60 to 77 per cent) have said they would leave their current organization for one that would offer them better support for their well-being (even with a lower salary).

“As the corporate world evolves, adapting to the post-pandemic period, employers must remain firmly focused on ensuring their employees are supported, particularly when it comes to their overall health and well-being,” said Sonya Lockyer, Vice President,TELUS Health.

“Personalized health-care options need to be more accessible for employees, enabling them to take the lead in proactively managing their physical and mental health. Virtual care and timely mental health interventions will allow employees more choice, more control, and more ways to stay healthy.”


Employees view the overall health benefits package as a gesture of how an employer is going to treat them.

This suggests it is critical for employers to adapt health and wellness programs, not only to attract employees, but also to retain them and keep them productive.

By optimizing the value of their health and well-being supports, employers can reduce absenteeism, increase engagement and productivity, and foster a culture of wellness embraced by a new generation of employees.

To better align with employees’ reported needs, recommendations for Canadian employers include:

  • Offering health benefits to all employees, including part-time workers;
  • Considering the demographics of a company’s unique workforce such as age, employee level, family status, genders;
  • Increasing communications to ensure all employees are familiar with all aspects of their health benefits program, especially mental health offerings;
  • Communicating regularly with employees about benefits plans, including whether virtual health services are covered, how to access them, and the benefits to using these services to improve an employees’ health and well-being (i.e. less commuting, better work-life balance, on-demand access to resources and support);
  • Allowing employees to prioritize their mental and physical health needs by providing flexible work arrangements, including working from home, and access to high quality, preventative and compassionate health care.

To read all of the findings, visit the link to Seeking Support: The Future of Employee Health here.

The Future of Health Benefits report summarizes the results of the Conference Board of Canada and TELUS Health employee benefits survey.

Data was collected in September 2021. A total of 1,502 individuals employed in Canadian organizations participated.

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