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Sun Life focuses on ‘big moments’: Fertility treatments, expanded parental leave added to benefits

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December 9, 2022
By Todd Humber

Photo: Adobe Stock

Sun Life is enhancing and expanding its employee benefits program in 2023, adding adoption and surrogate expense coverage for its staff along with new care days and an extended bereavement policy.

That includes a lifetime maximum of $15,000 for fertility drugs and services, and up to 14 weeks maternity, parental and adoptive leave top-up.

“We absolutely want to be leading in the benefits we’re providing, in thinking about well-being and flexibility and inclusion in those programs,” said Shelley Peterson, senior vice-president of total rewards at Sun Life.

The changes were driven by employee demands and a desire to respect and meet the different needs of individuals, she said.


“We listen to our people,” she said. “And we really want to respect their differences. There are a lot of different people, and they are unique and their paths to parenting are different.”

The improvements to the program come down to one thing for Peterson.

“Our employees went above and beyond for our clients during the pandemic and, as a company, we’re really thinking about how we show that same commitment to an employee when they’re in the middle of a big life moment,” she said.

Shelley Peterson, senior vice-president of total rewards at Sun Life.

Care days

Sun Life is offering up to five “care days” annually. In the past, the company offered “personal emergency days” to workers, but they were restricted and meant to be used for emergencies, said Peterson.

“We need to give people flexibility to use those days for self-care or for care of others, like family members they support,” she said.

That could include driving a parent to a doctor’s appointment. Or taking some personal time with a mental health day.

“They might need to take that day and that’s what is going to help them kind of recharge and come back productive,” said Peterson.

Or, if you wake up to flooded basement, you could take a care day to deal with that issue, she said. They are meant to be used for “any day that is significant or important to them,” she said.

Trusting employees critical

Peterson isn’t worried that employees will view the new care days as entitlements or abuse the leave, she said.

“One of the underlying trends in benefits is increasing trust in people,” she said. “We’re going to offer these days and we’re going to trust people, that they’re going to use them in a way that they feel like they need to use them.”

Employees are not required to give managers a reason for the day off, she said. Some people will use one day, and others will take all five, and both routes are acceptable.

Bereavement leave expanded

Bereavement leave will now cover workers who are grieving the loss of a pregnancy, such as stillbirth or miscarriage, along with people outside of family are significant to the employee — such as a roommate or close friend.

Workers can take up to five days off for bereavement under the policy, and there is no sliding scale based on the relationship.

“Our aim in this is providing flexibility and being inclusive,” she said. “And caring about what’s happening with them and in their lives.”

High mental health coverage

While it’s not a new benefit, Sun Life also offers its employees up to $12,500 annually in mental health coverage. This coverage has been in place since 2016, and Peterson said it has driven results.

“We believed that we needed a benefit that went beyond physical wellness and went to mental health and supported people in that regard,” said Peterson. “We believed that would have better outcomes for those employees and the business over time, and that proved true.”

Giving employees access to the services they need when they were experiencing a mental health issue “ultimately allowed them to come back to work and be productive sooner,” she said.

Communicating benefits to staff

In launching the new benefits, the company has taken what Peterson called a “multipronged” approach to raising awareness among employees.

That starts with a blanket communication, in the form of an email, that goes out to workers. The team also uses other channels, including internal networks that she described as “Facebook at work.”

But it’s really about a constant conversation, and meeting employees where they are at a particular point in time.

“It’s hard to get people to really focus on all our benefits when we are rolling them out,” she said. “More and more, we have to think about what’s happening with an employee if they do have health events; or when they’re thinking about their savings.”

Getting that information to workers, on-demand in those moments, helps them understand what the company offers and how to take advantage of it, she said.

“So we’re also quite focused on how we develop our personalized and just-in-time communications,” she said.

Helena Pagano, Sun Life’s EVP, chief people and culture officer, said employees need flexibility and support “for the moments in life that matter most.”

“We have a culture that is caring and values flexibility and inclusivity,” said Pagano. “And we know these are qualities people are increasingly seeking out when looking for new roles. Helping our people through life’s big moments is essential to supporting their well-being journey.”

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