SunLife shares employee stories to ensure leadership buy-in for financial wellbeing


At insurers SunLife, which has 110 employees, financial wellbeing is one pillar of a broader health and wellbeing strategy that includes emotional and community wellness.

To tackle financial wellbeing, the organisation sought to introduce an education programme that covered a variety of subjects, beyond the basics of pensions and retirement, to better reflect its younger workforce demographic.

Marie Aitkens, chief people officer at SunLife, explains: “Traditionally, financial education is focused around understanding the pension, but at SunLife we’ve got a demographic for whom pension age is a long way off and, financially, there are other things that keep them awake at night, such as paying off a student loan or trying to secure a mortgage.”

With this in mind, Aitkens and her team researched employee data, such as staff members’ ages, salary levels and disposable incomes. This helped create a more detailed picture of the workforce’s financial status and armed the HR team with plenty of metrics to present to leadership. Furthermore, because the organisation is based at one office location, the HR team was able to gain anecdotal insights from staff.

“Sharing stories from our employees helped significantly,” Aitkens says. “Personalising the stories really helped, and probably had the biggest impact for our leadership team.”

Linking the financial and emotional wellbeing arms of SunLife’s strategy also proved helpful when demonstrating the impact the programme could have, says Aitkens: “It was very helpful for me to be able to join those dots with the leadership team to say if we help our employees look after their financial wellbeing, they will be coming to work with fewer worries; we will probably see a reduction in our absence rate because people will feel less stressed and concerned.”

SunLife launched its first financial education programme with Better With Money in November 2017; this consisted of an hour-long session, comprising both a presentation and interactive discussions with staff. This was expanded in 2018 to deliver six separate sessions over the year, for between 10 to 15 employees per session.

In 2019, SunLife’s programme will be consolidated to provide a voluntary financial education session each quarter. Featured subjects will include financial fraud, saving for Christmas, summer spending for parents, making a will and pensions education.

For Aitkens, the frequency of financial education was the main challenge to overcome with the leadership team: “It was harder to help leadership understand that it’s important not to just approach financial wellbeing as a tick-box exercise. If we were to run maybe one or two seminars, then employees would see through that very quickly.”

To measure the return on investment, SunLife gathers employee feedback after each session to ask what attendees will now do differently as a result. This is followed up with another survey two or three months later to ask what they have actioned.

Aitkens concludes: “One of the key measures was in terms of changed behaviours of employees. If a couple of employees leave those workshops and then go off and make a will, or change their behavior in terms of how they online shop, then that’s a real success for us.”

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