Canada: Health, Productivity Top HR Priorities for 2016

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By Peter Menyasz

Sept. 10—The top issues for Canadian HR departments in 2016 will be productivity and health, according to Morneau Shepell’s annual Trends in Human Resources survey.

“Faced with uncertain economic times, organizations will be investing in more programs designed to improve productivity,” Randal Phillips, Morneau Shepell’s executive vice-president and chief client officer, said in a statement.

Fully 66 percent of surveyed employers indicated they plan to focus on improving employees’ health and level of engagement, up from 53 percent in last year’s survey, Phillips said. More than 30 percent of employers cited plans to conduct health risk appraisals by the end of 2016, and more than one-third said they plan to offer coping skills training.

“Given the pace of change today, there is a strong link between the health and coping skills of employees and their engagement at work,” Phillips said. “We’re also seeing a big shift in the way employers view their benefits and wellness programs. In the past, they would introduce their programs without evaluating whether or not they were delivering results, but this is changing. More than 20 percent of employers said they are monitoring the overall health and engagement of their organization today, and our survey suggests this will almost double by the end of 2016.”

Mental Health, Retirement Also Top Concerns

The latest survey also confirmed that mental health, identified by the Conference Board of Canada as costing employers more than C$20 billion ($15.4 billion) per year, remains a strong area of focus, Phillips said. More than 50 percent of employers said they plan to implement mental health training for managers in 2016, and 28 percent said they plan to address psychological health and safety issues.

Retirement issues also figured prominently in the survey, with employers’ responses showing important changes in attitudes toward retirement plans, Phillips said. About 27 percent of plan sponsors said they are considering providing payment options for retirees or are already doing so, which represents a “very positive step” toward improved income security for Canadians.

“In the past, sponsors of defined contribution pension plans left it up to their employees to fend for themselves when they retired,” Phillips said. “Their retirees often struggled to choose amongst relatively expensive investment options and figure out how much of their savings they could safely withdraw each year to avoid running out of income later in life. Poor decisions can have a very significant impact on retirement income, and plan sponsors are starting to take notice.”

Canada’s federal and provincial governments have been grappling in recent years with trying to address clearly identified shortfalls in Canadians’ levels of retirement savings. The federal government has considered changes to its universal Canada Pension Plan, and the Ontario government is currently working out the final details of its new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for self-employed individuals and companies that do not have employee pension plans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

The Morneau Shepell survey, conducted in June and July 2015, secured input from employers from a broad range of industry sectors and representing 640,000 employees across Canada. Highlights of the survey are available at

For more information on Canadian HR law and regulation, see the Canada primer.