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Why Caring for the Community Is Everyone’s Business

In the post-pandemic jobs market, prospective employees will be in a strong position[1]. Many will have a number of employment options and offers to consider.

Keeping this competitive marketplace for talent in mind, organizations that go beyond traditional benefits to demonstrate a positive impact on the communities surrounding them could be in a better position to successfully attract and retain high-level candidates.

But is there more at stake than attracting talent when thinking about engaging with the community? And how should HR professionals make community part of their wellbeing strategy?

The pandemic suspended business as usual, forcing employers and employees to rethink accepted notions of work and adapt rapidly to an uncertain and fast-changing world.

Seeing family, friends and neighbors struggling through the challenges presented by COVID-19 brought the value of community to the fore. Community members and businesses worked tirelessly to ensure their most vulnerable members were cared for and protected.

But as life begins to return to normal, will employers continue to be so community minded? Could they go even further and make significant contributions to the community at large?

Against this backdrop one thing is certain; employees are thinking about their futures and their role in society. In the McKinsey Individual Purpose survey 2020[2], nearly two-thirds of US-based employees said that COVID-19 had caused them to reflect on their purpose in life, while nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic.



In this article, we explore how operating with compassion can unite organizations, employees and communities around a common purpose. We also look at how that understanding helped the HR team at Pratt & Whitney Canada develop a truly holistic wellbeing strategy.

With insights from:

  • Alexandra Georgescu — VP, Health Solutions Canada, Aon
  • Jim Winkler — Global Advisory & Specialty Leader, Aon Health Solutions
  • Annick Laparé — Director, Total Rewards, Pratt & Whitney
  • Emmanuelle Gaudette — Associate Director, Health & Wellbeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada


Why your business should connect with the community

Employers of all sizes have the means to make a difference in their community. Whether it is the local grocer offering discounts to seniors, or a large corporate entity providing funding for employee volunteering or neighborhood reconstruction programs, every organization can have a positive impact beyond the walls of their office or factory.

Giving back to the community is always a good thing. But another significant benefit is that it makes employees feel good about themselves and the businesses they work for. When an employee’s sense of purpose aligns with the values of the company they work for, it is a powerful combination.


“If you're able to go above and beyond just providing employment, you're increasing your chances of attracting, retaining and having happy employees.”

Alexandra Georgescu — VP, Health Solutions Canada, Aon


The pandemic has highlighted issues of diversity, equity and inclusion like never before. Compassionate business leaders know their business does not exist in a vacuum, and that their organizations must be more reflective of society. Ignoring these issues is no longer an option. Sharing resources to create more equity is an invaluable way of showing that your business cares.


‘There's a very widespread sense of social responsibility in all levels of society, but particularly in our younger generations. I think employers stand to gain a lot from speaking their language, adapting their thinking and joining them in this mission.’

Alexandra Georgescu — VP, Health Solutions Canada, Aon


Of course, it is not always easy or comfortable for business leaders to take a stance on the issues that affect their employees and their communities. In this respect, there is still a long way to go. However, the opportunity is there for those organizations brave enough to do so. As Georgescu comments, seizing those opportunities to connect with people around these issues of social and corporate responsibility often requires ‘courage, and corporate courage’. Multinational organizations often face the additional challenge of needing to get permission - what is important to the demographics of one market might be very different to another, particularly for those straddling emerging and developed economies. But as Georgescu affirms, those who do gain permission to act stand to attract fresh talent who are ‘looking to employers to have a bigger stance’.


Let data drive a holistic, flexible wellbeing strategy 

The best way to truly understand the significant drivers and issues affecting your employees’ wellbeing is to listen to the data.

Pratt & Whitney Canada, a company that designs, manufactures and services aircraft engines, conducted a study of all the data it held around employee health a number of years ago. While putting people and community first has always been part of the firm’s DNA, it was not aware of how large an issue mental health was until the data brought it to light.


‘We conducted a study of our aggregate data around health, which painted a really clear picture for us that mental health is an important issue for our workforce. We're no different than many organizations around Canada and the rest of the world but, at Pratt, our number one health issue is mental health, and if we wanted to address this and really have an impact on our employees, our managers, and our organization, we needed a more comprehensive approach.’

Emmanuelle Gaudette — Associate Director, Health & Wellbeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada


The insights gleaned from this data analysis permitted Pratt & Whitney Canada’s wellbeing team to build a holistic wellbeing program better suited to individual employees’ needs. But quantitative data alone cannot provide insight into the root causes of trends of ill health - for that, employers must take a broader look at the community, and the situations their workforce find themselves in.

During the pandemic Pratt & Whitney Canada has gone the extra mile for its 6,000 Canadian employees by creating a community vaccine hub, as Laparé explains;


‘Pratt & Whitney is one of the largest employers in the community, so there are lots of employees and their family members living nearby. We have always led large campaigns to provide back to the community, so I think that extending the vaccination hub beyond our direct workforce was just a natural step to make sure that our employees would be safe. That included their family members, because if an employee's family is at risk and can't get access to vaccines, then from a mental standpoint, they're not better off.”

Annick Laparé — Director, Total Rewards, Pratt & Whitney


Implementing community-based initiatives to protect physical health, such as offering vaccinations during a pandemic, is fairly straightforward. But communities can have an effect on mental health as well. For example, research shows that the prevalence of major depression increased seven percent among populations during periods of social unrest[3]. And that increase happened regardless of whether or not the affected individuals were participants themselves, suggesting a community spillover effect. Understanding these community circumstances is critical for employers who want to ensure the productivity and wellbeing of their workforce. Taking steps to offer support to these communities, where possible and appropriate, can be an important proactive measure.

As Pratt & Whitney Canada’s vaccine initiative demonstrates, when employers take a broader look at the drivers of their employees' health, extending their compassion and resources into the wider community can protect their peoples’ physical and mental health.


Never forget employees are a community too

Caring about the wider community and giving employees the opportunity to have a positive impact in it is one element of building and retaining a happier, healthier workforce. However, since most of a person’s time will actually be spent at work, it is equally important to consider how their time at work enables them to foster a sense of belonging, through a culture that supports their health.

When it comes to mental health, Laparé and Gaudette describe their approach at Pratt & Whitney Canada as creating a protective, positive ‘ecosystem’ for their workforce.


‘Raising awareness and having people talk in a shared language really helps to reduce stigma around mental health. In the past, we had company practices around mental health responses that were communicated to senior leaders, but now we have employees sharing their stories, experiences, and helping others see that it’s not always easy, and how they go through it. This has been a real change from a few years ago, our support systems are no longer just top down, but bottom up and lateral - our whole team are more capable of helping each other.’

Annick Laparé, Director, Total Rewards, Pratt & Whitney


In addition to highlighting the importance of community, the pandemic also gave compassionate leaders an increased awareness of individual needs and emotional welfare, resulting in significant changes in the focus of wellbeing programs.

Businesses are moving towards more flexible benefits packages designed to accommodate the changing needs that people have, allowing the individual to make choices that work for them.


‘Every individual is a unique ecosystem of their own.’

Jim Winkler — Global Advisory & Specialty Leader, Aon Health Solutions


The value of giving employees the freedom to choose from a framework of benefits options best suited to their own needs cannot be overstated. Looking after all the communities touched by your organization can bring rewards, not just in the wellbeing of your employees, but in terms of company performance as well. In fact, as early as 2017, research by Forbes[4] found that around 82 percent of US consumers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) when deciding what services and products to buy and from where.

In addition, a survey of millennials' work habits indicated that 86 percent of Gen Y workers greatly value their companies’ CSR missions and would consider leaving businesses if those policies began to slip.[5]


ROI is not everything

They say it is better to give than to receive. When it comes to the design of health, wellbeing and benefits programs, organizations like Pratt & Whitney Canada are applying this attitude of intention over measurable impact. They are, however, hearing stories from their workforce that show their approach is making a difference.


‘It takes time before you get the impact on the business. We are just one year down the road after the launch of our Health & Wellbeing program. So, financially, there's no dollar value that we can put on this, but we know that 85% of employees think that it is helping them to be more productive at work.’

Emmanuelle Gaudette — Associate Director, Health & Wellbeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada


In recent years, Aon has also seen a change in what businesses expect to gain from their wellbeing programs.


‘I think the corporate world has realized that not everything comes with a clear ROI and some things just need to be tackled because they need to be tackled. When it comes to evaluating the success of a program it's more cost avoidance than direct cost savings. I do see a lot more change in businesses’ attitudes now. For instance, employers are recognizing that proactive support for mental health disability is vital to keeping people in work.  Companies are just in a different mindset where they're seeing that certain steps are necessary, and certain costs are necessary because they're looking at health in a much more holistic way.’

Alexandra Georgescu — VP, Health Solutions Canada, Aon


Program cost management is a clear win for organizations who take a proactive approach to the health of their workforce, but compassion is the key for organizations like Pratt & Whitney Canada who value the human impact that their work has.


‘The stories we are starting to hear are the most important measure of our success. We heard of a manager who had been trained in mental health first aid and was able to spot that something was not going well with one of their employees. That employee then felt comfortable enough with their manager to disclose that they were having suicidal thoughts. Through that conversation, the person in need was able to gain access to professional support through our medical center. How can you put a dollar value on that?’

Emmanuelle Gaudette — Associate Director, Health & Wellbeing, Pratt & Whitney Canada


At Pratt & Whitney Canada, operating with compassion and engaging the community gives employees a strong sense of pride and purpose in their work. Talent attraction and retention are part of the strategy, but certainly not the whole picture.

Giving employees the freedom to navigate the pressures and challenges of an ever-changing world in ways that satisfy their own purpose is the key to a more productive, more engaged, and more resilient workforce.


Operating with compassion and engaging community — the next steps for people leaders:

  • Consider how your organization can support community need and the impact your wider community has on your workforce
  • Understand employee health data, and use it to build more flexible benefits programs that reach out into the community
  • Engage with employees – discuss what they need from their work and benefits
  • Recognize that some programs will not have a classic business ROI, but keep listening and you might find you’ve had an impact that’s even more valuable


If you invest in the wellbeing of your people, they will invest in the wellbeing of your business.

[1] A War For Talent Is Starting

[2] McKinsey Individual Purpose Survey 2020

[3] Mental health during and after protests, riots and revolutions. A systematic review.

[4] How Community Involvement Programs Can Grow Your Business

[5] Corporate Social Responsibility is a Key in Attracting Millennials