A more inclusive workplace is something most employers now recognize as a really good thing for business, usually because they see it as helpful in building a healthier work environment. Organizations as well see it as important also in coming out ahead in our ever-tightening labour market because prospective employees are increasingly choosing employers who hire people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and family compositions.
But there’s even more to add to the “Plus” column in the analysis of a more inclusive workplace (though really, it’s an entirely one-sided analysis because the “Negative” column is, and will always be, empty). Significant research shows that inclusion actually benefits humans psychologically and physically in ways that help them fully commit to their work and their team. Six key benefits of inclusion include:
- It actually makes us smarter. Studies have shown that people lose some of their ability to think clearly and perform given tasks when they feel excluded.
- Individuals who feel included are more likely to practice healthy habits. Inclusion promotes a commitment among individuals not just to their teams but to themselves too.
- Inclusion promotes pro-social behaviour.
- Individuals who feel included tend to persist longer on frustrating tasks.
- Inclusion promotes the belief that life is meaningful and things are worth doing.
- When leaders actively try to include others, they create the conditions for people to feel socially connected, which greatly improves people’s moods and overall health.
Okay – so there are plenty of reasons to work towards an inclusive workplace. But what are some of the tools and practices that can help? It might surprise you but your company’s group benefits plan is a fantastic inclusivity-boosting resource. You already know that your group benefits plan is intended to help look after your valued employees and their families but if it was designed with little or no flexibility in benefits coverage, it simply wasn’t built to suit the needs of all five generations that now comprise the labour market. It also can’t support the different genders, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and family compositions that exist, or could exist, in your work team. Fortunately, your benefits plan can be modified in a number of ways to effectively address this problem.
Health and Personal Spending Accounts
One of the easiest ways to build inclusivity into your workplace is by supplementing your traditional group benefits plan with a Spending Account. In a nutshell, a Spending Account is a pre-determined amount of benefit dollars you set aside for each employee each year to spend how the employee chooses. In the case of a Health Spending Account (HSA), the employee can spend the cash tax-free on any CRA-approved Health or Dental expense (or expenses). In most cases, HSA dollars are used to cover expenses that are either not covered under a provincial healthcare plan or your group benefits plan, or that exceed the coverage available in your benefits plan. In the case of a Personal Spending Account, the employee can spend the taxable cash on just about any wellness-related expense including, but not limited to, cooking classes, gym equipment and fees, self-improvement classes, dependent children’s extracurricular activities…the sky’s the limit. By offering either or both of these types of Spending Accounts to your employees, you are providing them with benefits flexibility that helps meet their unique wants and needs.
Fertility issues can impact anyone. There are many ways one can start a family, and infertility treatments could play a key role in their success. Consider including coverage for the following:
- IVF without an infertility diagnosis. Most group benefits plans require a diagnosis of infertility for a plan member to be eligible. This precludes benefit coverage for LGBTQ+ couples, single intending parents, and anyone else pursuing parenthood outside of heterosexual, cisgender coupling.
- Surrogacy services are complicated and costly but they make parenthood attainable for parents of all types. Consider coverage that provides help with this process.
- Fertility preservation and testing. By offering coverage for the testing and freezing of embryos, sperm AND eggs, you mare making this benefit inclusive for all employees.
Gender Affirmation Coverage
One thing employers can do to support and protect their transgender employees is to provide gender affirmation coverage. This includes coverage for foundational and focused surgeries that help with the physical transformation.
Mental Health Support
Mental health supports are in tremendous demand, and providing mental health support services for all employees is vital to creating a positive and inclusive workplace. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness as their heterosexual counterparts. Mental health support is even more important for those in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are a part of another minority like the Black and Indigenous communities. Your group benefits plan likely already has mental support options but it’s important enough to confirm and potentially expand.
Anecdotally speaking, Wiegers Financial & Benefits has always actively supported inclusivity in our own workplace, not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because it makes good business sense. If you too would like to grow inclusivity in your workplace, your benefits advisor is a terrific resource, and can educate you about the options available.
Debra Wiegers, GBA, CLU, CH.F.C.
Managing Principal, Benefits Division
Wiegers Financial and Insurance Planning Services Ltd.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of Manulife Securities Investment Services Inc.
 Chris Weller, “6 Benefits of Creating More Inclusive Workplaces”, NeuroLeadership Institute, September 2, 2020, http://bitly.ws/An8U
 Benefits by Design, “Employee Benefits to Build an Inclusive Workplace”, Benefits by Design, June 7, 2022, https://www.bbd.ca/blog/inclusive-workplace-benefits/