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Investing in people: work/life solutions

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Robert Half International (RHI) Breakfast Session
Royal Bank Plaza
Toronto, Ontario

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Dianne, thank you for the warm introduction…and for inviting me to join you, Robert Half International clients and members of the RHI team this morning. This event triggered a memory about a presentation that came to my attention some time ago - one that was delivered at a Credit Institute of Canada conference - one where the speaker and the presentation earned rave reviews.

The topic revolved around motivating employees in today's labour market: that it's more important than ever for companies to offer their people tangible ongoing support/tools that will help them achieve work and life goals (support including the advancement of mentoring relationships); and that employers must develop innovative strategies which focus on both attraction and retention of "top talent". The speaker was Dianne Hunnam-Jones - she understands that investing in people and work/life solutions merits what the Japanese refer to as kaizan - continuous improvement.

To begin my remarks about investing in people, I'll share a story with you that helps set the tone for the next few minutes. The story goes like this…Heather Banks is one half of a two-banker family: she leads a flagship branch in the Toronto area and her husband leads a human resources unit at head office. They have three children, who constantly hear their parents talking shop and using business/bank lingo, i.e., working smart, entrepreneurial thinking, coaching, teamwork, strategy, solutions, win/win, investing in people, and let's not forget the many acronyms that financial institutions tend to use….

One weekend Heather "hired" her ten-going-on-twenty-year old son Ben, to collate hundreds of sheets of paper at the branch. The family slush fund would pay him $5.00 per hour…and he had to complete the 3-hour job very well. After showing Ben what to do, Heather left the room to continue working elsewhere. Her twin daughters, aged eight, remained to play with Ben while he worked. Later on, Heather decided to check on her son…and much to her amazement, Ben was writing at the table and her daughters were happily talking/laughing while collating the paper.

Rather annoyed at Ben for abandoning the project, Heather asked for an explanation. Ben said, "Since I needed to complete a story assignment for school, my solution was to hire the twins at $1.25 per hour each, get the job done through teamwork and coaching (by supervising and sharing the workload, I also made money - that's entrepreneurial thinking), help my sisters learn something new and have a fun time - they even got a twenty minute break. Isn't this what you/dad call working smart and a win/win?" Heather was somewhat lost for words, but managed to ask Ben what he was writing about. With a big grin on his face Ben said, IIP - "Investing In People!"

Perhaps we all need a gentle reminder from time to time (and invariably from children) to invest in people and to be creative along the way. We should never stop thinking, learning, listening, doing, improving and measuring results.

At RBC Financial Group, investing in people is part of our vision and values - a holistic approach. As our CEO, Gord Nixon says, "We believe that our success as a company is intrinsically connected to the economic and social well-being of our community and our country. To us, behaving in a socially responsible manner is not just something we want to do. It's something we know we must do as an essential part of our relationships with our customers/stakeholders and as a strategic investment in the future prosperity of a civic society…we believe that by contributing our funds, our network, our leadership and, most importantly, by encouraging and celebrating the involvement of our people, we can make a difference in helping to build a strong, healthy society".

Being socially responsible starts right in our own backyard, where supporting our people makes the difference in promoting and sustaining a healthy workplace and healthy communities. We're strongly committed to investing in our people…not only by offering competitive compensation and benefits - but by investing in learning and education - by fostering a work environment that values communication - and by supporting diversity as well as work/life solutions.

At RBC, work/life is a formal series of policies, programs, resources and benefits for our employees, designed to help people manage work, family and personal responsibilities over a lifetime, while meeting business objectives. Establishing work priorities within our broader life framework is a partnership between RBC and employees. We also continue to develop innovative ways of looking at where, when and how work is done - offering choices and customized work accommodation options as well as introducing workload management solutions. RBC is in the business of building business…and it begins with the way we care for and treat our people. People are our most valuable asset. Technology and financial products/services can be copied, bank rates can be matched…and the list goes on. So what's left? The one sustainable advantage is what's left - the best people in the business. To secure and manage the "top talent" on our team and your teams, not to mention be an "employer of choice", we must all be creative/flexible in our approach.

This is why work/life solutions support our business strategy. They help RBC respond to the ever-changing nature of the workforce/workplace, recruit and retain employees, increase individual and organizational performance, leverage diversity, reduce stress and short-term absenteeism, as well as gain a competitive advantage. Work/life continues to have a strong tie to diversity, which is why it's a high priority on the agenda of RBC's Diversity Leadership Council this year, a Council composed of senior executives from all businesses in Canada/United States and chaired by Gord Nixon. Since our North American presence is on the rise, we're moving from a RBC Canada to a RBC enterprise-wide work/life focus for all businesses, including those in the U.S.

We're now operating in the most diverse marketplace, with the most diverse workforce we've ever seen. The most successful organizations will be those that best adapt to the current reality - that re-shape their cultures - that plan for the future today. The replacement cost of "top talent" is huge…

Their research tells the story…

  • 50% of Canadians experience a moderate to high level of stress balancing work/life compared to 27% in 1989 (Conference Board, 1999);
  • Canadians who have a hard time juggling work/life are costing employers at least $2.7 billion a year in lost time due to stress, medical leaves/health care costs, absenteeism, lost productivity;
  • Stress-related disorders due to overwork cost Canadian companies $12 billion per year. (Health Canada, 1998).

AON Consulting Canada conducted a work-study (in partnership with RBC) and found that:

  • Acknowledgment of people's needs outside of work is the key driver to employee commitment - outranking compensation, benefits, training, job growth; acknowledgement costs companies almost nothing and the payback can be enormous in terms of improved employee morale;
  • Employers who help workers manage work and personal needs will not only retain more of their workforce but also attract new recruits looking for companies with a "people first agenda," such as progressive work/life initiatives and pay-for-performance incentives.

Since work/life solutions support human resources (HR) initiatives, it's important to note Deloitte & Touche's study of HR practices in more than 200 North American companies (the November 2002 report, Human Capital ROI Study: Creating Shareholder Value Through People). Approximately 15% of the firms were Canadian. Recent findings suggest that "when tailored to individual needs, HR best practices can give companies up to a 43% greater market value over competitors. Companies that tailor (and align) their human capital strategy to their unique business strategy and market orientation substantially outperform organizations that do not. Companies in the top quartile of earnings had 66% higher returns when they used effective human capital practices, and a 300% greater return to shareholders over the five-year period studied."

Speaking of human capital…the current issue of RealityCheck (the Canadian Review of Well-Being) is right on the mark with this comment…"when we build a new plant or purchase new equipment, we recognize this as a capital investment that depreciates over time. Eventually we'll need to repair or replace that equipment if we want to maintain or expand the value of the asset. But we often ignore other kinds of wealth that are just as valuable, and we don't pay attention when they depreciate, or when it's time to re-invest. Human capital is a good example of this - we don't always track the health of our workplace as a vital component of our human wealth and economy."

And just yesterday, Claudette Bradshaw, the federal government's Minister of Labour, announced the release of a new report that speaks to specific issues in the workplace/economy, entitled Voices of Canadians: Seeking Work-Life Balance. From flexible work schedules and part-time work, to telework and family care provisions, the report demonstrates once again that employees want and expect changes (solutions) in the workplace that will help them better manage the conflicting demands of work and life. The complete report can be found on the web site http://labour-travail.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/worklife.

RBC's work/life solutions have come a long way since we launched the original Work and Family program in 1990. We've gone from being reactive and active, to proactive and now interactive. We know it's more about what we do, rather than how much we do. From education, dependent care and flexible work arrangements, to leave policies, wellness and financial/retirement planning, we offer a comprehensive array of tools and choices.

Here are some examples of our work/life solutions across the country - solutions that help us invest in our people and build healthier workplaces and communities:

  • Dependent Care. The RBC EmployeeCare Program, our combined employee assistance and work/life support services, provides up-to-date, expert information and support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to help employees deal with various life issues such as parenting and quality childcare, resources for seniors - eldercare, disability and accessibility. Professional consultants provide confidential, personalized telephone consultations, individualized searches as well as referrals and educational materials.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements. We experiment with various work arrangements where it's in the interest of employees, the organization and our clients. We provide ongoing professional development and career opportunities to those employees who choose to pursue flexible work options. Some options include: reduced hours, job sharing, flex-time, modified work week, flexi-place (working off-site, from home or a satellite office) and phased retirement.

    With more than 1000 job-shares across the country, we're finding that our teams tend to be very productive. In many cases, customers also tell us they're receiving better service because two people are familiar with their account/business.

  • Wellness. A diverse range of employee health service resources and information is available to our people, including access to health and safety committees and the RBC EmployeeCare Program…employees can gain information/support on a number of health and wellness related topics via telephone, e-mail, online and one-on-one meetings.

We also developed an Intranet web site for staff that outlines work/life components and how our people can benefit from the variety of programs. Over the past few months, we've focused on our "professionals" employees. We've designed more tailored tools, resources and information, to support the unique skills, expertise and interests of this segment.

Needless to say, I've only mentioned some RBC initiatives today. If you're interested in finding out more about our work/life solutions, please check out our web site, www.rbc.com, then click on the Unique Careers link followed by the Diversity link. Members of our team can also tell you what a healthy workplace means to them and to RBC. Norma Tombari (who works directly with diversity and workforce solutions in Human Resources), Melana Borovich (also representing HR) and Felipe Garcia (from RBC Investments and my home province of New Brunswick) are here this morning.

From the beginning, we knew that the success of work/life depended on how well it was developed, communicated, managed and measured. Nothing has changed on this score. Although we know that on any given day, approximately 30%-40% of our employee population uses a component of our work/life solutions, we also know that employee/management buy-in, effective communication and changing economic times, as well as shifts in values and work expectations are ongoing challenges. We don't pretend to have all the answers, however we subscribe to continuous learning and improvement. Visible senior leadership and supportive managers are essential, as well as employee ownership of the tools at their disposal. Creating solutions where everyone wins - the employee, the customer, the shareholder - the community…this is the total reward.

Work/life solutions are not trendy…they're here to stay. However, we need to consistently monitor programs (using measurement tools) to ensure objectives are being met. We're also watching what other companies are doing, sharing ideas and considering/piloting innovative programs of our own, such as: back-up childcare, expansion of scholarship program for children in the U.S. etc. There are many success stories and best practices in this room…

We realize that a number of people still have a hard time understanding why work/life is important. It takes time to change this thinking - change cultures. Some argue that with today's business environment, the need to control costs is reason enough for not doing it. But there's more to work/life. It's not a short-term fix. It's a long-term commitment - incorporating a solid, fundamental business strategy - ensuring we have quality people/teams that can help us maximize results. The real cost will be felt by companies that don't incorporate this type of philosophy and approach - they'll find it increasingly difficult to attract "top talent".

I also believe that work/life solutions affect the bottom line by helping us improve the quality of service we provide clients. It makes sense to me: if you treat your employees well, create an environment where the needs of individuals are respected, where people care for and help each other, it's going to be reflected in the way employees serve their customers.

RBC Financial Group is committed to staying on the cutting edge of trends in the workplace. Partnering with leading Canadian survey/research companies and academia has a two-fold result. RBC has access to the information we need to remain leaders in people management and we also contribute to the body of workplace knowledge - assisting other companies and organizations in nurturing the Canadian healthy workplace/workforce - today and in the future. There's still much to be accomplished on RBC's work/life journey…

In closing, special thanks to Dianne and Jim Dimovski for coordinating this event and suggesting this topic…it's clear that an increasing number of employers are recognizing and reaping the rewards of investing in people through innovative work/life solutions - solutions that also put more humour and humanity into the workplace.

For RBC Financial Group, work/life is an investment that has far-reaching benefits, not only for employees, businesses and customers, but also for our children, the elderly, and the community as a whole. What better return could we ask for? And should you need a gentle reminder about the value of investing in people from time to time, remember the story about Ben Banks!

Thank you…now let's hear from you.


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10/06/2006 10:05:27