Melissa Kennedy, Chief Legal Officer, Sun Life Financial

The best employees are those who feel secure and balanced in their lives, and employers are finding more and more ways they can help employees attain that security. For Sun Life Financial, that has meant supporting employee financial literacy and wellness, as well as supporting the health of the communities where its employees live through its volunteering and philanthropy programs. Ethisphere’s partners at the Association of Corporate Counsel connected us with Chief Legal Officer Melissa Kennedy to learn more.

Ethisphere Magazine: Sun Life’s Purpose states, “At Sun Life, we are committed to helping our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives.” Has helping your clients to achieve those goals always meant helping your employees to do so? How has the company evolved in this respect?

Melissa Kennedy: With 37,000 employees across the globe, attracting, retaining, and developing top talent is central to our success. As we help our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives, we want the same for our employees. We believe the more engaged our employees are, the more productive and passionate they will be in delivering on our Purpose.

We are committed to supporting the well-being of our employees and fostering an inclusive and respectful workplace where everyone can contribute to their full potential. We do this through investing in a wide variety of programs and services that promote employee physical, mental, and financial wellness. These offerings include competitive benefits packages, retirement and savings plans, flexible work options, and rewards for participating in local wellness activities.

Employee wellness underpins our ability to deliver exceptional service to clients, attract and retain top talent, and continually enhance our high-performance culture.

EM: On your website’s community wellness page, you talk about how you empower your employees to volunteer in the communities where they live. Can you talk a bit more about what that looks like?

MK: As a company in many communities around the world, we believe we play a role in their development and well-being. Our goal is to build more sustainable, healthier communities where we all live and work, helping to improve the lives of individuals and families. Each year, our employees donate money and volunteer hours to charities. We support them by matching their contributions, providing donations to charities they volunteer at, and covering registration fees for events. We also work with our employees to identify local volunteer opportunities, either from an individual or team perspective.

Sun Life employees raising money for JDFR, an organization that fights Type 1 diabetes

EM: Since 2012, Sun Life has focused much of its philanthropic effort on its Team Up Against Diabetes program internationally. How did you all choose to focus on diabetes? What avenues do your employees across the organization have to support the program?

MK: Diabetes has been called the epidemic of the 21st century. The disease now affects 425 million people—that’s one person in 11—and those numbers are expected to double in the next 20 years. Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to even worse health problems, but type 2 diabetes can be prevented and managed through a healthy lifestyle.

We have made a commitment to combating this rapidly growing global health concern through our Team Up Against Diabetes platform—a targeted strategy with an emphasis on diabetes awareness, prevention, care, and research—and since 2012, we have pledged over $25 million to this effort.

Our efforts include education campaigns, online health checks, and a diabetes grant program for grassroots diabetes charities. We empower our employees to get active in the fight against diabetes, and support them through different initiatives, depending on local needs. For example:

  • You may have seen our logo on the jerseys of the Toronto Raptors, this year’s NBA Champions. Through our partnership with NBA Canada and the Toronto Raptors, we run our Sun Life Dunk for Diabetes Program.
  • We’re also the title sponsor of both the Sun Life Walk to Cure Diabetes for JDRF and the Sun Life Ride to Defeat Diabetes for JDRF, the largest diabetes fundraising events in Canada, and over 1800 of our employees and their families participate each year.
  • In the US, we have an ongoing partnership with the Boston Celtics basketball team for the annual Fit to Win, a four-week program engaging children in fitness and healthy eating.
  • In Asia, we’ve established annual Sun Life Resolution Run events to help more people across Asia live healthier lives. In 2018, 16,000 participants raised over CAD $250,000 for the research and prevention of diabetes.

EM: Sun Life’s Global Wellness Strategy for your employees is centered on three main pillars: Mental, Physical, and Financial Wellness. Can you talk a bit about what the company provides under each of those three pillars?

MK: Two years ago, we unveiled a Global Wellness Strategy to drive a unified culture of health and well-being for employees worldwide. Aligned with Sun Life’s Purpose, the strategy centers on three pillars of employee health: physical, mental, and financial wellness.

This approach helps frame our benefits programs, set priorities, and embed a wellness mindset into our everyday activities. We invest in a wide variety of programs and services to promote these three areas of wellness and help our employees identify health risks, prevent serious diseases, and lead healthier lifestyles. Some examples include:

Physical wellness:

  • Through our employee benefits platforms, we annually facilitate a Wellness Challenge, when we encourage, educate, and challenge employees to make positive lifestyle changes
  • Leverage digital platforms to provide personalized health assessments and content to support healthy eating, physical activity, and more
  • Host blood sugar screenings for diabetes in Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia

Mental wellness:

  • Our benefits team saw that mental health was one of the biggest areas for claims and benefits, so in 2016 we significantly increased our employees’ mental health coverage
  • Run workplace awareness campaigns during Canadian mental health week, focused on reducing stigma
  • Offer our US employees a digital tool to build resilience and practice mindfulness and meditation (2,400 employees attended one session)
  • In Asia, we organize talks to educate employees on mental health issues, meditation, and managing stress

Financial wellness:

  • Deliver digital nudges to encourage employees to take advantage of the Company match in our retirement plan through Ella, our digital benefits assistant
  • Deliver retirement and financial planning sessions for employees in Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Vietnam
  • Conduct retirement evaluation campaigns in the US

EM: Compared to physical or even mental wellness, financial wellness may not be an area where many organizations are actively supporting their employee populations. What advice would you, as a financial services company, have for firms looking to start supporting their employees’ financial wellness?

MK: We want to make it easier to be well, at work and at home. Happy, healthy employees lead to happy, healthy clients. Our wellness programs support mental, physical, and financial needs, empowering our employees to achieve their best.

Financial security pays off mentally, physically, and financially. Personal finance problems, like handling unexpected expenses or not maintaining a budget, are a top driver of excess mental stress. This stress can lead to chronic physical illnesses like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, ultimately impacting the ability to live a healthier life.

We provide our employees with training to develop good financial habits and give them the tools to set and achieve goals and check-up on progress. Apart from education, we offer pension, stock, and savings programs, together with a company matching program, designed to build our employees’ savings and enhance their future financial security.

EM: Sun Life has received numerous designations, such as appearing on the 100 Most Sustainable Companies or 50 Best Corporate Citizens lists. What do you think drives this sustained commitment to being an exemplary company?

MK: Our dedication to sustainable practices is fueled by our commitment to our clients. In order for us to deliver on our Purpose, we need to cultivate an organization that is competitive, forward thinking, and sustainable for the long term. Advancing in these rankings gives us momentum to deepen our commitments, strengthen our practices, and advance our sustainability journey for the future.

About the Expert:

Melissa Kennedy is Executive Vice-President, Chief Legal Officer & Public Affairs, Sun Life Financial. She is responsible for the company’s worldwide legal, compliance, corporate secretarial, and public affairs functions and is the executive sponsor of sustainability at Sun Life. Through proactive legal consultation and sound compliance and governance frameworks, Melissa and her teams are responsible for guiding the organization to deliver on its Purpose to help clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives.