John Hancock latest to sign on to virtual camp trend

Another employer has turned to a free virtual camp perk–amid other new benefits–to help its employees who are struggling to take care of their children during the pandemic.

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John Hancock’s four-week camp for its employees and their children kicked off July 20 with more than 3,000 campers. Content includes a mix of online and offline curriculum that can be done with minimal parental supervision for kids ages 4-10. The activities also include hands-on STEM and art activities, a pen pal program, a chore chart, arts and crafts, music and story time and a camp singalong.

The insurer developed the program–dubbed Camp John Hancock–as a way “to say thank you to our employees for all of their hard work and acknowledge the challenges faced by parents during these unusual times,” says Pam Kimmet, chief human resources officer of Manulife. (John Hancock is a subsidiary of Manulife.) The camp, which features John Hancock employees as counselors, is also made available to the general public.

(Photo courtesy of John Hancock)

The camp is part of the insurer’s broader efforts to help its employees stay connected and engaged throughout the pandemic as they continue to work remotely, Kimmet says.

“We know many of our employees are working hard to find a comfortable and sustainable work-life balance, and as the school year began to draw to a close and traditional summer camps couldn’t open,  we knew parents would especially need some help,” she says.

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Kimmet says she never expected such a strong response to the endeavor. “Given the level of participation and the feedback we’ve received on the camp, we know it’s been a tremendous hit amongst employees and children alike.”

John Hancock’s camp follows similar programs from Twitter and Sun Life U.S., which also recently launched virtual camps for their employees in response to COVID-19.

Twitter in July rolled out a free, virtual, eight-week program, dubbed Camp Twitter, to its employees. Classes focus on topics of parents’ choice, as well as activities like cooking lessons, yoga classes and music sessions. Parents, meanwhile, can attend the camp’s livestream webinars led by psychologists and health experts, as part of Twitter’s partnership with its wellness providers Happify Health and Modern Health. And Sun Life partnered with Boston Children’s Museum to give its employees access to a virtual summer program that included learning modules for children ages 4 to 10 and focused on themes including imagination, outer space, water and the human body.

“We know many of our employees are working hard to find a comfortable and sustainable work-life balance.” – Pam Kimmet, Manulife CHRO

The camps are a smart way to help employee parents who are struggling, says Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “They’ve become a full-time teacher and caregiver while also working full-time,” she says. “It’s exhausting and can leave workers feeling like they’re failing on both fronts.”

John Hancock says its virtual camp is just one initiative it has rolled out to help employees during the pandemic. The company also offers free virtual exercise, meditation and yoga classes to employees; added a “thank you day” off in recognition of workers’ commitment; allows for salary continuance for employees who may not be able to work remotely and have to care for loved ones at home; and is providing five extra days off in 2021.

Related: Employers’ strategy for getting employees healthy during COVID: virtual fitness

It also launched a guest speaker series featuring external individuals who “impart their unique tips for managing stress and finding moments of levity,” Kimmet says. Recent guests included a happiness expert and an astronaut.

“For our employees, we recognize these challenging times for what they are, and have sought from the onset of the pandemic to extend a helping hand,” Kimmet explains. “If we can reach them and their families by alleviating a burden, creating a fun and welcome diversion, or offering reassurance, then our efforts will have been worth it.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.