Where you’ll find the best places to work—and why they’re employee magnets



Where you’ll find the best places to work—and why they’re employee magnets





Where you’ll find the best places to work—and why they’re employee magnets

WALK THROUGH the Vancouver offices of Crystal Decisions Inc., and you’ll see all the classic markers of the high-tech craze—right down to the foosball and billiards tables. There are exposed beams, brick walls and warehouse-sized windows. Comfy couches are here and there in the open-concept space, and there’s nary a tie or a suit in sight—the dress code is, natch, casual. Fresh fruit is offered for a small donation; pop sells for 25 cents, and that also goes to charity. But as funky as it is, a cool work environment isn’t enough anymore to attract the best talent. “It’s kind of nice to have,” says Matthew Handford, the software company’s VP of human resources, “but at the end of the day, that stuff is like window dressing.”

What matters to employees today, in the tech sector and beyond, is corporate viability. Boring—and unnecessary—though this might have seemed in 1999, Crystal Decisions has the essential ingredient employees now want: a proven product with a solid customer base—in other words, a real business. Three or four years ago, Handford says, job candidates had “mercenary” interests: they wanted to know about IPO prospects and equity splits. Now people want to know the company’s history, its profit model, and the number of quarters of growth—“all the solid business model indicators that you are a going concern and that your growth is not some sort of accident.” The main product at Crystal Decisions, which employs 1,650 people worldwide (859 in Canada), is an information management system sold around the world. That, and not the foosball, is a key reason the company is on this year’s list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

The list, compiled by Mediacorp Canada Inc., a Toronto-based publisher specializing in employment-related books and periodicals, showcases companies with the country’s best practices in managing what many businesses call their greatest asset: their people. Firms are compared with their sector peers, rather than slotted into an overall ranking, says Anthony Meehan, Mediacorp’s publisher. To be considered, a company must be expanding and hiring new people. Other questions asked are:

■ Does the firm let employees know if they are performing well?

■ Are its employment benefits and vacation allowance exceptional for the industry?

■ Is the physical environment of the workplace stimulating?

■ Does the company pass on news and info to its employees?

■ How involved is the firm in its community?

■ Overall, does it go the extra distance to attract and retain outstanding employees?

To find the Top 100, Meehan and his staff began with the 47,000 companies they track for their publications, including the job-listing Canada Employment Weekly. Last spring, they sent questionnaires to the 6,000 fastest-growing employers, large and small. Those that made an initial cut were invited to send detailed data on human resources, financial and other issues. This year, there are fewer technology companies than last year—a trend that follows the sector’s overall decline—and the ones that are there, like Crystal Decisions, boast black ink on the bottom line.

In fact, the research shows a blurring of the line separating the new economy and the old. While a tech firm today must have real revenues to be taken seriously, the so-called old-economy companies are adopting what may become a legacy of the dot-com era: the Cool Workplace. Companies in sectors that are decidedly uncool—but stable—are picking up many of the perks and practices first made popular by tech start-ups. “This year’s most spectacular trend,” says Meehan, “is the return of the traditional-economy companies as viable competitors for the best talent. It’s a very good change in terms of the long-term viability of these programs.”

There’s a new pool table and a big-screen TV in the lounge, plus an exercise room, at the training facility of Saskatchewan’s phone company, SaskTel, in Regina. BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc., a Vancouver-based mining company—a sector as old-economy as they come—has perhaps the longest list of cool stuff: foosball, billiards, squash, floor hockey, martial arts, badminton, even an indoor putting green and driving range. L’Union Canadienne, an insurance

company based in Quebec City, has a lounge with comfy couches, music, a TV— and a pool table “of course,” says HR coordinator Ghislaine Nadeau, who admits she likes the game. The office perks, which include an on-site massage therapist, were adopted by L’Union Canadienne just a couple of years ago with the goal of improving workers’ quality of life. Already, the company has seen results, Nadeau says, pointing to a dramatic decline in staff turnover, from 12.4 per cent in 2000 to six per cent in 2001. So far in 2002, the rate is 3.7 per cent. “Because we take care of our employees,” says Nadeau, “they give back in return.”

To showcase such winners, Mediacorp will shortly release its third annual edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a definitive guide for job seekers to firms that lead their peers in providing a great place to work. In the pages that follow, Maclean’s takes a closer look at 10 of those companies, lists all 100, and provides a taste of what got them on Mediacorp’s list. The book, which profiles all 100 companies from a cross-section of industries, is “a catalogue of best practices,” Meehan says, for job seekers, human-resources specialists and corporate executives.

This year’s list shows that perks of the dot-com variety, such as referral bonuses, have also been imported into the public sector. The Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, a community facility in Burlington, Ont., offers a bonus up to $500 for new-

hire referrals and tops up maternity benefits to 93 per cent of an employee’s salary for 27 weeks, considerably longer than the Employment Insurance standard of 15 weeks. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto also offers a referral bonus, up to $1,000, and a performance bonus of up to 10 per cent of salary for senior managers.

Almost across the board, share options —once as much a mark of tech success as the requisite Bimmer—have taken a back seat, although they haven’t entirely disappeared. At the still privately held Crystal Decisions, everyone participates in the company’s stock option plan. Still, says Handford, options are not top of mind anymore for potential employees— a striking difference from two years ago, when a stock option plan was a “significant part of the conversation” with a prospective worker.

Companies whose employees believe their bosses are good people-managers are the ones with the strongest shareholder returns, a study to be released this week shows. “Where trust in management is high,” says Dawn Bell, a Vancouver-based senior consultant with Watson Wyatt Worldwide, “it is incredible what employees can do to drive business success. In organizations where the trust and confidence has gone, it is very difficult just to keep the lights on.” For employers, good talent management is not simply a matter of keeping staff happy—it’s also good business.


Culled from a database of 47,000 firms, here are the choices detailed in the soon-to-bepublished 2003 edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, with highlights from the book’s data.

CANADIAN EMPLOYEES ~ AD OPT Technologies Inc. Software developer with a special Valentine’s Day gestureMontreal flowers and chocolate delivered to all employees. Adacel Inc. 100 Air-traffic systems maker leads In vacations: four weeks to Brassard, Que. start, 13-week paid sabbatical after 10 years. Algorithmes Inc. 334 Strong educational opportunities, including $2,000 annual Toronto tuition subsidy, at this financial services software firm. AltaGas Services Inc. 329 Natural gas outfit offers in-house courses and pays full Calgary salary while apprentices are attending outside classes. Assumption Mutual Life Insurance 225 Old Maritime firm with parkside office, staff movie nights Moncton, N.B. and rewards that can include cruise-ship vacations. ATS Automation Tooling Systems Inc. 1,709 Family-oriented benefits include 50 $1,000 academic scholarCambridge, Ont. ships awarded to the children of employees each year. Banff Centre 582 Educational and cultural institute offers chance to live (and Banff, Alta. learn, with subsidies) in a world heritage site.

THE TOP 100: G-N

CANADIAN EMPLOYEES Golder Associates Ltd. 1,238 Employee-owned engineering consultant runs “Golder U" for Burnaby, B.C. training, exchanges staff among its 80 offices worldwide. Great-West Life Assurance Co. 3,830 Leading provider of benefit plans to others also leads with its Winnipeg own, including discounted mortgage rates. _ Hallmark Canada Inc. 2,039 Offers post-secondary scholarships to extended family Toronto members, including grandchildren and siblings. Halsall Associates Ltd. 145 Employee-owned, family-run specialist in restoration and Toronto_ “green” construction stresses environmentalism._ shop committed to better work-life balance, including

THE TOP 100: N-Z

CANADIAN EMPLOYEES Nunavut Power Corp. 148 Offers paid housing and free electricity (no small benefit Iqaluit given its cost locally) to those transferring from the south. OMERS 512 Strong performance review program, including training, Toronto the pension manager for Ontario municipal employees. Patheon Inc. 1.372 Pharmaceutical outfit offers global opportunities and has Mississauga, Ont. specially designed training programs at two local colleges. PCL Constructors Inc. 927 Employee-owned firm keeps construction staff employed Edmonton moving them from job to job, rare for the industry. Pelmorex Inc. The federal government ranks the operator of TV’s weather Mississauga, Ont. channels tops in its industry for employment equity. Pfizer Canada Pharmaceuticals Group 1.059 Firm recently revamped its vacation policy to take account Montreal of previous work experience for new employees. Pika Technologies Inc. 58 Free breakfast served twice a week. Company has basketball Ottawa courts, jogging trails anda Mt. Tremblant, Que., chalet. Power Measurement Ltd. 225 Provides high-tech jobs on scenic Vancouver Island, near Saanichton, B.C. coastal beaches, hiking trails and lakeside jogging. Purdue Pharma 220 “People-first” custom-designed facility beside a conservaPickering, Ont. tion area gives most workers views and natural light. QuestAir Technologies Inc. 125 Employees of firm involved in fuel-cell technology can