Business

TOP 100 EMPLOYERS

The best employers do more than issue paycheques. They improve life in the workplace and in the surrounding community as well.

KATHERINE MACKLEM October 20 2003
Business

TOP 100 EMPLOYERS

The best employers do more than issue paycheques. They improve life in the workplace and in the surrounding community as well.

KATHERINE MACKLEM October 20 2003

TOP 100 EMPLOYERS

Business

The best employers do more than issue paycheques. They improve life in the workplace and in the surrounding community as well.

KATHERINE MACKLEM

THE CAFETERIA at Yamaha Motor Canada Ltd., with its posted daily specials and inoffensive colour scheme, resembles just about any other institutional lunch spot. What’s remarkable here is the staff. In a brilliant but too-rare program, people with serious mental illnesses run the counter and toil in the kitchen. Overseen and paid by the Canadian Mental Health Association, they operate the cash, order supplies and bake the lasagna. “It’s a recovery program for them. I’ve seen them go from mentally unstable to happy,” says Karin Doss-Reid, a long-time Yamaha employee.

“Here,” she adds, “they become our friends.”

Yamaha hasn’t been a passive player, says Laura Monastero, the mastermind behind the program and a rehab manager with the Toronto branch of the CMHA. A motorcycle company with heart, Yamaha recently gave gifts recognizing five years of service to two of the workers—even though, technically, they aren’t employed by Yamaha. It also built and outfitted a new, larger kitchen to replace the smaller facility that Monastero and her team started out with in 1995. “Yamaha is incredible. I can’t say enough,” Monastero says. “They really buy into it, right from the top.”

Yamaha’s lunchroom program, at its head office-warehouse complex north of Toronto, is just one of the company’s policies that ensure it a spot on the list of Canada’s top 100 employers. But it’s an important one: companies making a difference in the broader community also make their employees feel good about going to work. And from a bottom-line point of view, smart companies know that happy employees are

generally more productive. “Companies that make it onto the list are looking at things beyond what’s required,” says Richard Yerema, author of the full-book edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, to be released next week. “These companies are acting as agents of change.”

To be considered, an organization has to be in hiring mode. The list, which includes not-for-profit groups, government agencies and private-sector companies, is created by Mediacorp Canada Inc., a publisher that specializes in employment-related issues. It starts with a review of the 51,000 employers that are regularly tracked for its magazine, Canada Employment Weekly. About 6,000 of the fastest-growing companies are invited to participate in an extensive application process, says Anthony Meehan, Mediacorp’s publisher. Organizations are compared to their peers— for instance, pharmaceutical companies are compared to each other, and not, say, to hospitals.

And since apples can’t be compared to oranges—some sectors offer better benefits and working conditions than others—the list is not a ranking. In the detailed explanations in the book, Mediacorp reveals the grades it assigns to companies in key areas, including health, financial and family benefits, vacation and time off, and community involvement. While pay levels are often cited in job satisfaction surveys as the most important factor for employees, salary is not a Mediacorp focus beyond the early stages of the selection process. Companies that skimp on salaries, Yerema says, aren’t likely to be making a concerted effort in other areas—or to make it onto the list.

The organizations selected are the best in their classes—and they get there because they want not just to woo but to keep the best employees. Some do it with perks. Among the easiest to offer—and often most appreciated—are ones related directly to an employer’s line of business. The Bank of Montreal has a crisis fund of loans for staffers in sudden trouble; Pfizer Canada Inc., a leading pharmaceutical company, offers its employees over-the-counter drugs at a discount; workers at Husky Energy Inc. can buy gas for lower than normal retail prices.

What Yamaha has to offer is its toys. Not

only can people who work for Yamaha buy its equipment at a deep discount, they can borrow a machine, or two, on weekends—for free. “People are drawn to this company by the product,” says Dawn Williams, national human resources manager, who’s taken advantage of Yamaha’s deals. She and her husband each have a snowmobile, and he’s got a dirt bike, too. Even their daughter, at the ripe old age of one, has a dirt bike, although she won’t actually ride it until next summer at the earliest. “You can get training wheels,” Williams says, laughing at the thought. “At least four wheels are safer than two.”

The perks sometimes are simply part of the scenery—literally. At Banff Centre, a school for the arts snug on the side of Tunnel Mountain in spectacular Banff National Park, the views are unbeatable. “We’ve looked high, we’ve looked low,” says Lisa Flierjans, who retired two weeks ago for family reasons after 14 years with the Centre. “But we’ve not found a bad view. The environment is truly dramatic. It has a powerful effect on people who come here.”

One factor driving better employment practices is a population that’s getting older. Michael Fitzgibbon, a partner at Borden

Ladner Gervais specializing in employment law, says some of the best employers are adopting new programs in response to Canada’s dramatically changing demographics. In less than a decade, as boomers age, the workforce will be dominated by people between the ages of 45 and 64. “Older people have to be part of the business plan,” he says. “The best employers are taking proactive steps now to deal with the demographic shift.” Among practices designed for workers approaching retirement are compressed workdays and part-time jobs. “This is new. It is coming to the forefront right now,”

Fitzgibbon says. “The risk in not taking action is that the competition is.”

A policy that suits a workforce of different ages is a flexible benefits plan, a program increasingly being adopted by the best employers. After an internal survey showed dissatisfaction with its benefits plan, Wardrop Engineering Inc., a mid-sized, Winnipegbased firm, dumped it—and last year created a whole new package. “The old package was a standard one, average for our industry,” says James Popel, Wardrop’s vice-president of human resources. The new one allows employees to opt into or out of different

benefits, and to increase or decrease their level of coverage. “It’s not rocket science. We just listened to the employees,” Popel says. “If you can do it without increasing costs and improve employee morale, it’s a gold mine.” Wardrop, which works on projects as far-flung as the International Space Station and as local as the Provencher Bridge in Winnipeg, has a long history of responding to its employees, and of rewarding initiative. About 25 years ago, Ernie Card was just three years out of school and a junior engineer at Wardrop. Part of his job was to visit remote locations, and like his colleagues,

he often used chartered planes and pilots to get there. But service to remote destinations was scarce and he had to cool his heels in the bush, waiting sometimes for days for the next charter once his work was done. So Card decided he could fulfill a dream— and help the company—by learning to fly. He tallied the cost of booking planes and pilots, compared it to the cost of flying lessons, and suggested to management that if they covered his training, he’d become Wardrop’s in-house pilot.

The idea took off. It was so successful that a few years later, Card managed to persuade

his bosses to finance a loan for his own $50,000 twin-engine aircraft, which he used both for company business and personal pleasure. “Flying is not really part of engineering,” Card says. “They found a way to let me chase my dreams.” Today, Card isn’t flying planes for Wardrop. He’s too busy. But as the company’s CEO, he’s still in Wardrop’s cockpit—and he still recognizes that listening to employees pays off.

Following a dream is a common theme among employees who are happy at work. Tonya Frizzell is a communications specialist at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union. From

March 2001 to March 2002, she was on leave from VanCity, working as a volunteer in Albania. Of the five individuals who arrived with Frizzell in Elbasan, Albania’s second largest city, she was the only one with a job back home—the others had had to quit because their employers wouldn’t hold their positions for them. “Companies should be more open to this,” Frizzell says. “I brought back skills and, after a good, long break, a fresh perspective. It’s important to shake things up and not get too comfortable.”

VanCity, in the news recently for upsetting the Catholic Church with its gay-friendly

ads, is known as a progressive, communityinvolved organization—one not afraid to shake things up. Among the few Canadian organizations that grant extended leaves for volunteer work, VanCity has found a way to help employees pursue their dreams, and help the broader community as well. And that makes it, even among Canada’s best employers, a trendsetter. ÏÏ]

katherine.macklem@macleans.rogers.com

THE TOP 100 EMPLOYERS: A-E

From about 51,000 candidates, the editors of the 2004 edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers selected the following companies based on criteria ranging from vacations to philanthropy.

CANADIAN EMPLOYEES NOTABLE PERKS Adacel Inc., Brassard, Que. 176 Four vacation weeks in first year, opportunity Air traffic control systems offices in the U.S., Britain and Australia. Advanced Book Exchange Inc., Victoria 91 Internet retailer allowed employees to decide Network of booksellers the company’s head office. They chose Victoria. Algorithmics Inc., Toronto 325 Two-week paid sabbaticals after five years, on Financial-services software developer vacation weeks. On-site café and a rooftop Alias Systems, Toronto 350 Employees at Oscar-winning tech firm work in Animation and graphics software developer warehouse-style loft (see page 26). AltaGas Services Inc., Calgary 347 Tuition subsidies, trade apprentices receive Pipeline and energy services attending classes. Amex Canada Inc., Markham, Ont. 3,722 Up to six months of paid leave for staff to work Credit card and travel services On-site fitness centre. Flexible benefits plan. ATS Automation Tooling Sys., Cambridge, Ont. 1,897 Annual $1,000 scholarships for 75 employees’ Automated manufacturing systems sports teams subsidized. Banff Centre, Banff, Alta. 604 Salary top-up during maternity leave, tuition Arts education centre on-site fitness facility and indoor climbing wall.

THE TOP 100: E-M

COMPANY EMPLOYEES NOTABLE Ernst & Young LLP, Toronto 3,108 Bonuses Audit, tax, corporate finance services top-ups Export Development Canada, Ottawa 1,010 Terrific Crown export agency annually Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc., Toronto 11,208 Work Luxury hotels and resorts year Frank Russell Canada Ltd., Toronto 79 Four Investment management services after 10 Fuller Landau LLP, Toronto 143 Forty-eight Accounting, business consulting General Dynamics Canada Ltd., Ottawa 1,345 Free Defence electronics manufacturer funding Gennum Corp., Burlington, Ont. 527 Silicon integrated circuits share Georgian College, Barrie, Ont. 1,246 On-site Community college overseas Great-West Life Assurance Co., Winnipeg 4,000 Discounted Insurance and investment services by the

THE TOP 100: N-Z

CANADIAN EMPLOYEES NOTABLE PERKS Nature’s Path Foods Inc., Richmond, B.C. 100 Free healthy breakfast, Organic and natural breakfast foods program, on-site fitness Neill and Gunter Ltd., Fredericton 337 Job opportunities across Design and consulting engineering can win access to company’s Ont Municipal Employees Retirement Board 424 Big bonuses ($4.7 million Toronto Pension fund manager minutes extra each day and Parklane Ventures Ltd., Coquitlam, B.C. 45 Maternity salary top-ups Home builder Four-per-cent discount on Patheon Inc., Mississauga, Ont. 1,840 Career opportunities around Pharmaceutical company on-site fitness facility. PCL Constructors Inc., Edmonton 961 Employee-owned. General contractor tournament for staff teams. Pfizer Canada Inc., Montreal 1,091 Fitness centre, extended Pharmaceutical company training. Head office incorporates Power Measurement Ltd., Saanichton, B.C. 250 Office on Vancouver Island Power meters and energy controls beaches, jogging paths and Procter & Gamble Inc., Toronto 2,071 Maternity leave top-ups to Consumer products flexible work options. Ounara Inc., Winnipeg 213 Maternity salary top-ups Information technology consulting firm Benefits cover part-timers