Quebec certifies work-life balance

Employers can attain different levels through BNQ
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/24/2011

The benefits of work-life balance have been well-touted through surveys, studies and employee testimonials. But Quebec has decided to take that sentiment a step further in launching a certification standard around work-family balance. Employers of all sizes can now apply to have their workplaces evaluated by the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), with four levels of certification available.

This kind of certification can help employers that are having trouble finding workers, particularly young employees, said Yolande James, Quebec’s minister of family. The new standard will also help the province compete both locally and internationally, she said.

“In this environment, striking a better balance among professional, family and social responsibilities is clearly among the winning solutions,” said the BNQ report on the new standard. “It is also an innovative solution, one that an increasing number of organizations are heralding.”

The four levels make the certification attainable for companies of all size, said Sylvain Allard, a co-ordinator at BNQ in Quebec City.

“With this thing, (the standards development committee) felt that it was really possible for small and large companies to participate,” he said.

Most employers already have a lot of the items mentioned in the qualifications, said Gabriel Granatstein, a lawyer in the labour and employment group at Ogilvy Renault in Montreal.

“This gives employers a process to be officially recognized for what they might already do.”

The certification also gives employers ideas on other options they could consider, said Granatstein, such as adapted work schedules, hour banks or working from home.

“What I like about this particular certification is it’s not coercive, it’s elective,” he said. “To have a kind of structure where you can pick and choose and get different amounts of points for what you might do or already do or want to do.”

Points for different initiatives

The certification requires, at a minimum, employers have a commitment from management around work-family balance (WFB). This should include an internal management policy, demonstrated commitment to WFB, WFB measures for men and women, employee communications and a designated person responsible for the program.

Employers are also required to have a WFB committee that: consults with employees; proposes WFB measures and practices; implements, promotes and evaluates those measures; and presents the results to management and employees every two years.

Level one can be achieved with 30 points, level two with 45 points, level three with 60 points and level four with 75 points.

Specific points-based requirements include:

• WFB training for managers, committee members and employees

• a document describing the measures

• an employee assistance program

• adapted career paths

• job rotation, work schedule exchanges or floating staff

• work-time arrangements, such as fewer hours, flexible schedules, predictable work schedules, compressed work weeks or hour banks

• leaves of absence that exceed employment standards

• flexibility, such as working from home or at a satellite office

• financial assistance and support for care of young children and family members with a disability.

Frima Studio is a Quebec City-based employer that is hoping to become the first in the province to attain the standard, according to Stephen Couture, Frima’s president.

The company started looking at work-life balance in 2008, offering its 275 employees initiatives such as public transportation passes, flexible schedules, longer holidays, fresh fruit and on-site massages.

Frima’s program has evolved to include more innovative approaches such as Frima Points. This gives employees points based on their performance, which they can exchange online for different services such as babysitters, plumbers or gardeners.

“This program was to have our employees spend more time with their families, so (they can) avoid doing extra work when they’re home,” said Couture. “It’s a kind of program for our employees to have a better life outside the hours they spend at work.”

As a result, fewer people leave Frima and more people are inclined to stay, he said. And with a competitive video game industry in Quebec and larger companies installing new facilities in the region, there’s a lot of pressure on HR and recruitment.

“This kind of program helps to become competitive,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the province who have deep pockets for their employees, to attract employees, so we needed to be creative.”

Adopting a work-family program is more than just an expense, it’s an investment, said Couture.

“This certification has been created for business and business purpose, so (it’s about) getting a more positive environment in the organization, more positive results in terms of performance. The program is flexible and built for the business. So, for everybody that wants to apply, that should not be a huge challenge.”

Is legislation next step in work-life balance?

While the certification is voluntary, the Quebec government is also keen to introduce legislation around work-family balance, said Allard.

“They wanted first to start with (the certification) and see if it worked,” he said.

But Quebec has very strong minimum standards legislation so imposing something else would be onerous, said Granatstein.

“It would be difficult for the government to legislate some of these things because of the different industries there are, both from a practical and financial standpoint.”

There is no need for legislation, said Couture.

“Legislation can be disruptive for some different business models so I’m not sure if that could be positive for everybody. The way it’s built now, it has the flexibility for businesses of every size.”

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