Top employers focus on safety, engagement

Union Gas, BDC, Johnson among firms that make Top 100 Employers list for 2012
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/08/2011

If a Union Gas employee witnessed a neighbour climbing an unsecured ladder, he wouldn’t hesitate to approach him to say he was concerned about his safety and show him how to use the ladder properly, according to SatnamChana, manager of employee relations in Chatham, Ont.

“We believe people should go home the way they came and they should really push safety, be it at home or in the office environment,” he said. “It has become a part of our employees.”

This commitment to safety is the number one reason Union Gas made the 2012 Canada’s Top 100 Employers list published by Mediacorp Canada, he said.

A record number of applicants — 2,750 — were evaluated in eight areas: physical workplace; work atmosphere; health, financial and family benefits; vacation and time off; employee communications; performance management; training and skills development; and community involvement.

Even if an incident occurs at Union Gas that did not lead to an injury or property damage, employees must fill out an incident-without-loss (IWOL) form so everyone can learn from it.

“Our safety program is about accepting accountability, about promoting wellness, learning through IWOL. It’s actually enhancing focused dialogue… when something does occur, and it’s embracing operational safety at the front line,” said Chana.

Every year, all 2,200 employees across the country participate in online safety training and front-line workers and managers receive yearly in-class training. And all zone meetings, which take place on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, begin with a safety message.

“Safety is always discussed as the first topic,” said Chana. “Someone will say something that may have occurred to them during that week and they’ll talk about that circumstance or experience and how we can learn from that.”

Community involvement is another major focus at Union Gas. The company provides emergency heating relief for low-income families, offers financial incentives to business customers to reduce energy and water consumption, builds “safety villages” to teach children about road safety and supports communities during difficult times, said Chana.

“When we had the tornado in Goderich (Ont.), the whole community was levelled and our employees were out there not only to ensure the gas was turned off and then everything turned back on normally but also to assist with the cleanup and to assist the community.”

BDC takes engagement seriously

Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC’s) unique approach to employee engagement is one of the main reasons it placed on the list, said Louise Dufour, assistant vice-president of HR in Montreal.

“What I think is very strong in our business culture and in our management philosophy is engagement — it is key and it is associated to our mission, which is really to serve our entrepreneurs in the Canadian market,” she said. “We want them to be successful and give them the opportunity to grow.”

Employee engagement is taken very seriously by managers and executives and is incorporated into BDC’s corporate plan and measured every year, she said. The company also makes a considerable effort to act upon results from employee engagement surveys.

“It’s a very structured approach — we make sure the action plans are put in place, that we communicate the results and discuss the results with employees and it’s a real thorough exercise,” said Dufour.

The 1,900-employee BDC also invests a lot in training and development for all employees, from front-line staff to top leaders. It offers 60 in-house programs and 110 online courses on topics such as people management, working with customers and training on new products and services, said Dufour. There are also many opportunities for employees to participate in conferences, seminars and on-the-job training.

And there are many structured programs around emerging and current leadership training.

“Top leaders are being presented with programs to make sure we remain up-to-date for what our organization needs and so we can deliver on our current business strategy and prepare them for the future as well, ” said Dufour.

Johnson committed to wellness, performance management

Insurance company Johnson in St. John’s, N.L., also placed on this year’s Canada’s Top 100 Employers list. The organization’s commitment to employee wellness really helped, said Alex Griffiths, vice-president of HR. All 1,500 employees are given up to $500 annually to invest in a wellness activity or equipment.

“But we truly feel it is wider than just a financial element,” said Griffiths. “We have well-being committees across each and every one of our regions and we have been concentrating on the holistic person.”

Some of Johnson’s wellness initiatives have included nutritionists helping employees have healthier diets, exercise organizations teaching employees how to do exercises while sitting at their desks, nurses setting up on-site to “do all the numbers” for employees, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, and instructors offering kickboxing classes, she said.

“We recognize the workplace is getting busier and busier and lots of change is happening not only in our organization but also in the external market, which puts more mental stress on people,” said Griffiths. “Part of our program is investing in workshops on how to cope with change and stress.”

Johnson’s performance management program also helped it place on the top employers list. The formal, online program allows employees to log their objectives and goals on an annual basis, document progress and keep track of one-on-one discussions with their leader, said Griffiths.

“It looks at both the ‘what’ and the ‘how,’” she said. “We are very heavily invested not just in what people achieve, so they might achieve their sales results, but it’s as important the way they go about achieving that so we ask people to gather evidence around where they lived our brand beliefs and put those into their performance journals.”

Each Johnson employee is given a personalized development plan that outlines a variety of tools to help them reach their goals.

“The goals cascade all the way from the president right down to the front-line individuals,” said Griffiths. “So, as a person talking to a customer, I know why I am talking to the customer; I know, ultimately, if I achieve my goals around delivering great customer service, how that feeds all the way up.”

To view the entire list of companies that made the list for 2012, click here.

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