In April 2011, Frima Studio declared it would be the first employer in Quebec to achieve the province’s new certification around work-life balance — the Conciliation Travail-Famille from the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ).
And in April 2012, it was proven correct.
“The BNQ is pleased to award its first certification in work-family balance to Frima. With this unique certification, Frima becomes the first company to be recognized for exceptional management practices in human resources,” said Jean Rousseau, director of the BNQ. “Businesses stand to gain by developing a strategy for maintaining a work-family balance and adherence to the standard allows the employer to structure its efforts. Our certification validates that an employer is responding adequately to the new realities of its employees and is ready to attract new talent.”
To finalize this decision, members of the BNQ visited Frima in March to find out more about its work-life programs and policies, and to speak with employees, including the newly formed (and required) employee committee.
The 350-employee gaming company offers a variety of initiatives such as “Frima points” that reward employee performance with points redeemable for a range of services (such as tax return preparation, an in-home chef, odd jobs, renovations, relaxation packages or travel vouchers).
Frima also offers flexible hours, free access to public transit, one week of paid leave between Christmas and New Year’s Day and a bonus leave under the Labour Standards Act.
“(The) recognition is a reflection of our ongoing efforts to promote a healthy balance between work and family life,” said Steve Couture, CEO of Frima in Quebec City. “This certification further demonstrates that we are an employer ready to attract top talent both in Quebec and internationally.”
Frima is thus far the only employer to have achieved the certification, according to Sylvain Allard of standards development at the BNQ.
“What we figured out when we launched the standard is companies have to arrange the process, form the committee and follow the rules and things like that and have some evidence that they comply with the standard, so we figured out it would take at least one year to do that.”
While the number of employers in the process of certification is confidential, there has been plenty of interest since the standard was introduced one year ago, he said, citing information sessions held by the BNQ in Quebec City and Montreal that were attended by more than 350 people and more than 1,200 downloads of the standard from the BNQ website.
Lawyer questions usefulness of standard
But it’s difficult to find an employer that is pursuing the certification — though there are plenty of consultants keen to help employers with the process, said Frédéric Massé, a partner at Heenan Blaikie in Montreal.
“The low level of engagement of employers in the system so far seems to demonstrate that the need is not necessarily there. That’s not to say the norm does not include very good ideas for employers — there are very good ideas there actually — (but) the need for such a standard is not obvious.
“It’s presented as a tool for employers to be able to recruit employees but, really, I don’t think employers believe it’s required or needed for them to recruit.”
For very small companies that don’t have a lot of policies, the certification is particularly complex, particularly at the higher levels where the requirements are “extremely onerous,” said Massé.
“Most of the requirements to get the standard are only good management techniques so, in theory, getting the norm there, at least at the low level… can be obtained quite easily. It’s probably just a technicality of going out there and getting it.”
And yet greater emphasis on work-life balance seems to be the way to go, according to a recent OfficeTeam survey of 210 Canadian workers that found work-life balance is the top contributor to job satisfaction, aside from salary.
Small firm aims big
As an HR consulting firm, it made sense for Proxima Centaura to pursue the new certification, especially when the small Quebec City-based company was already providing plenty of initiatives in this area, such as a generous family leave, the possibility to work part time, flexible schedules, telecommuting and tools such as groupware, according to Myrka Maheux, vice-president and director at Proxima.
“People are just not defined as only workers anymore so, looking to the future, it is clear that the demands of flex working are likely to grow,” she said.
“Work-life balance policies help employees to reduce the affect of work on family life, thereby often reducing stress levels while increasing the focus and work commitment at work, knowing that work commitments are being met.”
The nine-employee Proxima is aiming for level four of the certification, the highest possible. That’s because the firm is already pretty mature when it comes to work-life initiatives, said Maheux. And pursuing the
certificate has helped the firm evolve, while an annual audit will help the firm stay aligned.
“It helped us to better structure our work-family program, it has made us think about implementing other measures that we didn’t think about before,” she said.
Having started the process in September 2011, Maheux said it is going well and an audit was expected in the last week of March. But the implementation has been a lot of work and took more time, effort and resources than expected.
“We need to document pretty much everything and if I would have not gone for certification, half of this stuff I would have not documented,” she said. “That’s good too because it makes you think about a lot of things, it helps to structure the whole thing.”
In pursuing level one of the certification, HR at Frima has not been overwhelmed by the documentation and the process, said Couture.
“We don’t feel that it’s a huge thing and it removes focus on the business because we try to have the standard — actually this is not the case.”
However, Frima has no plans to pursue other levels because some of the criteria are not feasible, he said. One of the requirements, for example, states employees must be told in advance about overtime but sometimes there is an unexpected crisis with a game launch at the studio and workers must stay to help out, “so the actual structure of the business cannot be compatible with everything that is on all the levels of the standard.”
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