Top shops deliver more than flashy perks

The ROB's top 50 companies and Canada's top 100 employers - is your firm on these lists?
By Asha Tomlinson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/04/2002

There’s no magical formula to becoming one of the top employers in Canada. In fact, most companies who reach this status create their own recipes to attract and retain employees. Just look at the diverse group of organizations that made it on the list of two recognized employer rankings: Report On Business (R.O.B) magazine’s Top 50 Companies and Canada’s Top 100 Employers — the annual edition written by author Richard Yerema.

Even though the criteria for each ranking were different — R.O.B based its decisions mostly on employee surveys while Yerema looked more at best practices — it’s still evident good employers go out of their way to meet employees’ needs.

Yerema says he noticed employers were offering outlandish perks last year, but because of today’s shaky business market they’re moving towards substance and stability.

“The flashy stuff was trumpeted very loudly before, it’s just not as loud now,” he says. “Now you have to emphasize that which is core and that which is stable.”

Employers are focusing more on things like employee development, performance feedback and flexible work arrangements, says Yerema.

That’s true for Telus Corporation. The company, which specializes in telecommunication and Internet services with more than 26,000 employees across the country, made it on both lists (ranking #10 on the R.O.B list). To keep its employees striving for success, Telus has a customized development program called “PDP” (Performance Development Process).

It’s done in conjunction with the manager and the employee, says Judy Shuttleworth, executive vice-president of human resources. They sit down together to decide the interest of the employee and their personal needs. Then they look at what is required for further development and future aspirations.

Shuttleworth makes it clear that the PDP is an assessment and not an evaluation. Once the objectives are set from this process, employees are evaluated against this. Telus also has a 360-degree feedback review where managers get additional feedback from colleagues, customers and even stakeholders, and it’s measured against the values of the organization.

Telus has a unique recognition program, called Team Machine (TM), that all employees can access online. There are three levels: the spark plug, the accelerator and the turbo charge. At the spark plug level employees can recognize or thank customers and colleagues by sending e-greetings with their own messages included. At the accelerator level, you have to get approval from a manager to recognize a co-worker and if the nomination is accepted the employee gets 1,000 TM points.

“There is a catalogue you can select a gift from with those points. You can get a trip or camping gear or anything that would relate to your lifestyle,” says Shuttleworth.

The turbo charge is the highest reward in which staff receive three thousand points. This is usually awarded for employees who have gone above and beyond the norm.

“They love these programs. Even the most hardened people who you wouldn’t think want to be recognized like them,” she says. “It’s amazing to me how touched people are by the recognition.”

For the top 50 list, R.O.B partnered with international consulting firm Hewitt Associates. Hewitt consultant Leslie Dutton says she noticed a slightly different trend than Yerema.

“When we look at the results of the employee survey and we look at the scores and what seems to be most influencing engagement...the companies that seem to truly distinguish themselves excel at leadership,” she says. So the leaders of these companies have connected effectively with their employees and are interested in balancing the needs of their people with the needs of the business.

Leading the pack with the #1 R.O.B ranking is Flight Centre Ltd., an international travel agency with a division in Toronto. With its beginnings in Australia, it has become the leading travel agency down under and ranks seventh in the world. This is the first time the company made the list.

“We’ve always believed we’re number one and we’re very proud,” says Grahame Hubbard, managing director for Eastern Canada.

They’re a proud company but have a very humble work philosophy. They work by a “no privileges unless everyone has them” motto, which means no receptionists (not even for the head honchos), no individual offices and no cleaners.

“We even take out the garbage ourselves,” Hubbard says with a laugh.

Everything is shared including an emergency aid fund Hubbard created himself. After being diagnosed with a brain tumour a year ago that was operated on and was benign, Hubbard discovered there’s a lot an insurance package can’t cover.

Now every store in Eastern Canada saves $100 per month to go towards a company fund that helps employees in times of need.

One employee suffers from a disorder called alopecia and all her hair fell out last year. Hubbard used the emergency fund money to buy a wig for her and even helped pick it out. It’s important for him to know his employees and share things with them that go beyond how many sales are made. So they don’t feel like they’re just a number, he says.

“I want them to feel that I appreciate them for who they are. That I give them enough respect to know about them and what makes them tick and I offer the same in return.”

Considering his staff is 75 per cent female, he’s also planning to build a free on-site day-care centre that will stay open late in the evening. Right now it’s an absolute nightmare to find a day-care centre that’s opened until 10 o’clock at night, says Hubbard. And Flight Centre employees stay out later than that at their monthly “buzz night” socials where they cheer on other employees, talk about their lives and have a drink or two.

“Our employees have a lot in common and it’s not just Flight Centre talk. It brings togetherness to the team.”

While Flight Centre is enjoying its first time on the list, for others it’s familiar ground. Eli Lilly Canada, a Toronto-based pharmaceutical company, has been in the top 10 three years in a row.

“The employees are the contributing factor behind that,” says Karen McKay, vice-president of human resources for Lilly.

They have about 600 employees in Canada and around 50 per cent of the positions filled have come from employee referrals.

That shows employees really believe they like where they work and want others to work here too, she says.

Most of their employees stay with Lilly because they believe in the company’s values and feel they are making a difference, McKay says. Lilly employees also get lots of perks to assist with their work-life balance. They have an on-site fitness centre, a dry cleaning service and “dinners to go.”

“Employees can select a meal for the family and take it home, so you have everything you need to feed your family if it’s been ‘one of those days’,” says McKay.

Only 16 of last year’s Top 50 picks made it onto this year’s list. Some companies didn’t enter, others are restructuring and then companies like Nortel Networks are missing in action. Nortel was the top choice last year, but recently cut about 50,000 jobs.

However, Dutton says the bar is still continuing to rise on what it takes to be an employer of choice.

CHRR subscribers can take a look at both lists - the top 50 and the top 100 - by selecting the headline in the "Related Articles" area, below.

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *