An insider’s look at being ‘best’ (Editorial)

Carswell, publishers of Canadian HR Reporter, makes the list of 50 Best Employers in Canada
By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/27/2004

T

his year’s 50 Best Employers in Canada list presented the editorial staff at

Canadian HR Reporter

with a new twist. We’re on it. Our parent company Carswell, a division of Thomson Canada, took the 42nd spot on the 2004 list.

Canadian HR Reporter

has long been of the opinion that such lists should be regarded with a bit of skepticism. Candidates are self-nominated and the criteria subjective. Besides, “best” is a relative term. At the same time, the Best 50 list relies heavily on the observations of employees, an aspect we do like, so we are pleased Carswell, which nurtures a work culture we appreciate, has been recognized.

What warrants Carswell’s inclusion on the list? The

Globe and Mail’s Report on Business

, which co-sponsors the 50 Best with consultants Hewitt Associates, notes Carswell has flex work arrangements, on-site massage and yoga, and lunch-and-learn sessions.

While many of my co-workers may partake in yoga, for me it’s hardly a deal-breaker worth commuting two hours through Toronto traffic for. There are many Carswell HR programs that could be listed, all of value to different groups of employees. Carswell’s HR department is well aware that ranking among the best is not traceable to any one initiative, rather the result of putting a bundle of programs in place.

Personally, flex time is a big factor in Carswell’s becoming an employer of choice. It allows me the freedom to make my own hours, balance work and life as needed, and on occasions when it’s appropriate, work from home to avoid the commute. For others at Carswell it has meant job-sharing or telecommuting arrangements.

Flex work arrangements nurture an employer-employee relationship of trust. If you trust me to represent this firm and have faith in my abilities and commitment, then have faith in my ability to manage my time appropriately. It surprises me how many firms don’t trust their workers to do so, and yet trust them with clients and customers.

Related to flex is a respectful atmosphere. Are people treated fairly regardless of race, gender, age, physical abilities? Do supervisors treat reports with respect? Are promotions free of nepotism? Without these foundations a workplace becomes “us versus them.” Carswell maintains a respectful workplace, and it is in this that HR initiatives can be planted to enhance the workplace.

Carswell VP of HR Barb Conway credits employees throughout the organization for helping to maintain a respectful workplace, but acknowledges it would all be pointless without senior management support for HR.

“I don’t know how HR people survive in those environments that lack support for the HR function,” she says. HR professionals in such places have to “take your wins when you get them in order to sustain yourself.”

Don Van Meer, Carswell’s president and CEO, holds that organizational success needs an HR strategy. When he took over the post of VP finance/chief financial officer in the early ’90s, he asked to have HR included in his responsibilities. The move towards a more strategic HR function was underway, and when he became CEO in 1996 he kept HR as a direct report. For him, making the 50 Best is a validation of a personal belief that enlightened HR management is an important strategic advantage.

Rather than thinking of HR as a program or strategy, he describes it as a “mind shift.” And it’s about being proactive rather than reactive to workplace needs and issues. In return for management’s people commitment, employees are required to embrace change (there’s lots of it in the publishing business), and show their own commitment. Mistakes are allowed since we’re all human.

“I spend a lot of my life here, and so do you,” our CEO told me. “Let’s make it a unique place with values.”

For me, being treated with respect is the cornerstone.

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