Director, Human ResourcesTranslation Bureau
The federal government’s Translation Bureau provides translation, interpretation and terminology products and services to various government bodies. Headquartered in Gatineau, Que., it employs 1,800 people.
The survey process identified the Translation Bureau as a leader in best practices that leads to an engaged workforce. Jacques Lemieux, director of HR, was interviewed about two best practice areas in which his firm excels: fair compensation and clarity and feedback.
The Translation Bureau is part of the Government of Canada, but it’s considered the “full employer” of the translators and interpreters who work for it.
“This means that we don’t have 10 to 15 external interventions every time we want to make compensation arrangements with our unionized employees, particularly with the union that represents our translators and interpreters,” said Lemieux. “We can negotiate bonuses for instance, and can allow a higher pay rate for translators and interpreters who also speak a third language.”
He said the salaries are fairly good — particularly at the entry level, according to new graduates. However, there are other fair compensation issues to deal with.
“Our organizational workload is not spread evenly across the year,” said Lemieux. “Much of our work involves translation services provided to the House of Commons and the Senate. Both these bodies are not in session during the summer or over the December holiday period. On the other hand, when the House and Senate are in session our translators and interpreters may be required to work hours in excess of the hours in a normal work day.”
The bureau has a system that allows up to 40 working days of paid leave per year to be taken during slack periods. Lemieux said this works well because it is often in the summer and December that many employees want time off.
“In return we expect employees to sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty during peak work periods,” he said.
Another fair compensation practice is the productivity and incentive regime.
“We realized some time ago that we needed to increase our productivity, because we operate on a cost recovery basis,” said Lemieux. “But quality, and not only volume, is important to us, because mistranslations or misinterpretations can have serious side effects in some of the work we do. If we had misinterpreted anything during the House of Commons debate on the war in Iraq, for instance, we could have caused serious trouble.”
So the bureau introduced a productivity bonus for work done above and beyond a minimum level of productivity. It also has tools in place to measure the quality of both the baseline level of work done and the above-and-beyond work as well.
“My job is to make sure the paid leave option and the productivity and incentive regime run smoothly and meet the needs both of our employees and of the bureau,” he said.
Clarity and feedback
Translation Bureau employees are keen on words, said Lemieux. Therefore, clear communication is very important to them.
The bureau has a bundle of related communication practices that allow it to foster clarity and feedback, and these should be seen as a single strategy, he said. This bundle includes:
•an internal website for employees called “Atrium.” This is an interactive website, not a one-way communication tool. Employees can respond to what is on the website. The site is updated weekly with interesting news and changes within the organization. The website has a managers’ corner and an employees’ corner so each group can see its own interests reflected on the website. When issues are raised by employees via the website, one part of the company is responsible for examining each comment and deciding which part of the organization the comment should be sent to. And the bureau always replies to any such comments made on the website;
•an electronic “CEO newspaper,” which is sent to managers and other employees; and
•a managers’ information electronic publication, produced regularly.
“We work on the theory that multiple points of access to information makes sense to foster clarity and feedback, since access precedes clarity and feedback,” said Lemieux.
The bureau also developed a consultation protocol to guide communication with the unions that ensures problems are communicated early on.
“Unions seem to appreciate this, since it reduces the number of surprise communications they become aware of, and spares them and us the aggravation that usually surrounds such surprises.”