B.C. Safety Authority has ‘employee-first’ mandate

Non-profit organization looked at where employees live when picking location for new office

Just how far will the British Columbia Safety Authority (BCSA) go for its employees? Before picking a spot for its headquarters in New Westminster, B.C., it geographically mapped the home addresses of its 90 head-office employees and isolated the best location for travel using car and public transit.

This kind of “employee-first” mandate dates back to April 2004, when the Safety Authority Act established the BCSA’s independence from the province, said Diane Sullivan, vice-president of human resources. All 250 employees scattered across the province in 32 offices were put into teams to create the company’s new operating vision.

“It changed our culture so fast. Employees coming from government, where it’s so huge your contribution might never be seen or heard, were all of a sudden seeing what they said being put into practice,” she said. “It was pretty exciting.”

Of course the very function of the not-for-profit BCSA — to provide safety services to industry sectors such as ski lifts, railways and elevating devices — attracts a conscientious workforce.

But it’s the company’s flexibility and openness to meeting employees’ needs that helped land it on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2008 for the first time. One example: Because a number of the safety officers located in northern B.C. travel a lot, the BCSA worked with the union to allow them 12-hour work days instead of 10 while keeping total hours worked at 80 every two weeks.

“Our safety officers love it. It allows them to manage their work effectively and be home when they want to be home,” said Sullivan.

Because of a commitment to hire the best person for the job, BCSA readily abandoned notions of traditional work arrangements, opting to enable several talented employees, unwilling to relocate to New Westminster, to work virtually from preferred locations such as Vancouver Island and Kelowna.

“We devote a lot of our energy to making sure we bring in the right people, from a culture perspective, a values perspective and from an experience and knowledge perspective,” said Sullivan of the five-person HR department.

Retention is a non-issue at BCSA — the turnover rate is less than two per cent. And benefits such as the 85-per-cent top-up for new mothers and fathers (for 52 weeks) no doubt boost employee commitment.

“This (perk) is important to us, because we talk a lot about family,” said Sullivan. “And it’s part of the culture of the company. People who work for us care about their family and the ‘family’ they work with.”

Sullivan said recruitment is a challenge in some areas — there are very few expert elevator technicians in the province, for example — but the BCSA’s employee referral plan helps in that department. Employees who refer successful candidates receive $500 after the new hire has been on the job three months and an additional $500 after one year. Since being instituted in January, 10 employees have received the bonus.

And even in employees’ legacy years, the BCSA continues to be flexible, helping those nearing retirement finish their working careers in the community where they wish to retire, even paying some of the relocation expenses. This is a fitting gesture demonstrating the company’s career-long commitment to employees, one that pays off in a fully engaged workforce, said Sullivan.

Lesley Young is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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