Not your average retailer

Global opportunities and social consciousness land IKEA a spot on the <i>Top 100</i>

Flexible work hours, parental benefits and an opportunity to work in 40 countries around the world are some of the perks that have landed IKEA Canada on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2009.

“I am very passionate about IKEA and in love with what the company does and what it stands for,” says Lisa Glennie-Phillips, co-worker relations manager for the Burlington, Ont.-based furniture and home decoration retailer that has 10 Canadian stores. “Our values are a long standing set of values that actually come from Ingvat Kamprad, our founder.”

Kamprad’s values were complied into a document published in 1976 called The Furniture Dealer’s Testament. The guide outlined IKEA’s shared values as well as Kamprad’s expectations of how employees should treat each other.

“This is something that all of us are exposed to and receive training on,” says Glennie-Phillips.

Creating an understanding of the company culture includes “culture day sessions.”

Several times a year, employees and store managers meet in small groups to learn about IKEA’s Swedish roots, heritage and business ideals.

“We use the time to connect (with employees) as individuals so they can ask real questions, give us their good ideas and become part of the IKEA culture by sharing their unique cultural perspectives with us,” says Jennifer Hagen, HR manager for IKEA Canada.

Emphasis is placed on good leadership, with special training given to employees on how to reinforce the company culture, build trust and motivate co-workers, says Hagen.

“We spend a lot of energy and time on finding authentic leaders within our organization, those who have a spark and a twinkle in their eye,” she says.

International relocations, travel

The culture of IKEA is truly global, says Glennie Phillips. Opportunities for employee advancement are both home grown and international with stores in 40 countries.

“I would say this is probably one of the unique features of IKEA and one of the key factors that sets us apart from the other retailers and even other companies,” she says.

Managers who choose to relocate domestically or internationally are given the assistance of the IKEA mobility team in Europe, which provides advice and guidance on rules, regulations, legal and immigration issues as well as financial assistance to make the move as effortless as possible for themselves and their families, says Hagen.

But employees don’t have to pack up and move to see the world. About 40 Canadian employees travelled abroad in the last year as part of a special project or store build-up, says Hagen.

Work-life balance programs

IKEA also has numerous programs in place to help employees balance work and family life.

New parents are given a paid week of leave after the arrival of a new baby or adopted child. One location offers on-site YMCA daycare at a discounted rate. Employees are also given several flexible work options such as job-sharing and the ability to compress the workweek from five days to four.

Employees are allowed to use their sick days (12 for a full-time employee, eight for part-time) for either themselves or to spend time with a sick child or an elder relative if the employee is the primary caregiver.

Employees can also participate in free lunch-and-learn sessions offered through IKEA’s employee assistance plan. The company offers RSP contributions that are matched up to three times by IKEA when the employee contributes a minimum of one per cent of their total salary.

“We have always prided ourselves on having one of the best employee benefit packages in retail, but at the same time we are always looking for ways to keep current or ahead of the competition,” says Hagen, explaining because IKEA is a global company, its benefits are equitable in all the countries it operates in, and then tailored to each country’s specific needs.

“We have a philosophy worldwide that all of our co-workers are cared for similarly in the best way possible,” she says.

Corporate social responsibility

IKEA is also actively involved in programs to benefit children both in local communities and around the world.

IKEA partnered with UNICEF in 2000 as part of an initiative put forward by a group of employees from around the world who are responsible for addressing social and environmental concerns within the organization.

“We wanted to come together on an idea that was something we could share as part of the big IKEA family,” says Hagen.

Those suggestions included a campaign to combat child labour through having longstanding relationships and policies with manufacturers as well as a strong partnership with UNICEF to protect children’s rights in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where IKEA sources many of its carpets.

IKEA supports UNICEF’s fight to end child labour through addressing the root causes such as debt, poverty, lack of access to education, disability and health concerns.

The project currently services 500 villages and benefits more than one million people through women’s self-help groups, alternative learning centres, health initiatives and income generation initiatives.

“The self-help group supports women and gives them the skills to become entrepreneurs. They actually have partnered with us and some of our IKEA designers to design for some of IKEA’s cushion products,” says Glennie-Phillips.

The evidence of UNICEF’s work with IKEA is not limited to overseas. Each holiday season UNICEF sets up kiosks in Canadian IKEA stores to sell their products with profits going to UNICEF. IKEA will also donate one dollar for every soft toy sold during the holiday season as part of their “A Dollar is a Fortune” campaign.

The company also gives back to the communities in which it operates, says Glennie Phillips. Each store is given a significant amount of money to allocate to a children’s charity of its choice in the community.

“They have the flexibility to decide who they will donate to or what that donation will look like,” she says.

Employees are encouraged to give in-kind donations so they can offer their services and get personally involved in the cause, says Glennie-Phillips. A number of co-workers in Burlington recently used their home furnishing skills and carpentry expertise to remodel a local women’s shelter that also houses children.

“I believe we are the good employer. We are a good neighbour,” she says. “I am extremely proud to work at Ikea.”

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