Quebec’s labour shortages have become well-recognized, as the province struggles to find skilled and semi-skilled workers for a variety of sectors while immigration levels are lowered.
But a new initiative launching in September may help some companies when it comes to recruiting and retaining sought-after employees. The Réseau pour un Québec Famille (Network for a Quebec Family) will be granting seals of recognition to employers that adopt best practices in work-life balance.
The network’s mandate is to propose public policies that support families, and this initiative is about best practices, and moving forward with the social norm around work-life balance, said Mathieu Gagné, adviser in communications, production and strategy at the Réseau.
Two years ago, the Ministère de la Famille surveyed 8,000 companies, and 90 per cent said they offered work-life balance measures to employees, he said.
“We were kind of surprised to see this number because all around us, and every time we hear families talking, it’s always a big concern, a big problem, a big issue, so we felt there was a discrepancy between what was told by the families, and what businesspeople actually told us about the measures they put in place.”
But a second survey of 3,006 workers with children in 2018 by Leger also found 82 per cent said they had access to work-life balance measures at their employer, said Gagné.
“Another finding from this survey was that almost half of them actually never use those measures. And one of the main reasons for that was because they either weren’t aware of what measures were offered or what they could get, and when and how, or they felt that they should try as much as possible to avoid (asking for it) and, instead of that, use people in their surroundings or find other solutions on their own before eventually asking for the company to accommodate.”
As a result, the network decided to launch the new seal. And while the initiative is similar to a standard introduced by the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec (BNQ) in 2010 — with only a handful of companies since then actually pursuing the qualification — this one is different, he said.
“We tried to come up with something that would be more useful, more manageable for companies, easier to put in place, but still be effective in terms of having them move on and try things and do things with employees — start the discussion.”
The previous standard launched by the government has proved too complicated, said Yves-Thomas Dorval, president and CEO of the Quebec Employers Council.
“It’s costly, it is less flexible than what is now tabled by this organization... but, that being said, it’s good, everything is good, because… we don’t want to have exactly the same things, one with the other. But (employers) need to get an outside acknowledgement about the effort you do, you make to your employees in order to offer them better conditions, better balance between work and family.”
The network’s new certifications also makes sense if recent survey results are to be believed.
Ninety per cent of parents said they would be encouraged to apply for or stay longer with a company holding such a seal, according to a 2019 survey by Leger of 1,026 people, including 276 parents with children under 18.
And 55 per cent of Quebecers said they would be willing to change their jobs while 57 per cent would be willing to take a reduction in salary in exchange for better measures around “la conciliation famille-travail” (work-life balance), according to the 2018 survey by Leger.
A couple of years ago, work-life balance was largely about flexibility, and now it’s probably the number 1 criteria with candidates, said Danielle Bragge, co-founder and president of the Headhunters Recruitment in Edmonton.
“We’ve actually got candidates saying, ‘I’m willing to take a drop in salary if I can get an extra week of vacation or if I can work on a flexible schedule or if I can work from my house from time to time.’”
When millennials came into the workforce, they were looking for different things, she said.
“They work to play, whereas your gen X and boomers, we were a generation who just had to do what we had to, to get to where we needed to go. So, we look at careers as a ladder, where the millennials and the new generation coming in, they look at careers almost like a jungle gym. So, it’s really much more as to ‘What does my life dictate right now? Where do I need to go? Could it be a lateral move?’ And a lot depends on their lifestyle, and what they need at that time.”
Millennials brought up the issue of flexibility, and employers had to start thinking differently, said Bragge.
“That started to rub off on your mid-level managers which, at the time, were your gen-Xers and, slowly but surely, even the boomers are starting to look at it differently,” she said. “I’m not measuring presence anymore, I’m managing productivity.”
But overall, these kinds of work-life balance changes could take some getting used to, she said.
“If employers are willing to look at redesigning how they work, and looking at ‘I’m going to manage an individual by tasks,’ it takes a completely different manager and completely different management style to be trusting enough to say to the employee ‘I don’t need you hear from nine to five, but I need you to finish (your work).’ That’s hard for an old-school manager... but I think from a retention standpoint, you’re going to see a much, much higher level of output, you’re going to have very different retention. And people feel valued, they’ll see value for the work they did, not for the hours that they put in.”
To obtain the seal of recognition in Quebec, companies will first have to consult with employees, and then develop a series of measures that address their expectations and needs.
“You have to know what the profile of your employee is. Depending on the industry sector, or the type of workers you have, the needs will not always be the same,” said Gagné.
There are no mandatory measures to the certification.
“The whole thing, we want to keep it as simple as possible. Our position really is we’re there to help companies to innovate, and move forward and (reach) those best practices,” he said. “But we want to ensure, of course, that adding the seal has meaning. So, we have to put some controls as to how.”
The network realized it could not just come up with a list of detailed measures that everybody had to put in place, said Gagné.
“There are too many variations in the realities of the different sectors. So, at the very basis, these measures have to be discussed with employees, and have to correspond to the specific needs of your employee group.”
There is no one size fits all to the certification, said Dorval.
“You have to do and to show and to put in place measures, but not necessarily the same from one employer to the other. But you have to have several measures that are between different categories. Some of them will be related to days off for balanced work, and some others will have to also implement better communication, compensation. Some others will offer services such as kindergarten, so they are different things… because every (workplace) has their own situation.”
Employers would have to offer family-work reconciliation measures in at least four areas: the organization of time and the workplace (such as remote work or flexible schedules); support for employees (such as daycare); leaves (paid or unpaid) for family responsibilities that exceed the minimum standards; and adaptability of work organization (such as having replacement workers when needed).
As for the last area, quite frequently, cross-training is being offered by employers, said Bragge.
“Where before individuals used to just get a specific job and an HR manager put out a job description, it was for one particular skill set, and one particular role. Now, we’re starting to see, particularly in the smaller to mid-size companies... companies who say, ‘OK, I need somebody who can do x), y), z). But I need somebody who has the aptitude to do something else.’ So, you’re seeing... a little bit more of that lateral movement within organizations — it helps the turnover and helps manage the workflow… so that the morale is higher, and people are getting an opportunity to try different things.”
But when it comes to employers offering more than the minimum required by employment standards, there has not been much movement around issues such as elder care or adoption, she said. However, more employers are starting to be more flexible around vacation.
“Negotiating on an extra week of vacation is becoming quite popular,” said Bragge.
Employers looking to be granted the Quebec seal must also designate an administrator to take charge of the program, and create a chart showing the different measures they have taken around work-life balance.
Companies that qualify under these criteria will be granted permission to use the seal of recognition for one year, which will be renewable. The annual fees range from $200 to $3,000 depending on the size of the employer.
Those that do not qualify or need some help to get started on the initiative can consider a training and support program offered by the network this fall.
Variety of options
Sample measures for work-life balance:
• flexible hours
• shared work
• flexible vacations
• on-site daycare
• virtual health care
• replacement workers
• group discounts
• compressed workweeks
Source: Réseau pour un Québec Famille
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