Flexibility is top of the mind this year: flexibility in the workplace, flexibility in employee relations. This can mean everything from varied office hours and working from home to creating a more adaptable office culture and open-door communication.
All of that sounds great. Yet fitting flexibility into rigid work deadlines and everyday demands, that’s the real trick.
Here are some ways in which the 11 category winners of the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards, created by The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell and presented on March 20 to recognize excellence in achieving a healthy, engaged and productive work force, are putting flexibility to work.
Canadian Employers that Put Mental Health, Flexibility and Wellness First
Leaders leading by example
“It’s never just one thing. It’s not just flexible work arrangements, or virtual work — or, for instance, we have Friday afternoons off 52 weeks a year here at Pfizer. I can check a box that we offer them, but I think flexibility is more about a mindset.
“It’s really about culture, and I think that’s what makes a difference. If you give everybody Friday afternoons off, but none of the leadership team leaves before 5 p.m. on Friday, the message you send to your organization is that you don’t believe in it [flexible Fridays]. So, for me, it’s all about a mindset, and it’s all about a culture.”
— Laura Larbalestier, vice-president of human resources at pharmaceutical company Pfizer Canada in Kirkland, Que. Winner, large publicly traded organization.
“Unless something is highly confidential, [employees] know what’s going on, from things going on corporately to plans for the next year. When there is lack of information, people make things up, and it’s not usually positive.
“So, formally, we have quarterly town halls, where we let everyone know up front what happened last quarter and what we’re working on for the future. And then informally, it’s an open-door policy. Anyone can come in and ask any question.”
Employee meetings to discuss stress (without managers)
After a guest speaker came to the company to talk about mental-health issues, as part of the Bell Let’s Talk program to open up the dialogue, employees began to discuss their own issues. “Quite frankly, I would say that ‘shocked’ might be an understatement on how willing people were to discuss mental-health issues.
Giving employees personalized perks
“With everything that we’re doing, we try to personalize, so that people self-select into the things that they’re interested in, whether that is a company event or a do-it-yourself workshop, or even a club. Our clubs range from Spanish language to rock climbing. People self-select into things that are important to them.
“I would say that it’s a philosophy in everything that we do. If I look at our renovation in the last year, we had a major expansion, and one of the things we focused on was making sure there was a wide range of different work areas. Whether it’s an open-collaboration space or a high-tech meeting room, or a parent room for nursing, it’s all an attempt for us to try to be empathetic and create diversity, and allow the unique identities of people to come together. I ultimately think that’s what fosters creativity.”
— Leerom Segal, chief executive officer of health marketing and business consultancy Klick Inc. in Toronto. Winner, large privately owned organization.
Listening closely to staff and new hires
“We openly seek out feedback from staff and take action on those items based on the feedback. I think that’s really important, that people feel they’re listened to. They’re the ones who understand the pros and cons of actions.
“We are going through unprecedented growth right now. Our population will more than double over the next 10 years. And so we’re hiring people who have been [in terms of experience] where we’re going.”
— Virginia Hackson, mayor of the Town of East Gwillimbury, Ont. Winner, mid-sized governmental organization.
Emphasis on total health, both mental and physical
“We have established working committees for each of the four health pillars: mental, physical, work and life. We are looking at improving the health of our employees in each of these through existing programs or implementing new programs to assist [workers]. For example, we have just completed a half-day training session for all leadership within the organization on mental health. Linking total health with safety is a focus for us, as we want to ensure that all of our employees go home safe every day.”
— Nicole Poirier, director of health, safety, environment and emergency preparedness for electrical utility company NB Power in Fredericton. Winner, large governmental organization.
“The main initiative that we have put in place this year to improve our workplace is a recognition program. Colleagues can send feedback or a positive comment to other colleagues to thank them or congratulate them for any action.
“This program promotes spontaneous and non-monetary recognition. It was set up in March 2017, and since then, nearly 600 positive messages have been sent, and a large majority of our employees have participated. This has had a very positive effect on the work environment, and the number of acknowledgments sent through this program continues to increase.”
— Élisabeth Paquin, junior adviser, human resources, Aéroport de Québec in Quebec City. Winner, mid-sized not-for-profit organization.
Less sedentary work
“What we’re focusing on in the coming year is physical health and wellness, as well as focusing on supporting our employees with new programs. So, for example, we’re going to be working with ParticipACTION UPnGO, which is a really exciting initiative for us. Getting our employees moving, increasing health and wellness in the workplace. That’s the next solution that we’re looking at.”
— Tracy Murray, director of finance at the non-profit CANARIE Inc. in Ottawa, which helps run the National Research and Education Network, a technology network for researchers and educators. Winner, small not-for-profit organization.
A culture of gratitude
“The pressure that our team is under is intense, and it’s really a testament to the resilience of our work force. They’re the people who have made us have a healthy workplace and have come up with the initiatives and ideas. But they are equally adept at supporting each other, as they are with [client] families.
“So, [we have] team activities, support each other and celebrate successes — more than worrying about things that haven’t gone quite right. Gratitude is important. It makes me happy to go into work every day to have the team that I have around me.”
— Lorne MacLean, founder of MacLean Family Law in Vancouver. Winner, small privately owned organization.
Full wellness programs
“Almost half of the employees participated in it. It involved biometric screening and a total health index survey [like a checkup and overall health assessment]. It helps them get involved and realize the areas they are doing well in, or areas where they might need improvement. People who are more involved tend to take more ownership of their health.”
— Claire Regan, director of corporate communications for food ingredients company Ingredion in the Chicago area. Its Canadian subsidiary is Ingredion Canada in Mississauga, Ont. Winner, mid-sized publicly traded organization.
Focus on bridging gaps when office is growing
“The Municipality of the County of Cumberland has gone through significant change over the past three years. We’ve had two other municipalities dissolve into us. So, we went from 30 employees to almost 100 in a very short period of time.
“We worked hard at bringing everyone together — three different locations in a really large county — to increase our communication, maybe networking events after work or at the workplace as well. Our goal was to really bridge a lot of gaps between the different locations.”
— Allie McCormick, manager of organizational development and innovation, with the Municipality of the County of Cumberland in Nova Scotia. Winner, small governmental organization.
How the award works
Canadian companies are placing greater importance on their employees’ health and wellness, realizing that the happier and healthier their employees are, the more productive and engaged they are at work. The focus is not just on physical health but also mental health.
Organizations are achieving this goal in a host of ways. The Employee Recommended Workplace Award, jointly created by The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell, recognizes companies for excellence in achieving a healthy, engaged and productive work force. And it’s an award based entirely on feedback from employees.
Here’s how it works. A company’s employees take a survey based on four pillars: work, life, mental health and physical health. Employees’ well-being is scored based on their responses, and the aggregate of responses determines their company’s score. Those companies that meet a minimum statistical threshold earn the distinction of being named an Employee Recommended Workplace and can use the award badge to promote their company. This is no small feat. It means those companies were in the top percentile among participants and have a workplace that prioritizes health and wellness. In 2018, 53 organizations received the designation Employee Recommended Workplace.