Firms at top of best-in-Canada lists receive more job applications

With so many companies claiming to hold the title of “best in class” or “best of breed” for whatever they happen to produce, these terms have started to lose their impact. However, when the word “best” has anything to do with what the company is like as an employer, people tend to sit up and take notice.

In recent months, two such “best of” lists have been released: the “50 Best Companies to Work For in Canada” by Hewitt Associates and published in The Globe and Mail‘s ROB Magazine, and the 2002 edition of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

Both of these lists cover a wide range of industries, including IT, and are geographically diverse, however there is an odd lack of overlap between the two. In fact, only six companies appear on both lists, a fact that is not surprising to the Toronto-based author of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, Richard Yerema.

“We don’t put a limit on the size of the employer, whereas Hewitt’s list is limited to companies over 300 people,” Yerema said. “The reason we keep it open is to ensure that smaller firms do have the opportunity to be recognized. Often, it’s the smaller companies that are able to do the most important things.”

Yerema’s list of 100 employers was compiled after 5,000 companies and organizations were selected to provide information on topics including employee benefits, working conditions and human resources programs. The top companies were chosen based on criteria such as growth potential, job performance feedback, communication, benefits, educational allowances and work environment.

Criteria for Hewitt’s list of 50 focused more on employee satisfaction than on benefits themselves. Ted Emond, a consultant for Hewitt Associates in Toronto, explained that there are three components to their research. An employee survey of companies that applied to be considered for inclusion in the list is worth 70 per cent of the total score, while the CEO survey and an inventory of “people practices” make up the final 30 per cent.

“The employee survey measures whether a company has captured the hearts and minds of employees,” Emond said. “Companies that have done that have organized themselves to be great places to work.”

Qualities that make a company a good place to work have changed over the last few years. While companies during the dot-com boom boasted pool tables and on-site massages, companies today are ranking high because they offer perks such as work-life balance and stability. However this last benefit has become more difficult to deliver than in-house basketball courts.

In fact, in order for a company to be considered for Yerema’s list, it may not have had any layoffs during the study year. The best example of a company moving from a position in the top 100 to disqualification is Nortel, Yerema said.

While the top 100 list doesn’t rank the best companies, the ROB list places them hierarchically. Edmonton-based Intuit Canada Ltd. ranks as the ROB‘s highest rated IT company; it also made Yerema’s top 100.

Both Yerema and Emond agree that these lists serve several purposes. They allow companies that didn’t make either list look at their own best practices and consider changes. They enable companies that do make the lists to use their status by advertising their accomplishment. They also serve to help people who are looking for work by providing them with information about what these companies have to offer.

Randy Straeten, vice-president of W5 Resources Inc. in Markham, Ont., acknowledges that these kinds of lists can be useful for those on the job hunt, but that their value is somewhat limited.

“For the right type of person, these lists can make a difference,” Straeten said. “If you have somebody who’s career minded and who wants to work for a particular type of company, these lists can help (them) move towards the goal of working for one of them, but for the guy who finds himself unemployed, there’s not an immediate return in terms of a job opening.”

This lack of immediate return occurs partly because, according to Emond, companies that make the list experience a surge of applicants after the list is published. The 50 best companies receive up to 50 per cent more applications for employment as compared with companies that don’t make the list, he said. While these top companies have more of a selection of r