Keeping employees happy with professional development programs and perks is a worthwhile investment for any company, according to a Canadian expert.
Such initiatives often translate into better financial results and an improved public image, says Ted Emond, senior consultant at Vancouver-based Hewitt Associates LLC, a provider of human resources outsourcing and consulting services.
“Organizations with high employee engagement perform much better,” says Emond. They typically grow their annual sales at a higher rate, and have a significantly lower staff turnover, whether it’s full-time, part-time or union workers, he says.
Emond’s observations are based on the results of a Hewitt survey of Canadian companies that measure the impact that certain factors have on employee engagement. Firms surveyed have more than 400 employees.
These factors include physical space, recognition, work/life balance, compensation, and senior management style.
Data from these surveys forms the basis of the ’50 Best Employers in Canada’ list that’s published annually in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business (ROB).
Companies on this list usually invest a great deal of time and effort on these “employee engagement” factors. One such firm is Edmonton-based Intuit Canada Inc., the accounting and tax preparation software vendor that placed 11th on the 50 Best Employers in Canada list for 2007.
The company says it makes conscious efforts to create a sense of belonging among staff – and these initiatives, it seems, are paying off.
Visiting Intuit’s headquarters in Edmonton reveals some of the amenities the company offers employees.
For instance, a typical workday might include taking a moment to release work stress in the in-house gym equipped with weight machines, a basketball court, and hockey equipment.
Or, an employee may challenge a colleague to a game of pool or darts in the lounge.
At lunch time, staff can treat themselves to subsidized ‘comfort food’ prepared by an in-house chef. And in the afternoon, they can power-down in an individual nap room before getting back to work, refreshed.
Intuit says its goal is to create a welcoming and comfortable workplace in the 97,000 square-foot facility that resides on 10 acres of land and houses about 370 employees.
One way it strives to do this is through “pay for performance.” This simply means rewarding productivity and providing appropriate amenities to facilitate this, says Cheryll Watson, senior manager of employee and community engagement at Intuit Canada.
Other amenities include a training room for in-house designed courses, a phone-less war room, where uninterrupted work can happen, porches overlooking an environmental reservation, and walking trails on the surrounding property.
There is a very definite connection between employee satisfaction on the one hand and productivity/business profits on the other, says Jane Sillberg, human resources director at Intuit Canada.
“The more your employees are happy, proud and engaged, the more they want to come to work.”
Intuit’s approach to fostering employee engagement is to instill a sense of purpose in everyone with respect to the greater business picture, she says.
One way this is done, she says, is by ensuring employee know how they specifically contribute to making the business successful.
In addition to in-house recreational amenities, Intuit Canada says it offers various programs that boost productivity by fostering a sense of purpose and belonging.
For instance, during the company’s annual performance management process, employee and manager set professional goals related to the business, and discuss areas of improvement.
It’s akin to a conversation, Sillberg says, because it’s an active plan that gets reviewed every six months – as opposed to existing solely on paper that gets permanently filed away.
The company also conducts an annual anonymous ‘Voice of the Employee’ survey that keeps senior leadership attuned to employee needs and thoughts, she says.
Although Intuit Canada strives to make workers an integral part of the business, its focus extends beyond the individual. “It’s about the whole experience,” says Sillberg, “We want people to enjoy their family relationships here too.”
To that end, Intuit Canada welcomes employee’s families to use the gym and partake in lunchtime fitness classes.
Other employee perks include monthly bus passes, company-matched RRSP contributions, lunch and learn sessions and a $5,000-a-year post-secondary tuition re-imbursement program.
In the past six years, including 2007, Intuit Canada has ranked three times on the 50 Best list.
Ranking eleventh this year is nonetheless enviable considering one hundred and twenty companies – around the yearly average – were vying for a prestigious spot.
There are advantages to being recognized on the list, says Emond. The good public image often means an influx in job applications for advertised positions, for instance, he says.
In addition to the 50 Best, there’s also the Best Small & Medium Employers in Canada for companies with 50-399 employees. Both programs are open to companies that have operated in Canada for at least three years.
The evaluation process is identical for both lists and generally entails administering a confidential survey – either on paper or online – that presents around 135 statements to which a respondent agrees or disagrees within varying amounts.
Results are then tabulated by a team of analysts at Hewitt Associates.
According to Emond, ranking is based on survey results only – typically, Hewitt Associates does not make on-site visits as part of the scoring process. Furthermore, he adds that a company may not qualify if a predetermined number of returned surveys is not met.
Data compiled from these surveys has proven useful in comprehending workplace trends. For instance, results have shown an erosion in employee engagement over the past several years, says Emond.
This may be because there is a greater awareness around the issue of engagement, he explains. However, the cause is two-fold.
“People are also now more discriminating when they respond to surveys like these.”