When Carol Izzio joined Sheridan College as its director of procurement in March 2020, she never imagined that her first day on the job she would meet her team on camera, rather than on campus. But learning the ropes of a new job amid a global pandemic was surprisingly easy, Izzio says, thanks to some simple but powerful strategies deployed by her new employer. “In meetings, we could go in breakout rooms and connect with people like you would in a Tim Horton’s line,” says Izzio. “They provided me all the technical tools I needed, and also supported me in ways to make me feel connected to people.”
Creating opportunities to connect is part of a broader push to keep employees engaged during the pandemic, says Jamie Campbell, director of Sheridan’s Centre for People and Organizational Development. “The president [does] virtual coffee chats with whoever wanted to speak with her,” says Campbell. The suburban Toronto college, which boasts one of the world’s top animation programs, also gave employees $250 to spend on creating a better work-from-home setup and has on an ongoing basis hosted workshops to share remote productivity tips.
Sheridan’s coronavirus response helped it earn the No. 8 spot on Forbes’ annual ranking of Canada’s Best Employers. Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to create the sixth annual ranking, which is based on a survey of more than 10,000 Canadians working for businesses with at least 500 employees.
Canadians often judge their employers by a different set of metrics than their U.S. counterparts. Canada’s universal healthcare system and policy of publicly funded parental leave means companies have to distinguish themselves in other ways to attract and retain talent. One factor that’s universal is corporate social responsibility and the impact that employers have in their communities. To attract talent in one of the most multicultural countries in the world, creating an inclusive culture is considered table stakes for many Canadian employers.
A strong leadership and management team is certainly a selling point for Hydro-Québec, where CEO Sophie Brochu—the first woman to helm the provincial utility company—leads a management team that’s one-third women, with a board where 75% are women. The provincial utility claimed the No. 1 spot on our list for the second year in a row. According to Statista, the company’s success as an employer can be attributed to its strong leadership and overall positive image.
But the biggest winners this year were in the education sector, as schools accounted for four of the top 10 employers. Taki Sarantakis, president of the No. 3-ranked Canada School of Public Service, the main educational institution for the Government of Canada, argues that one reason may be the value that Canadians place on education itself. “For me, education is one of the great things that makes us Canadian,’’ says Sarantakis. “Canada statistically is the most educated country in the world, and I think the better your education system, the better your tomorrow will be.”
Like Sheridan and many of the other employers that made this list, CSPS spent the early days of the pandemic seeking out ways to support and connect with its newly remote workforce. Sarantakis says leadership encouraged employees to ask for help. “First and foremost, [they] have responsibilities to [their] family, children [or] spouse,” he says. “When you need help, let us know and somebody will pick up the ball for you.”
Still, that hasn’t made Canadian universities or other employers immune from the economic pressures facing post-secondary institutions as classes went remote amid the pandemic. As universities went remote, many had to redeploy or lay off swaths of their staffs.
At the University of Victoria, No. 7 on this year’s ranking, Rebecca Lumley, who serves as director of total compensation and recruitment, says the school was able to redeploy many its workers to avoid job loss amid layoffs. “There were some layoffs,” says Lumley, noting how without an international student population, the university had to lay off 32 English language teachers in June 2020. “But we decided to take all those who were laid off and do what we call ‘redeployment.’” She says some 95% of those who were laid off were redeployed.
Free tuition for employees to continue their education can be a compelling employment perk. Michelle McNeil, executive director of the alumni office at No. 2-ranked University of New Brunswick, says “one of the things that I’ve taken from UNB is the ability for me to grow and develop personally and professionally.” McNeil took advantage of the school’s free tuition perk to earn a master’s degree in business administration.
Paul Mazerrole, the university’s president, encourages employees to continue their education, even if the classes they take aren’t aligned with the jobs they perform. “We want them to feel that we support them . . . whether they want to get a new degree or they want to have a career pivot,” he says. “I’ve seen really good examples of people getting master’s degrees and end up leaving the university because they’ve extended themselves. Those are good things.”
For the full list of Canada’s Best Employers, click here.
To determine the list, Statista surveyed more than 100,000 Canadians working for businesses with at least 500 employees. All the surveys were anonymous, allowing participants to openly share their opinions. The respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of zero to ten, how likely they’d be to recommend their employer to others. Statista then asked respondents to nominate organizations other than their own. The final list ranks the 300 employers that received the most recommendations.
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