Top employers offer much more than nice perks
By Dave Pink, Waterloo Region Record
For Jasmina Sabani, Trinity Village is not just a place to work; it's a second home.
"Whenever I come in here I feel like I'm coming home," she says. "It's work, but it's not like work. This is a very at-home environment."
Trinity Village is among the 15 Waterloo Region area organizations on this year's list of top employers as compiled by Toronto-based publisher Mediacorp.
Employers are evaluated using eight criteria: physical workplace; work atmosphere; health; financial and family benefits; vacation and time off; employee communications; performance management; training and skills development; and community involvement.
The other organizations on the list this year are:
- Centre for International Governance Innovation
- Crawford & Co. (Canada)
- D2L Corp.
- Economical Insurance
- Equitable Life Insurance Co. of Canada
- Gore Mutual Insurance
- Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan
- OCAS Application Services Inc.
- OpenText Corp.
- Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada
- University of Waterloo
- Waterloo North Hydro
OpenText and Toyota also are on Mediacorp's list of Canada's top 100 employers.
Trinity Village is a non-profit business owned by Lutheran Homes Kitchener-Waterloo, a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. It provides care for the elderly in 150 long-term beds and 74 assisted living studios, along with 90 others in an adult day program at its facility on Kingsway Drive in Kitchener. As well, there are 60 townhomes on the 11.5-acre site for people 55 and older.
Sabani knows it well. She was just nine years old when she started coming in with her mother, a longtime Trinity Village employee, on parent-child days. She put in her volunteer hours there while she was in high school and did her practical training there while she was earning her credentials as a registered practical nurse.
"I love being here, and that's a feeling that comes from being appreciated," she says.
These days, Sabani looks after clinical internal auditing at the facility. When she meets with people who work in other eldercare facilities, "it seems as if they're looking at us and taking notes," she says. "It's different here."
Trinity Village employs 103 full-time and 172 part-time staff, and has a turnover rate of less than two per cent a year, says Brenda Vanderham, the human resources manager. As well, there are 150 volunteers.
"We focus on living our mission, to be an equally great place to live and to work," says Vanderham. "Our attitude is one where we help each other. Everyone works as a team to help each other out. We strive to have a positive and fun environment. This is really a warm and cohesive environment."
Mediacorp noted that Trinity Village encourages employees to pursue additional education, offering tuition subsidies of up to $2,000 per year for job-related courses. In addition to contributing to a defined contribution pension, the company offers retirement planning assistance and phased-in work options
But it goes farther than that, says chief operating officer Debby Riepert.
The reality, she says, is that unhappy employees cannot provide the care and attention the facility's residents deserve.
"We give everyone the tools and the education to be successful," says Riepert. "Our job is to give everybody the parameters so they can make responsible decisions.
"We're working with staff all the time, not just about how to do the treatment but how to improve it; not about how we do things but about how we do things to make it easier and not harder," she says.
"In everything we touch and do we take the extra step," she says. "Things still happen, but we have developed ways of dealing with it."
Riepert adds that there are opportunities for growth at Trinity. She would know. She started at the organization as a personal support worker 32 years ago.
Over the years, the facility's managers say, the organization has embraced every technical advantage that has come along — most recently with a mobile app that allows staff to relay information and easily switch or trade their shifts.
As the needs of its residents increase and decrease during a typical day, Trinity Village relies heavily on part-time staff during high-demand hours. Working within the guidelines negotiated in its collective agreements with Unifor and the Ontario Nurses Association, Riepert says every effort is made to accommodate the scheduling needs of the staff.
It's understood that many of the part-time staff have part-time jobs elsewhere, says Riepert. "People have multiple jobs. We want them to regard us as their employer of choice."
The Mediacorp honour is not the first for Trinity Village. One year ago, it was named workplace of the year by the Ontario Long Term Care Association.
"We recognize that that would not be possible without our staff," says Riepert.
Typically, what matters most to the employees of the organizations on the top employers list is not the perks and benefits that come with the job, but a sense that they are listened to and that their observations and opinions matter. They want to feel valued.
Jason McTaggart is putting in about 20 hours a week as a developer at TextNow in Waterloo while he is completing his computer science degree at the University of Guelph. He applied for a student placement at TextNow after one of his professors sang the praises of the company's benefits, attitudes and expectations, and encouraged all of his students to apply.
Not only did TextNow, a provider of low-cost mobile phone plans, meet those lofty expectations, "it exceeded them," says McTaggart.
"I was listened to from the first day I got here," he says.
McTaggart has been working at TextNow for about nine months, and when he graduates in the spring a full-time job will be waiting for him.
"We hire the keepers; the bar-raisers," says Jon Halk, head of the company's design team. "We find the right people at the right stage in their lives, and we are lucky to have them. We have to attract and keep them because things are very competitive."
Mediacorp notes that in addition to three weeks of starting vacation allowance, TextNow offers reduced office hours during the summer months and paid days off during the winter holidays. It encourages ongoing employee development with tuition subsidies for courses, subsidies for professional accreditation and a number of in-house and online training options. As well, it provides maternity and parental leave top-up for employees who are new mothers or fathers, and flexible work arrangements for new parents.
But Halk says there are other compelling reasons why someone would want to work at TextNow. "For me personally, it's the flat structure. There's not a lot of management," he says. "At TextNow, the decisions come from all directions. People are trusted to make decisions."
"It all comes back to hiring people and giving them trust. This is a results driven organization."
TextNow, located in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park, offers an app for free calling and texting. "There are a lot of ways we can improve and enhance their calling and texting experience," says Halk, who has been with the company for 2½ years.
Getting the job done, while growing to meet the expanding needs of the market, requires recruiting and keeping the right kind of people. TextNow can't afford not to treat its employees well, says Carolyn MacDonald, a senior manager with the company.
TextNow pays a referral fee to employees who bring innovative new recruits into the informal high-technology environment. As well, the company brings in catered restaurant meals for breakfast and lunch from an array of Waterloo eateries.
And, there is draft beer in the lunch room.
"It's never abused," says MacDonald. In a collaborative atmosphere where employees are encouraged to sit, talk and thrash out problems with co-workers, it's a nice touch, she says.
At Septodont in Cambridge there's a similar attitude of respect toward employees — but in a much more rigid working environment. The company makes and packages dental anesthetics, and almost all of its employees work in a sterile environment, wearing masks and gowns.
The company makes one million dental injections every day.
"What we do here is important," says Atif Zia, the company's vice-president and general manager for North America. Septodont also has a facility in Colorado.
"We require a lot of skilled employees to do what we do, so attracting and keeping good employees is our major focus. What we do here we do with our employees in mind."
"We aspire to be a great employer," he says. "We try to ensure that our company values drive our everyday behaviour."
The company, once known as Novocol Pharmaceutical, has been in Cambridge, on Wolseley Court, since the late 1970s. It is now a part of French-based Septodont.
The Cambridge facility employs almost 400 people with a wide array of skills right up to PhD-level scientists, says Zia. "It's a diverse workplace with several different disciplines."
In addition to three weeks of starting vacation, the company offers employees up to eight paid personal days off each year. As well, it supports employees with contributions to retirement plan, retirement planning assistance and phased-in work options.
In addition, the company offers paid internships and co-op placements for students.
"We make good use of students from places like McGill and the University of Waterloo," says Zia.
And, there are staff barbecues, children's parties and staff excursions to events such as Toronto Blue Jays games. "These things bring employees together," he says.
"This is a really supportive place to work. There's a good sense of camaraderie and co-operation," says Kathryn Ida, a project leader who transferred to the Cambridge plant from the Colorado facility in 2010.
"This is a company with really good values, with a very high standard," she says. "Every day has its challenges, but the people do good work here."
Zia says that more than $50 million has been invested in the Cambridge facility over the past five years. The company is looking toward "aggressive levels of growth" and needs to attract the kind of talent that can make that happen, he says.
"We have the latest in technology, and we have managed to use that technology to maintain a strong position in the market we serve," Zia says. But "without our employees the best laid plans won't succeed."
Story by Dave Pink
Reprinted from Waterloo Region Record, November 26, 2016