Maclean's Canada's Top 100 Employers

There was a time when all it took to be considered a good employer was to provide jobs for a lot of people. Offer competitive wages, basic benefits, make money and keep growing - that's all there was to it. Not anymore.

Maclean's Canada's Top 100 Employers

There was a time when all it took to be considered a good employer was to provide jobs for a lot of people. Offer competitive wages, basic benefits, make money and keep growing - that's all there was to it. Not anymore.

With Canada in the midst of its biggest job boom in more than a generation, millions of workers find themselves able to pick and choose between career paths. Today's job hunter isn't just looking for a steady paycheque but a constant challenge, and a career that's going to enrich life away from the office. And just because you're able to attract talented people, it's no guarantee you'll be able to hold on to them.

It's a tall order for executives, who must now keep their employees as happy as their customers. But hundreds of employers are proving themselves worthy of the challenge, and this year's compilation of Canada's Top 100 Employers, by Mediacorp, provides important insight into how to create the kind of workplaces people brag about.

This year, more than 1,500 employers started the application process, and author Richard Yerema and his team have spent the past year combing through thousands of pages of material, to identify the best of the best. The result is the most exhaustive analysis of human resources trends in the country - not a ranking, but a compendium of best practices across every sector of the economy, both public and private. Unlike other surveys, the Maclean's/ Mediacorp Top 100 relies on a single set of criteria, independent analysis and hard data rather than purely subjective judgment calls and surveys. Mediacorp isn't a consultancy, but a publishing company, and its full report of the Top 100 companies to work for in Canada will hit bookstores soon.

This is the sixth year we've partnered on this study, and much has changed over that time. For example, when the first survey landed at the tail end of the dot-com boom, the federal government had only recently extended maternity leave benefits for a full year, and hardly any employers were offering top-up payments to ease the financial burden on new parents. This year, two-thirds of the companies in the Top 100 offer maternity top-up, and a few, such as the Royal Canadian Mint, supplement maternity benefits to 93 per cent of regular pay for the full year of a new mom's leave. And while such payments for new fathers were practically unheard of just a few years ago, 20 of this year's top employers offer paternal leave payments.

It's often the smaller employers leading the way. Toronto-based I Love Rewards Inc. is a consulting company with just 25 employees. Recently, management was looking for a way to recognize its staff, and decided to add two weeks to everyone's vacation entitlement. New hires now get four weeks of holiday time to start, and longer-serving staff have been given as much as six weeks off per year. "This was a small company that said, 'what can we do to be a better employer?' " Yerema says. "That's courage, to try something that a lot of people wouldn't."

But there may be no better example of this co-operative spirit than Spruceland Millworks, a small maker of wooden trim work and mouldings in Acheson, Alta. Back in 1992, Spruceland's main plant burned to the ground. Naturally, workers with mortgages to pay and kids in school thought they'd just been hit with a financial catastrophe. But rather than laying off his 48 staff, owner Ben Sawatzky gathered them together and put them to work rebuilding the facility. About 100 days after the fire, the 50,000-sq.-foot facility was up and operational again. Over the ensuing years Sawatzky provided low-cost loans to allow workers to buy a 20 per cent stake in the business. Every day, Sawatzky gives workers a production target, and if it's fulfilled in less than eight hours, they are free to go home with full pay as reward for a good day's work. The business is thriving, having expanded to almost 150 staff and more than $70 million in annual sales. Last year, Sawatzky paid a prosperity bonus to all staff - $1,000 for every year of service - and flew the whole company to Mexico for an annual meeting.

Not everybody can work for a boss like Ben Sawatzky, but it's the attitude that permeates his operation that we hope to highlight and encourage by publishing the Top 100 list each year. Smart businessmen will tell you that in the new economy, attracting and retaining good staff is the most fundamental competitive advantage any enterprise can hope to have. But saying that is one thing, actually doing it is quite another.

If the economists and demographers are right, Canada's supply of skilled labour is only going to get tighter. If you run a business, this listing provides a glimpse of the future - of what it takes to be considered a great employer. For workers, this is what's out there if you work for the right company. And if you see something here that you don't get, maybe it's time you asked, "why not?"

Maclean's October 16, 2006