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Ontario Erectors Association

Being in good company; The secret to being a great employer? Engaging employees

In 25 years working in the Guelph office of insurance company the Co-operators Group, Jane O’Leary has worked her way up. She started out in the marketing area, moved to the data centre and now she is part of a two-person team that supports senior management in planning projects and allocating resources.

The opportunity to develop and grow is a key reason why O’Leary has spent her career with the same company. “I’ve been able to learn as much as I want. I’ve also had opportunities to volunteer for projects that have no relation to my actual job,” she says.

Delta Hotel’s Manager of Office Services Bethany Jones has a similar story.

Jones came to the company on a student placement from Centennial College’s Hospitality Diploma program and 11 years later, she is still there at the company’s downtown Toronto office.

She says from the first day, it was like being a member of a family and she likes the broad range of learning and development opportunities. For motivated, committed employees like O’Leary and Jones are the reason that the Co-operators and Delta have made regular appearances in the top 50 employer list of human resource consultant Aon Hewitt. They’re among an elite group of just 15 companies who have been on the list at least 10 times in its 15-year existence. This year’s results are based on data from nearly 280,000 employees and managers at 282 public and private companies.

Neil Crawford, leader of the Aon Hewitt study, says the purpose of the study is to help employers measure employee engagement. This helps the employers “better understand what their employees are thinking,” he says.

Employee engagement may have started life as a corporate buzz word, but over the last decade, academic studies and those by major consulting firms have shown a clear relationship between high levels of engagement and better financial results.

In its 2012 Global Workforce Study, consulting firm Towers Watson defines employee engagement as “the willingness and ability to go the extra mile” for the company.

The research acknowledges that many factors can impact profit margins, but notes that average one year profit margins were close to three times higher in companies with high, sustainable employee engagement.

Bill Pallett has been Delta’s senior vice-president of people resources for the last 23 years. He thinks the Aon Hewitt study is an invaluable tool for attracting and retaining great employees. His company has participated for 14 out of the 15 years it has been running and the hotel chain made the Top 50 list in every one of those years.

Pallett believes one reason for his company’s consistently high level of employee satisfaction is that employees have leeway to solve problems as they arise. “If a guest comes off a long flight and has a miserable cold, the front desk clerk can order hot tea and honey from room service at no charge without asking permission,” he says.

Another factor affecting morale has been a on developing leadership skills. “Managers and their day to day activities have a huge impact on people. People quit their managers, not the brand,” Pallett says.

To attract new employees, it is important to get pay and benefits right but Crawford says the main reason employees commit to an organization is that they are happy with their day to day work experience.

Bernie Mitchell, senior vice-president of human resources at The Co-operators, started as a file clerk 35 years ago. She says the company pays average salaries and provides all the usual benefits, but that’s not what gets her or any of the company’s employees out of bed every morning.

“As part of the co-operative movement, our commitment to sustainability is a real differentiator. We partner with the Suzuki Foundation and employees get two paid days off a year to volunteer. They can also apply for fully-paid two week stints working in third world countries,” she says.

There are several other Canadian “best company” surveys conducted annually, but Mitchell says the Aon Hewitt study tools are valuable because they reflect what employees think.

Companies that have made Aon Hewitt’s Top 50 list for 10 or more years.

Delta Hotels and Resorts, Toronto

Chubb Insurance, Toronto

EllisDon, Mississauga

PCL Constructors, Edmonton

Flight Centre, Vancouver

Bennett Jones LLP, Calgary

Edward Jones, Mississauga

Keg Restaurants, Richmond, B.C.

McDonald’s Restaurants, Toronto

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Toronto

Co-operators General Insurance, Guelph

Farm Credit Canada, Regina

JTI-Macdonald Corp., Mississauga

Federal Express, Mississauga

G&K Services, Mississauga

Based on a Towers Watson study of 32,000 people at companies in 30 countries

Leaders who show a sincere interest in their well-being

Manageable levels of stress at work

Ability to balance work and personal life

Enough co-workers in the group to do the job right

Flexible work arrangements

Employees understand company goals and how their work contributes

They are assigned tasks suited to their skills

Supervisors coach them to improve performance

Employers treat employees with respect

Their organization is highly regarded by the public

Tower Watson, 2012 Global Workforce Study

Bethany Jones, Delta Hotel’s manager of office services, says her work environment feels like family.


Colin McConnell/Toronto Star

Copyright 2013 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

The Toronto Star

November 25, 2013 Monday