By Janet Stocks (New York City)

According to Hewitt Associates, an international expert in human resources consulting, successful businesses “align their people practices with company strategy and create an environment that produces positive employee experiences and strong business results.”

Hewitt Associates recently released its 2010 Best Employer in Canada study highlighting 50 of Canada’s best companies to work for, as determined through a combination of employee, leadership, and HR surveys.

Neil Crawford, a principal at Hewitt Associates and the leader of the Best Employers in Canada study, told us, “the measure we use to determine the 50 Best Employers in Canada is employee engagement. A key aspect of the annual study is the employee opinion survey, where we collect feedback from those who actually work at the organizations that are vying for Best Employer status. Our perspective is that those in the best position to judge an outstanding workplace are the people who actually work there.”

According to the study, “employee engagement [is] a measure of how positively employees feel about their employer, how likely they are to stay, and how committed they are to doing their utmost to achieve business objectives.”

As evidenced by the study, Best Employers are characterized by their commitment to effective leadership, employee engagement, and aligned people practices, as well as a high performance culture. To ensure a productive workforce, it’s imperative for employers to communicate that their employees are their greatest asset.

Crawford found that “…organizations with high employee engagement have a higher degree of readiness to focus on CSR as a strategy to improve overall organizational performance and better meet the needs of employees and external stakeholders.”

Additionally, Hewitt Associates found that “While leadership is always important, it plays an even more critical role during difficult or tumultuous times.” In today’s economic climate, it is even more important to establish effective leadership and maintain transparent communication with employees.

When asked about the importance of employee engagement in a tough economy, Crawford told Evolved Employer:

“The recent economic downturn is one in a series of turbulent periods during which we have conducted the Best Employers in Canada study (now in its 12th year). What we’ve observed is that, no matter what the external circumstances, Best Employers display a consistent commitment in good times and bad to maintaining high employee engagement and even increasing it. They understand that engaged employees speak positively about the organization, want to remain in its employ, and go ‘above and beyond’ to help achieve business objectives. It’s the ability to harness this discretionary effort that is particularly important; this commitment can make the difference in how organizations are impacted by the downturn, how quickly they emerge from it, and how strong they are after the downturn passes.”

Ted Emond, a senior consultant in Hewitt’s Toronto office said “open, transparent, complete, and timely two-way communication” is the key to engaging your employees, particularly in a recession. Speaking of Best Employers, Emond said “During the last year, employees were well aware of the challenges the organization was facing, understood the possible solutions, proactively offered input, and committed to the course of action the organization’s leaders decided to follow.”

The study also revealed that companies with highly engaged employees enjoyed “lower turnover, less absenteeism and fewer lost accident and sick days, [a] larger pool of talent from which to select employees, greater employee productivity, increased customer satisfaction, higher revenue growth and economic returns, and greater sustainability in the face of business challenges.”

How Canada’s Best Employers are Engaging their Employees

PCL Constructors, Inc., EllisDon Corporation, and Cisco Canada topped the charts in the 2010 Hewitt Associate’s Best Employers in Canada study for their commitment to employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. Wonder what these companies are doing that makes them the best?

  1. PLC Constructors, Inc., Edmonton ABPCL Constructors Inc., a group of independent construction companies, “endeavor[s] to create employee environments in which cash compensation is not the driving determinant of employee satisfaction.” Boasting “flexible employment practices, rewarding and challenging work, professional and career development opportunities, and recognition,” PCL Constructors is committed to ensuring its employees’ happiness and success.

    The company encourages mentorships between supervisors and employees in an effort to “pass along [their] standards, business processes, and most importantly [their] skills and techniques as builders.” Additionally, PCL promises its new hires “immediate responsibility, challenge, [and] personal and professional development.”

  2. EllisDon Corporation, London, ON

    EllisDon Corporation, a leading Canadian building contractor with an international presence, “exists for its employees, not its shareholders,” says President and CEO, Geoff Smith. EllisDon “…strives to attract and develop the very best people and then sets those people free to excel in their careers and to serve their clients.”

    Centered upon five core values of “trust, entrepreneurial enthusiasm, individual initiative, complete openness, and mutual accountability,” EllisDon promotes a “culture of trust and openness, where our employees are able to rely on one another to be capable and accountable, to serve clients according to their very unique needs, to watch out for one another, and to conscientiously build success for each other.”

    Boasting “mentoring programs, on the job training, access to educational resources” and a commitment to volunteerism, EllisDon has been recognized for meaningfully engaging its employees.

  3. Cisco Canada, Toronto, ON

    Cisco, “a leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet”, believes that “hiring those with the right approach to life is essential. David Clarkson, Director of HR, says “We’re looking for candidates with enthusiasm— they need to be passionate about something in their lives. We find that same passion often carries over into their work.”

    Effective communication, from “the top down—as well as from the bottom up and the middle out,” has contributed to Cisco’s success, according to Willa Black, Cisco Canada’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs.

    Cisco “attracts, retains, and engages the best and brightest” employees by promoting “flexibility and trust, open employee communications, employee development and advancement, inclusion and diversity, and balancing life/promoting wellness.”

    Additionally, Cisco “…encourages employees to consider their next career move after two to four years on the job and provides opportunities to grow into new roles. As a result, 60% to 70% of new positions are filled internally.”

As evidenced by the top three companies in Hewitt Associate’s 2010 Best Employer in Canada study, successful employers engage their employees in meaningful ways. Through mentorships, open communication, and flexible employment practices, these companies prove that they care about their employees. As an evolved employer, how will you show your employees that you care?