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Paula Padua from WestJet is a Toronto-based customer service agent.

Ryan Szulc

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The employment deal used to be a simple equation in which work equalled pay. Now, many new employees are greeted with detailed prenuptial agreements, and retirement watches have been swapped for succession planning binders. How did things get so complicated? The answer is that the best employers now take workers much more seriously as a resource.

This marks the 11th year that Report on Business magazine has joined with Hewitt Associates, a leading global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm, to conduct our annual study of employees and leaders. The basis for our annual ranking is each organization's overall engagement score, which is Hewitt Associates' measure of the percentage of employees who want to-and do-take action to ensure their employer's success.

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In this edition, we've looked more closely at how workers engage and interact with employers over the span of an entire career. Not surprisingly, rookie employees generally view their new bosses with admiration and enthusiasm. After two to three years, however, the honeymoon is over. This is true even at the best-managed companies, as individuals begin to assess whether promises made when they were hired are being delivered, and whether they are a good fit with the organization.

Most employees stick it out, but many leave. Those who remain and get closer to a decade of service tend to strongly identify with the values and goals of their company. They also focus more on their career prospects, and whether the firm has the vision and leadership in place to succeed.

The best employers leverage their highly engaged employees to implement changes smoothly, and to help integrate new hires. "It's this collective idea that we're all here together to make this place work," says Neil Crawford, who heads the Hewitt study. "People who've been around for a long time want to make sure that the new people quickly understand how they can contribute to the organization's success."

As employees progress further in their careers and family life, companies must create increasingly flexible supports and benefits to meet the needs of their most productive and experienced staffers. Hewitt's research has helped us pinpoint the highs and lows in a typical career trajectory, and how the very best employers meet the challenges at every stage.

This year, we've also profiled five employees at different stages in their careers at five of the 50 Best-WestJet Airlines Ltd., OMERS Administration Corp., Graham Group Ltd., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. and TD Bank Financial Group.

Even after 11 years, the strength of Hewitt's data remains unique and compelling. This year's study was based on survey questionnaires given to more than 100,000 employees and 1,200 leaders at more than 200 organizations. To be eligible for the 50 Best, organizations must have at least 400 permanent employees in Canada, and have operated here for at least three years.

The study has three components: an employee opinion questionnaire, filled out by a minimum number of employees, based on the organization's size; a survey of senior leaders that measures how closely their goals and fundamental values are aligned with those of their staff; and a detailed set of questions for the human resources department on policies and practices.

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The employee survey results account for the lion's share of an employer's ranking. Each set of responses is carefully vetted to ensure companies followed required guidelines. For more details on the survey and how to participate, visit www.hewitt.com/bestemployerscanada

2 TO 5 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
WESTJET
Call it a sophomore slump. A recent school or university graduate arrives at a company excited and motivated to work, but within a year or two feels neglected. "That company hasn't delivered on promises or the employee's expectations," says Neil Crawford, Hewitt Associates' leader of the 50 Best Employers in Canada study. "People start voting with their feet."

The slump is hard to avoid, yet employees often pull out of it and find a niche in the organization. One company that stands above the rest in keeping sophomores happy and motivated is Calgary's WestJet. The airline's employees with two to five years of service are much more likely to sing the praises of their employer than workers at other companies who completed Hewitt's survey.

Paula Padua, 28, joined WestJet almost four years ago. The Toronto-based customer service agent was attracted by travel prospects, but has stayed because of the atmosphere and opportunities. "I've enjoyed it from day one," says Padua. "Every day is different and interesting, and you learn and learn."

WestJet starts by searching hard for candidates who fit with its philosophy. The airline screens applicants for "fun, friendly and caring" personalities, and uses so-called behavioural descriptive interviewing-asking them, for example, what they did the last time they dealt with a difficult co-worker. WestJet also works hard to keep new hires aligned with company goals. Initiatives include mentoring and the airline's profit-sharing and share-ownership plans.

"Other employees look to two-to-five-year veterans for guidance and we rely on them as mentors," says Tyson Matheson, vice-president, people relations. "The biggest thing is that employees want to have value in their work-they want to feel part of something bigger."

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A large part of "something bigger" is a sense of personal responsibility for customers and co-workers. When the home of one WestJet staffer in Moncton burned down last year, every regional hub donated something to help her rebuild.

Willingness to listen is another core value. In 2005, the airline put a lot of effort into creating an advertising campaign to help expand its business in Eastern Canada. Management gave employees a preview of the new ads, but staffers felt the spots didn't reflect the company's culture. The campaign was scrapped, and in its place WestJet developed its now iconic slogan and campaign: "Why do WestJetters care so much? Because we're also WestJet owners."

"We shifted from what was easy, to what was right," says Matheson.



6 TO 10 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE OMERS Just about every organization has talented employees who've gained experience and knowledge, and who are eager to assume leadership roles. Not every employer, however, has the tools or opportunities available to satisfy these capable, motivated workers.

In 2007, as part of a commitment to groom leaders at every level of the organization, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) looked to strengthen its staff development programs. "We really try to create a lot of opportunities for employees," says Irene Barone, acting senior vice-president of human resources at the Toronto-based pension fund manager. "But if we can't satisfy that need right away, we make sure we provide them with opportunities to develop themselves, so that when a career opportunity arrives, they're ready for it."

When OMERS surveyed its more than 500 staffers to identify possible gaps in the support it offered, senior leaders discovered that employees at every level were clamouring for more room to grow in their careers. As a result, the organization implemented a mentoring program.

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Among the program's first participants was Elisa Freedman, a team leader in the pension accounting group. Freedman had joined OMERS in 2003, was proud of her employer and excited by future opportunities. She had been flagged as a promising employee early on, and OMERS had provided her with an education assistance package that paid her tuition for the Certified Management Accountant accreditation and allowed her study time.

But Freedman was looking for more challenges. "In any organization there is that group that kind of shoots up-the true high-potentials who are on their way to becoming executives," says Neil Crawford, co-ordinator of the 50 Best study at Hewitt Associates. "They will look around and ask: 'Will I be able to get there in this organization? Or will I have to go somewhere else?' "

The right opportunity arrived for Freedman last January, when she was promoted to her current job as manager of pension accounting. "I've been able to advance and I've been nurtured in a way that I appreciate," she says. "It makes you feel good to come in. It makes you feel supported." She plans to stick around.

11 to 15 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
GRAHAM GROU
P Raised in Moose Jaw and unafraid to roll up one's sleeves and get dirty are two traits Mark Livingston and his employer, Graham Group, have in common. They've helped the construction and project management company unify employees and generate explosive growth over the past several years.

Graham Group was founded in the city in 1926, but now is based in Calgary. Yet it's never wanted to shake its Saskatchewan roots, even after morphing from a 115-employee company booking $125 million of business a year in the mid-1990s, into a now 1,000-strong employer that oversaw projects valued at nearly $2 billion in 2009.

Livingston, a 39-year-old operations manager in Graham's infrastructure division, has ridden the crest of that growth with the company. He joined Graham after graduating from engineering at Montana State University in 1994, and he now works primarily on water, road and bridge projects.

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For the father of two children aged 4 and almost 2, the company offers the financial security and the work challenges he craves. Livingston also loves a culture that is light on formality and heavy on accomplishment and learning by doing. "We all share a common mindset and common goals," he says. "There's a real hard-work ethic here and there's room for opportunity."

Graham was family-owned until 1985, but then reorganized itself and launched an employee ownership plan. The plan offers generous profit-sharing, and Livingston and about 80% of his co-workers share in those benefits. "Most of these people have been able to find a niche at the company," says Laird Beatty, director of human resources at Graham. "Their careers are fulfilling and they are accumulating some wealth through employee ownership and bonuses."

That combination of a strong culture, ownership and opportunity for employees is a successful formula for retention. Fully 89% of Graham staff in Livingston's years-of-service category say they rarely think about leaving the company-a remarkable 24 percentage points higher than the average for other employers in Hewitt's survey.

For Livingston, it also means that the future at the company looks bright. "Everyone wants to say they'll be president one day," he says. "Who knows if that will be true? But there is room for personal growth."



16 TO 20 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE STARWOOD HOTELS & RESORTS CANADA After 19 years, waitress Jill Sutherland still goes that extra mile. This past summer, when a guest at the Westin Calgary hotel mentioned to her that he was away from home for his wedding anniversary, Sutherland carefully packed some bath salts, slippers, a robe and other goodies into a bag for him to present to his wife when he got back.

The guest was thrilled, and so was Sutherland's employer, U.S.-owned Starwood Hotels & Resorts Canada, which manages the Westin Calgary and owns, operates or franchises 55 other hotels across the country. "When I ask guests, Why do you come to this hotel? 90% of the answers are about an individual employee," says Kim Gilliard, regional director of human resources at Starwood. "People stay at our hotels because of the difference our employees make."

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Starwood employs close to 4,000 people in Canada, yet it maintains a service culture that emphasizes each personal encounter. That means doing something special for a guest, sharing expertise with a co-worker, or offering a new idea to a manager to improve a service or process. It also provides employees like Sutherland with clear day-to-day goals, an ongoing sense of the importance of teamwork, and opportunities for individual achievement and recognition.

The hotel chain has learned that recognition is particularly important to long-serving employees, and Starwood offers both formal and informal praise and rewards. Part of that effort means ensuring that staff cafeterias, change rooms and prayer rooms are comfortable. Managers are also encouraged to publicly laud staff for excellence just about every day, if they deserve it. This year, Sutherland has received many Westin gift points (which can be used at local retailers) as rewards for her extra efforts. In previous years, the hotel has also nominated her twice for a Calgary White Hat Award, which celebrates excellence in the city's tourism and hospitality industry.

"There's a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and guest satisfaction, and that obviously ties right into our revenues," says Gilliard. "So, we really do feel our associates should be treated as well as our guests." Starwood has seen measurable improvements in guest satisfaction since implementing new service training initiatives several years ago. The chain also has an annual employee turnover rate of only about 14%, according to the data compiled by Hewitt for this year's survey. That's one-third of the average for the often revolving-door hotel industry.

Sutherland isn't surprised by the survey results. "Why would I go anywhere else?" she asks. "I'm happy here. I can count on one hand the bad days I've had in 19 years. I feel like I belong."

26 OR MORE YEARS OF EXPERIENCE TD BANK When Joanne Choi was hired by TD Bank as a teller-typist in a Toronto branch in 1977, she didn't expect to stay long. "It was very formal," says Choi. "The branch manager was someone up there we would call Mr. Smith." She spent her first few months on the job working at a service counter on tasks such as opening accounts, issuing letters of credit and buying and selling foreign currency.

The routine was hardly inspiring, but soon opportunities, variety and challenges arrived, and job satisfaction and supportive co-workers came with them. During her 32-year career at TD Bank, Choi, 60, has worked as a teller, administrator, investment adviser, sales manager and supervisor-practically every position in retail banking. Today, she manages a branch in the Yonge-and-Finch neighbourhood in northern Toronto. "When I joined the bank, I thought banking was about numbers," says Choi. "But with TD, banking is about people. We believe in happy employees."

Far from being worn out or jaded, survey results show that TD's longest-serving employees-those with 26 years or more at the bank-are also the group that gets the greatest sense of accomplishment from their work. Peter McAdam, TD's vice-president, employee experience, says that being a large, diverse organization-with more than 1,100 branches and 50,000 staffers in Canada-can actually help an employer and employees adapt to change. "We get to offer the chance to do different and challenging things over a long career," says McAdam. "Whereas a lot of companies think you just go in and that's your job."

TD also ensures that policies and programs are in place to support development at every stage in a career. Choi has a district vice-president as a mentor, and takes pride in performing that role for staff at her branch. Each TD employee also has opportunities for training and a personal development plan that formalizes goals and spells out what needs to be done to reach them.

"I've been a manager for over 18 years, and I'm still learning," says Choi. "At the end of every day, I think: What did I learn today? There's always something to learn."



Company rankings



RANK

LAST YEAR

COMPANY AND HEADQUARTERS

INDUSTRY

EMPLOYEES IN CANADA

VOLUNTARY TURNOVER

1

2

PCL CONSTRUCTORS INC., Edmonton

Construction

and engineering

2,074

6.7

2

1

ELLISDON CORP., London, Ont.

Construction

and engineering

1,965

6.0

3

-

CISCO CANADA, Toronto

Computer Hardware

n/a

n.a

4

3

BENNETT JONES LLP, Calgary

Law

914

15.8

5

5

CIMA+, Montreal

Engineering

1,157

10.7

6

-

WESTJET, Calgary

Airlines

7,525

8.4

7

-

JTI-MACDONALD CORP., Mississauga

Tobacco

484

2.9

8

9

BC BIOMEDICAL LABORATORIES, Surrey, B.C

Health care

678

3.7

9

8

FARM CREDIT CANADA, Regina

Financial services

1,466

5.2

10

4

EDWARD JONES, Mississauga

Financial services

1,973

15.8

11

6

WELLINGTON WEST HOLIDINGS INC., Winnipeg

Financial services

595

13.2

12

-

STIKEMAN ELLIOTT LLP, Montreal

Law

1,294

9.8

13

10

AECON GROUP INC., Toronto

Construction and

engineering

4,595

2.6

14

24

MARRIOTT HOTELS OF CANDA LTD., Mississauga

Hotels

3,038

10.4

15

14

GLAXOSMITHKLINE INC., Mississauga

Pharmaceuticals

1,403

4.4

16

27

CHUBB INSURANCE CO> OF CANADA, Toronto

Insurance

422

6.4

17

25

MCDONALD'S RESTAURANTS OF CANDADA, Toronto

Restaurants

4,880

18.9

18

12

THE CO-OPERATORS, Guelph, Ont.

Insurance

3,335

5.4

19

11

FLIGHT CENTRE CANADA, Vancouver

Travel

865

26.0

20

22

DELTA HOTELS AND RESORTS, Toronto

Hotels

6,553

21.7

21

-

LOYALTYONE INC., Toronto

Consumer information

1,583

15.5

22

7

G&K SERVICES CANADA INC., Mississauga

Uniforms and laundry

1,651

13.6

23

21

OMERS ADMINSTRATION CORP., Toronto

Financial services

556

3.6

24

20

SCOTIABANK GROUP, Toronto

Financial services

39,372

8.4

25

19

ASTRAZENECA CANADA INC, Mississauga

Pharmaceuticals

1,236

13.1

26

28

TD BANK FINANCIAL GROUP, Toronto

Financial services

50,258

8.6

27

30

CONEXUS, Regina

Financial services

869

6.6

28

15

EARL'S RESTAURANTS LTD., North Vancouver

Restaurants

3,985

n/a

29

37

NOVARTIS PHARMACEUTICALS CANADA INC., Dorval, Que.

Pharmaceuticals

815

7.9

30

13

STARWOOD HOTELS & RESORTS WORLDWIDE INC. (CANADA), Toronto

Hotels

3,936

14.4

31

16

IVANHOE CAMBRIDGE INC., Montreal

Real estate

1,236

13.1

32

41

CO-OPERATORS LIFE INSURANCE CO., Regina

Insurance

754

8.1

33

-

GRAHAM GROUP LTD., Calgary

Construction and

engineering

601

22.7

34

18

BENTALL LP, Toronto

Real estate

1,036

12.2

35

35

CANADIAN WESTERN BANK, Edmonton

Financial services

1,155

14.6

36

40

ATB FINANCIAL, Edmonton

Financial services

4,986

10.4

37

-

ERICSSON CANADA INC., Town of Mount Royal, Que.

Telecommunications

1,696

6.0

38

34

KEG RESTUARANTS LTD., Toronto

Restaurants

3,124

29.0

39

32

FEDERAL EXPRESS CANADA LTD., Mississauga

Air freight

5,619

13.8

40

-

COAST CAPITAL SAVING CREDIT UNION, Surrey, B.C.

Financial services

1,874

10.9

41

-

NOVA SCOTIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Dartmouth, N.S.

Education

2,320

3.1

42

26

ENVISION FINANCIAL, Langley, B.C.

Financial services

742

10.6

43

45

MEYERS NORRIS PENNY, Calgary

Accounting

and business consulting

2,353

14.1

44

33

CERIDIAN CANADA LTD., Markham, Ont.

Human resources

1,425

9.9

45

-

CINTAS CANADA LTD., Mississauga

Uniforms

1,749

22.6

46

43

B.C. AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, Burnaby, B.C.

Consumer services

1,103

9.5

47

-

CLARK BUILDERS, Edmonton

Construction and engineering

601

n/a

48

48

PROCTER & GAMBLE INC., Toronto

Household products

1,154

2.0

49

-

NEXEN INC., Calgary

Oil and gas

2,718

8.2

50

-

NOVOTEL CANADA, Mississauga

Hotels

522

21.6

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