Best Employers

Boss advice from Canada's Best Employers 2019

Promote community contribution, oversharing and inclusivity to become a top employer

Make ’em proud

In 2015, the Co-operators became the first insurer in Canada to offer comprehensive insurance for water damage. With five of the most destructive floods in Canada having occurred since 2010, floods had become one of the largest unmet insurance needs.

The new coverage wasn’t a top-down development. When developing the product, the company formed a steering committee to gather input from employees across the entire organization, from the analysts to the marketing team to the claims reps. In doing so, the company was able to get employees to truly invest in the new product, and gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which it could help policy-holders. 

Such efforts mean that today, 82 per cent of Co-operators employees say they’re proud that the organization helps communities. CEO Rob Wesseling personally hears it from employees on a weekly basis: “Our values align with their values, and they believe in the work we’re doing,” he says. “They can get up in the morning and be proud of the contribution they’re making, not just to the organization but to the community.” 

Embrace the overshare

Axonify conducts a team lunch every two weeks for all employees, which features a popular “ask me anything” segment. It’s where CEO Carol Leaman answers questions that have been anonymously submitted by employees via an online portal. Leaman doesn’t read the questions ahead of time. Instead, they’re posted on a large screen for all to see. Some questions are lighthearted (“When is the last time you ate a hot dog?”), while some can be tricky. For instance, she was once asked why she stopped the practice of notifying the team whenever an employee departs. Leaman took the mic and explained that as the team got bigger, it made more sense for individual teams to make the announcement within their own departments. It was an honest answer to a question that, she learned, many staff had been wondering.

In these sessions, Leaman has also revealed everything from how many customers they’ve lost to how much cash they have in the bank. Tough? Often. Awkward? Sometimes. But she’s learned that when things are kept secret, trust can erode, and less-trusting employees are more likely to leave. “If people don’t know what’s going on, they’re going to make up a bad story about the company in their head,” she says.

Let them be themselves

When employees feel safe and supported, they’re more motivated to put their all into their work. ATB Financial embraces this ethos wholeheartedly. It intentionally creates a positive work environment that’s diverse and inclusive, where all team members can be their most authentic selves. In fact, ATB introduced a new guiding principle this year (making a total of 11) that encourages employees to “courageously be yourself and a true ally for each other.”

When employees are able to be themselves in the office, they’re more comfortable sharing ideas and pushing back when they don’t agree with somebody else’s approach, says Liz Stretch, ATB’s chief people officer.

To create such a welcoming environment, ATB establishes grassroots networks run by team members who work together to create awareness and inclusiveness for their respective groups. The company has networks of all kinds, including ones for women, Indigenous employees, employees with disabilities and LGBTQ members. Each network has an executive sponsor, a chair and a committee that regularly convenes to discuss issues affecting their groups. For example, the persons with disabilities network may look into how they can make branches more accessible for its team members and clients. “This is an environment where employees feel safe,” says Stretch. “They know it’s okay to fail fast and pivot.”