Workplace balance: The Intuit-ive approach

Tax preparation is a seasonal industry. For Edmonton-based Intuit Canada, that means roughly half of the year is spent working against the clock to prepare the newest versions of its financial and tax preparation software. During the busy tax season, it's all hands on deck as employees field calls from customers about the company's line of popular software titles, which include Quicken, QuickBooks and QuickTax.

When the crunch is on, the privately-held company's 400 employees can combat stress with a workout at the fitness centre, yoga classes, foosball in the employee lounge, rest in one of the nap rooms, or stroll along the facility's scenic grounds.

Balanced workflow is a priority: production cycles are planned a year in advance to more evenly distribute workload throughout the year. And when the work is done, Intuit schedules time for play, too. During the last week of tax season, employees are treated to free ice cream sundaes in the lobby, juggling lessons and other games.

This commitment to a “happy-employees-equals-motivated-employees” philosophy earned Intuit the No. 18 ranking among the 30 best workplaces in the country as named in 2006 by the Great Place to Work Institute Canada. The formula may be helping pay off on the bottom line: Parent company Intuit Inc. (Nasdaq: INTU), based in Mountain View, Calif., reported US$2.34 billion in sales in FY06, a 15% increase over the previous year. “We're conscious of workplace balance,” says Cheryll Watson, senior manager, employment and community engagement and site services at Intuit Canada. “We need to make sure that we're motivating employees by really focusing on what they need during that time.”

While some of the perks — flexible work schedules, free tea and coffee — are relatively traditional, others are noticeably creative. Recently, when employees said they needed a way to minimize distractions and interruptions in their open-office environment, the company responded by handing out Bose noise-cancelling headphones to every employee. There is also a wellness program featuring monthly sessions on different topics, and a tour of the local grocery store to teach employees how to shop for healthier food.

Watson says Intuit uses an annual employee survey as an ongoing check to see what programs work for its employees and identify areas for improvement. A question about access to learning and training programs in the 2004 survey met with poor response — employees reported that while there were programs in place, it was often difficult to find the information. To address the issue, employee teams in every department created a toolkit to teach employees how to access training information. In the 2005 survey, the number of respondents who said “yes” to the same question increased by 15%.

Says Watson, “We take care of our employees because if we do that we know that our employees are going to take care of our customers. A lot of companies are managing bottom line. We look at that as something that happens naturally because of our focus on our employees.”