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Redbrick’s People and Culture manager Emily Hann at her office in Victoria, B.C.CHAD HIPOLITO

Forget no-meeting Fridays. Extended benefits are blasé. Gym memberships are run-of-the-mill. In today’s tight labour market, some companies are getting creative – and quite generous – about keeping staff in their seats.

Building a strong talent pipeline requires companies to be proactive about retaining employees using a combination of engagement tactics.

A recent McKinsey & Co. study shows most employees value workplace flexibility but have different views on issues such as mental health support, meaningful work and career advancement.

“These differences show that no single solution is going to attract enough people to fill all the job openings and retain a productive workforce,” the report states. “Instead, employers can take a multipronged approach to reach different talent pools.”

It doesn’t mean changing the organization’s values or mission, the report notes, but pitching its value proposition to a broader number of workers and getting “more creative” in what to offer to current and potential employees.

Retention headwinds

Two significant trends are driving the need for employee retention today, according to Lauren Florko, associate director of human capital at the Conference Board of Canada: One is the massive number of retirement-age workers and the desire to keep their organizational wisdom on the job. The second is younger workers much further from retirement, who statistically are the staff with the flexibility and opportunities to leave in a tight labour market. As a result, Dr. Florko says they have become the focus of stay interviews and engagement surveys to keep them on board.

And now that remote work is more widely accepted across various industries, many employers find themselves vying for talent alongside a growing roster of global competitors.

“The minute you feel valued or respected in your organization, you’re not going to necessarily tolerate an organization that doesn’t offer that,” Dr. Florko says.

Adding to the retention tension is the drop in immigration during the pandemic, which means Canada has missed out on a large population of workers that would usually fill many of the labour gaps, Dr. Florko says.

So, despite record unemployment today, she notes that job vacancies remain high in Canada.

Losing employees isn’t just expensive for companies, given the cost of recruiting and hiring. There’s also a loss in productivity while a new person is brought up to speed, she says.

“The costs get larger and larger the more that you have to hire a new employee,” she says, adding that a proactive approach is best. “Do the succession planning, build that person up internally. Even though it has a cost, it will save much more than trying to hire someone else.”

Dr. Florko says companies that consider “the full employee and the full holistic experience of an employee at work” are starting to see their retention metrics improve.

Mixing work with personal and financial wellness

A pioneering example of proactive retention is Cisco Canada, part of the multinational technology giant Cisco Systems Inc., which in 2020 introduced a family planning, adoption and surrogacy reimbursement program.

As part of its already generous health and wellness benefits package, the company – which has about 2,300 employees in Canada – offers employees up to $50,000 to harvest and/or store eggs, sperm or embryos for any reason related to medical necessity, including in vitro fertilization treatments.

Cisco Canada also offers up to $20,000 per child for expenses related to adoption or surrogacy, including legal and administrative costs.

“Cisco places a significant focus on our personal and collective well-being,” says Chioma Phillips, human resources business partner at Cisco Canada. “We’re here to support whole health – emotional, physical, social and financial – so together we are building a culture where everyone thrives.”

Progressive retention strategies are also capturing employees’ attention at smaller companies with fewer resources, such as Victoria-based Redbrick. Its 135 employees in Canada and the U.S are eligible for a $500 annual bike reimbursement as well as a portion of their monthly gym memberships. Staff also receive an annual employer-paid carbon offset program that’s part of the software development portfolio company’s environmental wellness initiative.

Redbrick also has a financial wellness program, above and beyond its enriched employee benefits package, which includes confidential, one-on-one financial coaching with experts from an outside professional advisory firm.

“Gone are the days that traditional employee programs are sufficient to maintain those long-term dedicated employer relationships,” says Emily Hann, people and culture manager at Redbrick. “Employees these days are definitely wanting companies that are going to partner with them and support them in a variety of ways that contribute to their well-being and happiness and success, both at work and in their personal lives.”

More than 80 per cent of employees are subscribed to the carbon offset program rolled out earlier this year, while uptake on the new financial wellness coaching is also high, Ms. Hann says.

“Financial wellness is such a huge part of everyone’s overall happiness,” she says. “If an employee isn’t happy either in their personal life or at work, it has a direct impact on the other, and financial wellness – especially these days with inflation, housing costs and all that – providing our employees that extra support was really important and has been received really well from our team so far.”

Redbrick also offers a hybrid work model and flexible hours to accommodate caregiving, school drop-offs or other personal commitments – benefits that have become standard in many skilled industries such as technology, despite recent high-profile layoffs.

Targeting talent most likely to leave

Some companies are also analyzing in-house data to figure out who’s leaving, why, and trying to get ahead of the issue. For instance, at the peak of the recent technology labour shortage last year, Vancouver-based human resources analytics software company Visier’s data showed early career professionals with technical expertise, such as engineers, were most at risk of leaving.

The departures weren’t just about what people got paid, says Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at the company, which has about 520 employees.

“Money is just part of it,” he says, adding employees wanted to see more potential for career progression and build strong connections with their teams, including managers.

Visier’s leaders started hosting one-on-one meetings with staff to discuss career opportunities within the organization and how to build better working relationships with managers. The focus was on early-career employees seen as more likely to move on.

Visier began noticing the trend in early 2019 and saw a real challenge in turnover emerging in the spring of 2021. Already, the company has reduced its turnover rate to prepandemic, prelabour shortage levels, he says.

Mr. Rubenstein says leaders need to be more attuned to how employees feel about their work and the company – and not just job performance.

“If all your conversations are about work – and not about our work relationship and their relationship of their work to their career and the company – you’re going to lose [employees],” he says.