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(Tim Fraser For The Globe and Mail)
(Tim Fraser For The Globe and Mail)

women@work

Free ice cream? Hire me now Add to ...

On a recent Friday afternoon, Scribble Technologies CEO Michael De Monte sat in his downtown Toronto office waiting for an ice cream truck to arrive. It’s not an everyday occurrence at the technology company but they encourage employees to treat others on their birthdays, so when Mr. De Monte’s turn came around, he decided to get creative.

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At first blush, ice cream might not seem like a winning tactic to secure and retain high-end talent – nor are movie premiere tickets or the free burritos his 40 employees are treated to on Fridays. Yet, in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy, employers need to keep thinking to create a playful atmosphere that drives a sense of community, particularly in sectors that employ large numbers of young people.

Scribble shows that this need not arrive with a huge price tag. Although creating a community atmosphere takes effort and planning, it plays an important role in stemming attrition rates. Salary alone isn’t always the deciding factor when workers contemplate jumping ship.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure your employees are more than just worker bees. They are here to enjoy work. We try to give them things that are more than just a pay cheque,” explained Mr. De Monte.

Corporate culture plays a pivotal role in determining an employee’s productivity, and some research supports the argument that many women place a higher value on a workplace environment that emphasizes community and friendships.

Gender aside, who hasn’t heard about a cultural attribute at another company and felt envious? Employers committed to creating such an atmosphere might stand a better chance at engaging workers: Study after study shows, as Mr. De Monte believes, that employees crave more than a pay cheque.

For example, in Canada, the majority of respondents in a Randstat Workmonitor survey disagreed with the statement that a good salary is more important than enjoying work. Praise, attention from managers, and the ability to lead trump traditional incentives, such as cash bonuses and stock options, a McKinsey report showed. A Princeton University study found that an employee’s emotional well-being plateaued at $75,000, meaning any additional income did not add to overall happiness.

This emphasis on job satisfaction and emotional well-being is at the centre of Vancouver-based Peer 1 Hosting’s corporate values. “We talk about our compensation being fair but our culture being competitive,” said Sheila Bouman, the tech company’s chief people and performance officer.

That commitment starts at the recruiting process, where job applicants might be asked to putt a golf ball or draw a picture of something that inspires them. The objective, Ms. Bouman said, is to draw candidates to reveal their true personalities. It’s part of the company’s overall philosophy to emphasize deeper relationships across the organization, which employs 500 worldwide.

That message carries through to Peer 1’s leadership development techniques, which include intense discussions with peers led by a facilitator, forcing workplace issues to come out into the open. “We want them to be who they truly are and be bold enough to carry that back at work,” Ms. Bouman said. “If leaders are numb to their emotions and self-awareness, they are going to tolerate a level of numbness in their workplace,” she added.

The company’s emphasis on developing emotional intelligence creates a culture that some might deem as feminine, Ms. Bouman said, although only about a third of its staff is female. But male or female, the approach appears to work and Peer 1 wins a top rating score on its yearly engagement survey on the topic of feeling appreciated by managers and peers.

“People can be the best paid in the industry but if they are not challenged and connected to a higher purpose, they aren’t happy and they aren’t contributing,” Ms. Bouman said.

At Toronto-based Booty Camp Fitness Inc., which employs 15 people directly and another 75 instructors, “fun” is one of the company’s core values. With management insisting that they practice what they preach, employees can often take an hour off to do a kickboxing workout or attend a yoga class. The company also has a prize wheel, which employees spin to win things such as a massage or a work-from-home day.

Critics who scoff about handing out inexpensive gifts and fun-based perks are missing the point. As surveys about employee satisfaction reveal, it’s the organization’s sense of community that draws and keeps talent.

“Having a fun and lighthearted workplace that encourages and rewards employees really does inspire loyalty and dedication to the business,” said Sammie Kennedy, CEO of Booty Camp Fitness. “Essentially,” she added, “happy workers are better workers.”

Follow on Twitter: @LeahEichler

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