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Work-life balance and ‘authentic self’ attracting tech workers

While ice rinks, slides and beer carts can add to the fun factor at work, Canadian employers are playing up their more substantial perquisites to gain a competitive edge in a tightening labour market.

Flexible work arrangements “are a really hot topic,” said Conference Board of Canada researcher Monica Haberl, author of the recently released report, Perks at Work. Tuition assistance, gym memberships and daycare are highly rated by employees − although only 8 per cent of 324 employers surveyed in the summer of 2017 offered on-site daycare.

Most employers pay their employees’ annual professional association dues and some offer tuition grants to their employees’ children. While free parking tends to be reserved for the executive ranks, public-transit passes and financial-planning assistance are more widely offered.

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“Nothing beats a great compensation and benefits package – a good employer is going to have to always start with that. But perquisites do provide an important additional component that can really add value in terms of recruitment and, in some cases, retention,” Ms. Haberl said in an interview.

Koula Vasilopoulos, a Western Canada district director for human resources consulting firm Robert Half, said highly skilled candidates in the current labour market “may be considering multiple offers, and weighing entire compensation packages ... can help them decide.

“Most sought-after perks include increased vacation time; professional development and learning opportunities; flexible work schedules; telecommuting options; ergonomic work equipment; access to fitness facilities/programs and healthy food options,” Ms. Vasilopoulos said in an e-mail.

(On the food front, a Robert Half survey of 1,000 white-collar professionals, released in January, found that 30 per cent feel they eat healthier meals when they work at home, 76 per cent take their lunch to work and 29 per cent report that the food served at office celebrations sabotages their health and fitness goals. Commuting time is another common grievance that employers can address by offering more work-from-home options or staggering work schedules to avoid rush hour, the firm said.)

Most importantly, Ms. Vasilopoulos said, “professionals want to work for employers that give them greater work-life balance, but also whose values align with their own.

“An attractive corporate culture helps recruit and retain employees and sets the expectation for a supportive working environment.”

Competition for talent is particularly intense in the tech sector. TextNow Inc., a small but rapidly growing software firm based in Waterloo, Ont., recently had 16 job opportunities posted on its website. Like many in the tech space, TextNow offers “fantastic perks” − employee stock options, matching retirement-savings-plan contributions, top-ups of maternity- and paternity-leave benefits, local craft beer on-site, 24-hour access to a fitness centre and free catered meals. There’s also an employee lounge with foosball and video games, a beach volleyball court and an ice rink.

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The company provides low-cost mobile-phone services through its cloud-based technology, and a key selling point to prospective employees is the opportunity to contribute to the development of a growing and successful venture, said Greg Silva, TextNow’s vice-president of people and culture.

“It’s very challenging [to recruit] people,” said Mr. Silva, who is based in the firm’s San Francisco office. “It’s not just that we are looking for particular skill sets that other companies are looking for, we are also looking for the right fit, so that makes it even harder.”

TextNow’s collaborative culture has played a large part in its success, he said, “and we won’t accept that sort of brilliant jerk mentality … we want somebody who is going to be a great member of the team, somebody who … is going to add to our depth and experience.”

The tech sector “is very creative when it comes to lunches and slides and beer carts and bands,” said Jodi Marner, head of talent initiatives at Communitech Inc., an organization that supports tech growth and innovation in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

“But to really attract people and to get them to stay, a lot of companies are doing more around work-life balance and what we call bringing the authentic self to work,” Ms. Marner said in an interview.

“Hours of work are not carved in stone. … Firms are giving people things like laptops with powerful WiFi and the opportunity to work from wherever they need to, and they are also doing things to drive diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

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There is a greater focus on making employees feel comfortable – it could involve the provision of nap rooms or other options “for people to just balance themselves without having to call in sick or miss work. …" Ms. Marner said.

“And I think it is making a difference for the tech companies in terms of making sure they understand and recognize all holidays, all religions’ sacred days, making sure that they have prayer rooms available for people.”

“In tech, we really need to have that diverse workforce. We need to have different skills, ideas, perspectives. If we are going to be flexible and agile, we need people challenging the status quo, not thinking all the same.”

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