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(From L to R) Nicolas Drapeau, Manager of Onboarding at Deluxe Payroll Sarah Liverance, Partner at Sklar Wilton & Associates Carl Jafrabad, Director of Total Rewards and HR Business Partner at Nestle Canada Dave Holmes, Director of Employee Engagement at Klick Inc. Paula Allen, Vice President of Research and Integrative Solutions at Morneau Shepell

For any company, promoting and sustaining a work force that has good physical and mental health is tantamount to improving employee engagement and productivity.

However, survey results from the second annual Employee Recommended Workplace Awards found that almost 40 per cent of employees reported mental-health issues. In addition, more than 50 per cent reported physical challenges that hindered their ability to work. The award was jointly created by human resources and technology company Morneau Shepell and The Globe and Mail to recognized healthy workplaces.

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While many companies strive to foster healthy behaviours in their employees to bolster engagement and productivity, there are different approaches that can be taken to achieve this.

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Following on from last year’s inaugural Employee Recommended Workplace Awards, four of the winning companies returned to share some of their best practices for developing fulfilling workplaces.

Take a chance

Nestlé Canada Inc., a food and beverage company, fully believes in challenging its people to use their own judgment and show courage to make good decisions. However, while this approach may result in educated decisions with good rationale behind them, it does hold an inherent risk.

Nestlé is trying to foster a learning culture, and while some decisions won’t pan out, it expects the company and its employees will be able to learn from those failures. To make it happen though, every single member of staff needs to be on board with that philosophy.

“We want them to think big, we want them to act fast and just take a chance,” says Carl Jafrabad, the company’s director of compensation, benefits and pension.

“I know it’s hard to say sometimes in a big company, but if that message doesn’t come through from every leader and every manager and every supervisor across the organization, they’re not going to believe it.”

Create some magic

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With nearly 700 people on its payroll, Klick Inc., the Toronto-based health marketing and commercialization agency, has a lot of different opinions and attitudes on staff.

As a result, finding team-building activities or employee engagement processes that everyone enjoys is something of an impossible task. Dave Holmes, director of employee engagement, explains that Klick’s approach is to “empower our staff to basically do what they want.”

Mr. Holmes oversees a team called KLIX, or Klick Experience, which is designed to ensure that the company’s award-winning culture continues to power employee happiness, particularly in dealing with an ongoing expansion into the United States, where staff working remotely makes it slightly harder to keep that culture ticking.

Recognizing that each member of staff has their own interests and hobbies, the KLIX team caters to almost anything to ensure that staff are still excited to come to work every day. That can range from a craft beer exchange club, which Mr. Holmes runs, to another group that gets together each week to play Magic: The Gathering, a card game that was popular in the mid-90s.

“It sounds almost like a varsity atmosphere and it is,” he says. “We’re a company of nearly 700 people; very rarely are we going to do one thing that everybody’s into, that gets everybody engaged and excited.”

Invest in people

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Hiring for life is akin to hitting a game-winning home run for many companies, but simply getting the right people into a company so that they can contribute to its growth over a period of 20 to 30 years is a real challenge.

Nicolas Drapeau, currently manager of onboarding at Deluxe Payroll, is shortly about to start his fourth different job title in six years with the company. Promoting from within is a big focus for the company, he says, because once you’ve got the right people in a company, they can contribute greatly to growth.

“Entry-level jobs, we want to find the best people for them as possible because they’re entry-level jobs today, that person is a leader in three years and then they’re an even higher-ranking leader in five years,” Mr. Drapeau adds.

To ensure staff remain satisfied and find their careers rewarding, he says companies must continue to focus on the future from an employee standpoint. While free massages might alleviate a few stiff muscles every now and then, it takes more than that to keep employees happy over a 10 to 15-year period.

“For us, promoting from within has been a huge source of retaining high-quality staff and keeping them happy,” he says.

Adopt a holistic approach

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While employees contribute greatly to a company’s culture and productivity during the hours they are sitting at their desks or in front of their laptops remotely, that time is only a small part of who they are as people.

Considering their needs both in and out of the office can pay dividends in boosting their happiness and long-term commitment to a company.

Sarah Liverance, a partner at marketing consultant Sklar Wilton & Associates Ltd., says that really listening to employees is an important first step to find out what’s important to them.

As a company in the client-service business, she says that many people at the company are switched on 24-7. With outside pressures such as juggling families, finding ways to manage that stress has been particularly well received.

Sklar Wilton brought in outside experts on topics ranging from goal setting and good habit formation to financial planning, nutrition and energy management.

Ms. Liverance says the company has also tried to tap into spiritual and mental content, with an eight-week corporate mindfulness course, along with meditation sessions and courses on brain health and boosting memory.

“Four years into it, it’s yielding great results and people talk about it as life changing, so it’s been a real cornerstone of our engagement program,” she says.

Finding the right fit

A large part of building the right culture at any organization is ensuring that the right staff are in place to implement it.

A few of the panellists at the Employee Recommended Workplace Awards discussed some of the ways that they attempt to ensure that they have the right cultural fit when they go through the hiring process.

Sarah Liverance, partner at Sklar Wilton & Associates Ltd.

“For us it’s all about values and beliefs and we’re really clear on five that we have. We go through quite a rigorous process as well . . . because cultural fit is critical and we’re also trying to hire for life when we hire.”

Carl Jafrabad, director of compensation, benefits and pension for Nestlé Canada Inc.

“When you say beliefs and values, you don’t need a laundry list of 20 things. You want to identify maybe five or six key things that you’re looking for. Personality traits, beliefs, things that other people believe in that fit in with your organization. Very few questions about the job-specific role and more questions about getting to know you as a person and whether or not you’re going to be a good fit.”

Nicolas Drapeau, manager of onboarding at Deluxe Payroll

Not just the interviewer should ask questions, he says: “For knowledge and skills, your questions are going to be really important. For culture, personality and attitude, it’s their questions. So any [interviewer who] has finished an interview by saying, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and … [the job seeker] says ‘No,’ well, actually, that is a minus-one score right there. What [job seekers] say unprompted, the kind of things [they] want to know about, are going to let [interviewers] know the kind of person [they] are.”

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