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Telus, nationwide: My personal assistant

In this age of crazy business, who couldn't use a little help with errands or jobs around the house? If you work at Telus, that help is part of your compensation package. Workers earn credits toward a concierge service to use as they wish. Each credit buys 20 minutes of time.

As a Telus regional manager in British Columbia, Steve Jenkins, 43, often works 50-60 hour weeks. So when he moved from Telus's Calgary office to Kelowna, he didn't have a lot of time to find a spot to moor his boat. Overwhelmed with the options after conducting an initial search online, he asked the concierge service to help. He's also used it to source firewood and to find a perfect B&B for a special occasion.

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Advertising specialist Jeremy Baxter, 25, used the service to pack up his North Vancouver apartment for a recent move. Last year, the service did his Christmas shopping. He'll be using it again this holiday season.

"It's a recognition that employees' personal lives are important," says Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall, who used the service last summer while he was away camping, to water his plants.

Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, Burnaby. Childcare from the ground up

When Ritchie Bros. planned its move from Richmond, B.C. to Burnaby, it sent out extensive surveys asking staff what they wanted at the new company headquarters. One overwhelming request: on-site childcare. The company ultimately chose to build and operate the childcare centre itself, rather than outsource the operation as many companies do.

The result is a parent's (not to mention a child's) dream: 5,500 square feet of teeny child-sized tables, chairs, cubbies, washroom stalls, developmental toys, arts and crafts supplies, books and more - almost all made with natural materials, with very little plastic in sight. Outdoors, there is a play area with slides, ride-on toys and enormous sandbox.

The centre is open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Three rooms serve children from infancy to elementary-school age. It is licensed to serve up to 49 children. The centre also operates as a day camp during the summer and on school holidays). Employees pay a subsidized rate.

When Ritchie's new facility held its open house last year, more than one employee walking through the childcare centre was overheard telling their partner, "Okay, we can have that baby now."

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CH2M Hill, nationwide: Flex time

Peter Mallory, 47, an engineer by training, has worked as a project manager for years. He always dreamed of managing his own project, building his own home, but he figured he'd probably have to quit his job in order to do it. But CH2M Hill, a multinational infrastructure engineering firm, agreed to let him work a 3-day week for five months in 2003 so he could build his bungalow in Ottawa's Revelstoke neighbourhood. Each week he used one vacation day and took one day off without pay.

His boss did have some reservations. Mr. Mallory is a senior employee and, at the time, he was senior executive responsible for a staff of 250. But the break to build his home clearly didn't hurt his career. He's now a senior vice president in charge of 300 people.

"I'll never forget that they trusted me and respected me and gave me that opportunity, because it was something I always wanted to do."

Environics Communications, Toronto: See the world

Colleen DeVan-Stewart, 51, recently returned from the trip of a lifetime: 12 days in Italy, stretching from Rome down to the Sicilian islands, including a couple of nights on pricey Capri. The trip, with her husband, was paid for by her employer, but it wasn't a business trip. It was a thank-you.

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After five years at Environics Communications, employees receive $5,000 to travel anywhere they haven't been before. After eight years, they get $3,000 to go somewhere they haven't been in Canada. And after 15 years, they get a $15,000 travel bonus. Italy was Ms. DeVan-Stewart's 15-year trip.

"I like the idea of the trips because it's different than just giving them cash," says president Bruce MacLellan, who runs his public-relations firm by the philosophy that the most important things in his workers' lives happens outside the office. "We have a bonus/profit-sharing plan here as well, and people will put their money into their RRSP or their mortgage. But if I ask them in five years what they used that bonus money for five years ago, they couldn't remember. But everybody remembers the trips they took."

RBC: Nationwide: Emergency care for your parents

Chris Kwaczek, 37, is the personification of the sandwich generation. Three years ago, he was really getting squeezed: He had a newborn and a 3-year old, his father's health was failing, and his mother was having trouble caring for him. Desperate, Mr. Kwaczek, a Senior Analyst with the Network Planning Department with RBC in Toronto, turned to his EAP (Employee Assistance Program). A telephone counsellor helped him research care options for his father, then 78, and also told him about a program RBC offered to its employees: emergency back-up elder care.

Contracted out to a private company, the service also included an in-home assessment. A health professional met with the family and conducted a thorough examination of the home, making recommendations.

Mr. Kwaczek used up the two allotted days for in-home care covered by RBC and paid for another few days out of his own pocket, until he could find a more permanent solution.

"It was a big relief," says Mr. Kwaczek, whose father died last January. "I was personally very grateful that my employer recognized the need for this service."

Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto: Three-year parental leave

The year of maternity leave to which Canadian parents are entitled is a far cry from the few weeks our neighbours to the south are offered. But for many parents, it's still not enough.

Recognizing this, the CCAS offers its permanent staff- no matter what gender - an option to take two additional years of parental leave. It's unpaid, but jobs are guaranteed upon return.

Human resources director Terry Daly says the agency wants to retain the best and the brightest, and support its own workers the way they're supposed to be supporting people in the community dealing with "work-life challenges."

Social worker Sonia Cymbaluk, 44, took three years off after her daughter, now 5 1/2, was born. Ms. Cymbaluk also has a 14-year-old son.

"Many parents probably miss their child walking [for the first time]because they've gone back to work," says Ms. Cymbaluk. "I got to see her walking; I got to see her language develop; to see her running and climbing and all those things I would have missed had I been at work."

The Boston Consulting Group, Toronto: BlackBerry control

What started as an experiment by the Harvard Business Review on limiting work - including BlackBerry use - during off-hours has become part of the culture at BCG, which is rolling out its "working norms" initiative at offices worldwide, including Toronto.

At the beginning of each project, the team of consultants makes decisions about work practices, including whether they'll be on BlackBerry during evenings and weekends.

Employees can choose to send e-mails during off-hours, but they tick a box so the message won't show up in the recipient's in-box until the next working day. That way they don't put pressure on others - especially more junior staff - to respond right away.

"You definitely enjoy your time off more because you have peace of mind," said Debbie Lovich, 43, a mother of four who was involved in the original experiment and now heads the Boston office's consulting and business services team.

"I have lots of memories of being at my kids' orchestra performance or back-to-school night or choir performance where I was just constantly picking [my BlackBerry]up and looking at it. Being able to leave the BlackBerry in my briefcase and focus on my daughter's violin playing is valuable to me and to my daughter. You don't want her to look up and look at you looking down."

L'Oreal Canada, Montreal: Time-saving take-out

Any working parent responsible for putting dinner on the table each night will no doubt salivate over this: at L'Oreal Canada's Montreal distribution centre, the on-site cafeteria offers a take-home dinner service. The meals on offer put the drive-thru to shame: three nutritious choices daily such as salmon filets, tandoori chicken and veal cannelloni (plus sides and homemade soups). For a recent dinner, Human Resources Manager Aleksandra Szymkowiak, the mother of two children aged 2 and 7, took home a pasta dish and osso buco (who has time to make osso buco in the middle of the week?!) made with organic, antibiotic-free meat. It was enough to feed her family of four - at a cost of $11. (The cafeteria is subsidized by L'Oreal.)

Added bonus: she can't stand the smell of fish but wants her kids to eat it. This way, they can.

The one stipulation: you must bring your own reusable containers.

"It saves me time, makes me more at ease in the evenings," says Ms. Szymkowiak, 33. Happy mom, happy family."

At L'Oreal's head office downtown, where the demographic skews younger, a catering service offers take-home platters of cheese, hors d'oeuvres and pastries, reasonably priced and beautifully prepared. Perfect for an easy evening of entertaining.

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