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How one company is balancing spreadsheets - and lives Add to ...

If anyone could figure out the balance sheet between work commitments and the pressures of daily life, of course it would be accountants.

The Canadian division of KPMG, which provides audit and tax services, has been named one of Canada's Top 11 Employers for eight years in a row. To accomplish this, the firm has offered a grab-bag of benefits and programs to improve their 5,000 employees' flexibility.

The company says they didn't have a choice: With a young workforce recruited straight out of university, and women constituting 50 per cent of their employee base, offering work-life balance is a necessary tool for attracting the best, and retaning them.

This is what KPMG offers: flexible job schedules, a salary top-up for 17 weeks of maternity leave, four weeks of paternity leave, bonuses for staff who volunteer in the community, access to elder care - and a concierge service to help an employee, say, renew his passport or plan his family vacation while at the office. But that's not to say the company hasn't had their issues.

In 2008, the company paid out an estimated $10-million after a Toronto employee named Alison Corless launched a class-action lawsuit claiming support staff were denied compensation for overtime. The bulk of KPMG's staff are chartered accountants, who are excluded from the country's overtime provisions. But Ms. Corless, a "technician," said she was owed $87,000 in unpaid overtime accrued over her four years with the company.

In the aftermath of the lawsuit, KPMG audited each one of its national offices to ensure they were compliant with overtime legislation, which varies by province. "Once we realized we were off side we just said we're going to fix it," said chief human resources officer Mario Paron. Mr. Paron said that because the company trades in billable hours, they have also been able to track the effectiveness of work-life programs. Productivity has not been negatively affected. In fact, the programs have occasionally helped protect the bottom line.

In 2009, the company needed to reduce its staff. Instead of layoffs, it offered the option of a year-long sabbatical, during which employees would receive a portion of their pay. Some 230 people took advantage of the program.

The Globe talked to four employees about how the company has helped them manage their busy lives.

CEO Bill Thomas

Why work-life balance is important

The 40-year-old married father of three prioritizes time with his kids: Georgia, 13, Nathan, 11, and Anna, 8.

How he sees it

"The thing that I recognize now more than ever, is that I have to be very careful with my time. I'll work on the weekends but coming to the office on the weekend is a significant issue. Hell better be freezing over. When I work on the weekends I'll get up early, because I'm an early morning person, and I'll work downstairs in my office. The first one of my kids that gets up, that's when I stop.

"There's some things the job demands of me that mean I'll never do some things other dads will do, and I think I have to come to grips with that. I'm never going to win the quantity-of-time race, but I'm very focused on winning the quality race. The time that I do spend is very much focused on them and totally engaged. Ever since my first daughter was born, on Saturday mornings I walk her to the Starbucks and back again as a way to give my wife some more sleep. Here we are 13 years later and now the four of us go.

"I have things I describe as the "do-not-miss events:" Saturday mornings, concerts, parent-teacher nights. It's easy to look at a job like this and say you're too busy and you can't make this and that, but yes you can. I was in Australia about 24 months ago during the week before Halloween, doing a review of the Australian firm. They wanted to have a meeting on Friday the 31st and I told them, 'No way.' We had the meeting on Thursday night and I caught an 11 o'clock plane out of Sydney and was back to Toronto in time to take my kids out for Halloween.

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