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Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values in Montreal on September 14, 2013. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values in Montreal on September 14, 2013. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Bill Morneau

Actually, diversity is a Quebec value Add to ...

As an employer with a considerable presence in Quebec, we at Morneau Shepell thought we should report on our experience with Quebec “values.” We have a particularly good news story for Quebeckers, and indeed for all Canadians.

Our human-resources consulting company has grown significantly in Quebec over the past decade, from fewer than 500 employees in 2006 to about 1,200 in 2013. About a third of our work force is based in Quebec, and we believe it’s a terrific place to do business.

In most ways, our Quebec experience is similar to our experience in the rest of Canada. Our Quebec employees are a diverse lot, like in the rest of the country. Our work force there claims birthplaces in 60 different countries, while working together in a friendly, collegial environment. We have a high level of productivity and surprisingly few interpersonal issues.

When I asked our HR team in Quebec if we have had any concerns – ever – with religious or cultural differences among our employees, they struggled to come up with even one example. Certainly, they reported, there have been no issues with traditional dress or religious symbols. Whether it’s the highly effective systems professional with green hair or the excellent counsellor with a modest head scarf, our teams work together to best serve our clients.

We consider ourselves lucky to have such a talented, diverse and engaged work force. We have a harmonious work environment where personal choices are respected and co-workers’ rights aren’t infringed on. Any legislation that makes Quebec a less desirable place for our employees and their families would make our recruiting more difficult and threaten our success story there.

There are some differences between our Quebec offices and those in the rest of Canada. Even with such a diverse work force, everyone speaks one language: French. And our company’s best employee engagement scores are to be found in our Quebec operations, by a full 10 percentage points.

Our challenge is how to export these Quebec “values” across the country.

We have good reason to believe we’re not alone in our story. What we do for our clients gives us a unique window into the well-being of employees at many of Canada’s leading companies. We’re the largest employee assistance provider in Canada, and in Quebec, which means that we help about five million employees and family members with their personal challenges. We received more than 540,000 calls in 2012 asking for help with personal, family and work issues.

We hear it all – from day-to-day relationship challenges to workplace problems to real crises. What we don’t hear are questions or problems about religious or cultural issues. They literally do not make the list of employee concerns. Of the 75,000 calls we received from Quebeckers last year, the top three issues were personal relationships, personal stress and mental-health issues, consistent with our statistics from the rest of Canada. Our diverse work places are working, but the pace of life, and business, is changing. Canadians, including Quebeckers, are finding ways to work together harmoniously, notwithstanding their differences.

We plan to continue our successful recruitment of great people from diverse backgrounds, and our respectful approach to managing differences. From our perspective, the most important element of meeting the challenge of being a world-class firm is attracting and retaining great people, and working with them to make them and us even better. That’s how we’ll be successful. Diversity is a strength to be built on, and Quebec is a hugely important part of that national effort.

Bill Morneau is executive chairman of Morneau Shepell.

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