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Financial crises are nothing new at BC Biomedical. In January, 2004, the Surrey-based firm topped our annual 50 Best Employers survey. In July of that year, however, the B.C. government mandated across-the-board cuts in fees paid to private medical testing laboratories, and while 20% of BC Biomedical's revenue disappeared overnight, its workload didn't change.

BC Biomedical responded to the cuts by freezing hiring and wages, and cutting some hours. Yet its unusually strong bond with employees endured, and BC Biomedical topped our ranking again the next year.

In 2007, however, the province cut funding by another 10% and that's when the strain started to show. BC Biomedical's employee engagement score plunged. The company sank to No. 24 in our ranking published in January, 2008.

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Yet many of its basic strengths endured. The firm was founded by pathologist Dr. Cam Coady in 1958 and is still owned by about 40 B.C. pathologists and associates. For decades, BC Biomedical prided itself on its open communications and its caring philosophy for patients and its staff-it still felt like a small family business, even after it grew to more than 600 employees. But after the funding cuts, employee satisfaction with pay and people practices had declined by double digits in Hewitt's survey, and the proportion of employees content with their work-life balance decreased from nearly 90% to 67%.

To stem the bleeding, CEO Doug Buchanan and human resources director Jane Graydon turned to the only people they could: their staff. Communication by leaders-in good times or bad-is critically important to maintaining high engagement.

A little formal performance management and guidance can help, too, even in a family-type environment. BC Biomedical's revenue crisis didn't change its idea that HR is part of every supervisor's job, but the firm also tried to give managers more support in communicating with staff. That included improving annual employee performance reviews, and involving staff more in monitoring the follow-up. The firm is also trying to consult and collaborate more with employees when implementing new practices.

The bottom line: BC Biomedical has moved back up to No. 9 in this year's ranking. "We were lucky we had such a good baseline for employee engagement," says Buchanan. "Despite the fact employees were asked to make significant adjustments, we didn't lose the powerful connection people had to their work."

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