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Employers need to work on their corporate culture in order to attract the best talent.

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With a talent war being waged in many industries across Canada, it has become vital for organizations that want their pick of the litter to establish themselves as employers of choice.

With the high cost of turnover and a bevy of consequences associated with losing valuable employees – ranging from customer satisfaction to production delays – organizations that are able to attract and keep top talent have a competitive advantage.

"Since the global economic crisis of 2009, we've seen the whole employment relationship totally upended, both from the standpoint of how employers have to think and more importantly, how employees think about employers," said Tracey Arnish, senior vice-president of talent for SAP AG, a multinational software company that employs about 67,000 people worldwide. "You need something that's going to differentiate you, something that's going to help you stand out over other organizations fighting for the same talent."

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Ms. Arnish adds that an organization's "pull factor" needs to be established long before the job listing is published.

"Your brand as an employer of choice starts the moment an individual becomes aware of you; it starts long before they become an employee," she said, adding that employers who want to improve their reputation in the job market need to treat the candidates they reject with the same level of respect as the ones they hire.

"Are we painful to deal with? Do we get back to you on time? Do we treat you as a world-class candidate every step of the way? Those are the things that build reputation and advocacy, and keep people interested, whether they get hired for that role or not," she said.

While salary and benefits remain the key drivers of career choices, Ms. Arnish believes that a company's corporate culture, its commitment to work flexibility, and opportunities for career growth are becoming increasingly important to potential hires, especially for the youngest generation of employees.

"I think that [different] generations want a lot of the same things," she said. "What I think is different is that millennials will demand it."

According to Bryan Pearson, president and chief executive officer of LoyaltyOne Co., the organization behind the Air Miles customer loyalty program, offering employees greater flexibility about when and where they work is key to becoming an employer of choice.

"A number of years ago, even without a focus on the millennial generation, we also recognized within our business that we needed to change the rigid structures that we had around our work environment," said Mr. Pearson, adding that today, more than two-thirds of the company's call centre employees work from home, while corporate staff have flexible work hours. "Both of those [changes] were very strongly received."

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He believes it was such initiatives that allowed the company to become recognized as one of the 50 best employers in Canada by the human resources consulting firm AON Hewitt, as well as one of Canada's top employers for young people.

Mr. Pearson said that offering such flexibility to employees is just the first step toward becoming recognized as a top employer. Keeping such a ranking, he said, takes "a level of commitment and a continual amount of focus on behalf of the executive and management team."

Nate Butki, senior vice-president of the Great Place to Work Institute, a San Francisco-based research and management consultancy, also believes that becoming an employer of choice can't be considered a side project or human resources initiative. "That really is not how the best [employers] do it," he said.

Establishing a corporate culture that attracts the top talent will vary between industries and offices, Mr. Butki said. What appeals to software engineers in an urban environment might not be as important to bank or retail employees, for instance. Having analyzed the practices of top employers around the world, he believes that while each have their own strategies, they all lead to the same outcome.

"For the type of people who want to work in that industry and that environment, those are the things that build pride, trust and camaraderie," he said.

Having a clear vision of the company's culture, Mr. Butki said, is the first step toward attracting and retaining talent.

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"When companies have a clear view of what they exist to do, and the way in which they do it, it makes it easier for people to enter and exit the organization with a clear understanding of what it means to be a part of that thing," he said. "When that's clear, you can get to the right-fit candidates faster, they can seek you out because they understand what it is you're doing, and when it's not working out, it's easier for them to identify it."

Mr. Butki adds that even employers with a wealth of candidates to choose from will benefit from a more carefully defined culture.

"From the pure math perspective, you could [do nothing], but from a performance perspective you're still getting beat by those who are getting different talent, keeping them longer, and getting a different level of contribution," he said.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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