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leadership lab

Jeff Cates is president of Intuit Canada.

The Canadian workforce is changing at a breakneck pace and many business leaders are struggling to keep up. We know that retaining our best talent is paramount to maintaining a competitive edge and that keeping employees satisfied isn't just the right thing to do, it's how we drive growth.

As more Canadian professionals join the growing ranks of the self-employed – our research projects that full and part-time freelancers, independent contractors and on-demand workers are expected to make up to 45 per cent of the workforce by 2020 – it's becoming increasingly difficult for leaders to create a culture and employee engagement model that keeps workers of all types happy, loyal and fulfilled.

Regardless of the industry in which you operate, your organizational structure or your company size, the best companies build a culture where employees trust senior leadership, have pride in what they do and enjoy the people they work with.

Recently, Great Place to Work released its annual list of the 2017 Best Workplaces in Canada. Canada is home to many wonderful companies leading the way in employee engagement. Here's what we've learned about maintaining a happy, healthy and productive workforce in today's shifting landscape.

Earn your employees' trust – and keep it

Trust is one of the most important ingredients in a company's success. Earning the trust of your consumers, clients, shareholders and most importantly, your employees is non-negotiable, especially in the era of social media where stakeholders can voice opinions publicly in real-time.

When employees have trust in their organization, they are inspired, motivated and confident in leadership's decisions even in times of uncertainty. According to a recent study examining the connection between trustworthy leadership and productive employees, 45 per cent of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance. Bryson Insurance is a great example of how to inspire confidence in company leadership. Every employee is provided monthly individualized coaching where they self-discover opportunities for growth, highlight challenges and create long-term goals.

Want to promote trust within your organization? Create a culture of transparency. Solicit input from employees of all levels in major business decisions; communicate your business strategy and roadmap; paint a clear picture of what your company stands for and what you hope to achieve; encourage employees to communicate openly with their managers. This allows you to keep a close pulse on employee morale and address concerns directly before they spiral into larger issues. Even more important, your workers will feel that their voices are heard and valued.

Once you've earned employees' trust, you need to ensure that you keep it. This means making a conscious effort to lead by example, act on intentions and set achievable goals to ensure promises are kept.

Celebrate achievements outside of the workplace

These days, work-life balance and flexible work schedules are table stakes for leaders looking to create a thriving workplace culture. If you really want an engaged, well-rounded and fulfilled workforce, celebrate your employees for who they are outside of their professional roles. Shining a light on individuals' unique interests and accomplishments and encouraging employees to get involved in their communities fosters pride in being part of your organization, beyond the work they do.

For example, Grant Thornton has recently launched an initiative to recognize employees making a positive impact outside of the workplace, encouraging people to take up new passion projects or charitable efforts. This year, the company launched an annual award to honour three Grant Thornton team members who make significant and sustained volunteer contributions to organizations in their community. Award recipients received a $2,500 grant from the Grant Thornton Foundation to designate to a charitable organization of their choice.

You want curious, well-rounded individuals from different backgrounds to bring a diverse breadth of perspectives for your organization. Showing your employees that you're proud of their achievements encourages these pursuits and helps create a culture where people are in turn proud to work for you.

A healthy workforce is a happy workforce

Forty-seven per cent of working Canadians consider work to be the most stressful part of daily life. This is deeply troubling to me. To a degree, stress is an inevitability for all professionals, but your employees should never have to choose between professional success and emotional well-being.

If the companies on this year's list of the Best Workplaces in Canada have one thing in common, it's their emphasis on healthy living. After all, both physical and mental health are powerful tools against burnout and stress.

At Intuit, employee physical and emotional well-being is a top priority and I've learned that empowering employees to pursue healthy lifestyles pays dividends when it comes to morale, retention and productivity. In addition to our onsite gym, we provide onsite biometric screenings and offer a fitness reimbursement program for gym memberships, exercise classes, meditation classes and weight loss programs. We also have an activity program where participants receive a fitness wearable and can earn rewards for increasing their physical activity.

Creating a positive workplace culture which your employees can be proud to be part of doesn't happen overnight, and it can't be viewed as a series of employee engagement initiatives, social committees or quirky perks. To become a great place to work, leaders must put their employees first and place their fulfillment and well-being at the heart of every business decision. When workplace satisfaction is a core pillar of your business strategy, your employees will take notice. That's how you earn the trust and loyalty of your best performers for the long-term.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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