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The Globe and Mail

After a short break, war for young talent picks up

Capital One Canada president Rob Livingston, left, gets in a game of foosball with employees at their Toronto offices Wednesday.

Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail/tim fraser The Globe and Mail

Earlier this month, financial services firm Capital One Canada showed the U.S. brass how much it values younger employees. Ryan Schneider, a global president at parent company Capital One Financial Corp., had a meeting at the Canadian division's Toronto headquarters. But the sit-down was delayed for 15 minutes so an under-40 senior manager could drop off his child at daycare.

As president of Capital One Canada, Rob Livingston understands how important it is to recruit talented people early in their careers – and to keep them around. "At that stage in folks' lives, they tend to be hungry, bold, looking for a chance to make their mark on the world," says Mr. Livingston, who is in his mid-30s. "We aim to be a dynamic, entrepreneurial place to work, and for that to happen, we need people who still have all these possibilities ahead of them."

Capital One Canada, one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People for 2011 , is competing fiercely to snag exceptional workers younger than 40. Local management consulting firms and tech giants such as Facebook Canada and Google Canada pose a threat, Mr. Livingston admits. "We really are aiming to keep up with them every step of the way – and in some areas, in fact, actually surpass them."

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The war for top talent is raging on after a slight lull during the past two years, says Jason Winkler, the Vancouver-based managing partner of talent at professional services firm Deloitte & Touche Canada. Having the best young employees will be crucial to many organizations' success in the decade ahead, Mr. Winkler warns.

"Looking at the younger demographic, it's not about getting people in the door in the next quarter, it's about setting a tone for the long term," he says. "While I can't predict what the next millennials are going to look like, I can absolutely bet that we're all going to need to have that younger work force five to 10 years out."

At Capital One Canada, where the average age is 37, management has cultivated a casual work environment with no visible hierarchy. For the 270 Capital One "associates" at the open-concept headquarters, jeans are standard attire. There are no corner offices; the CEO has a desk like everyone else.

The youngest staff are especially comfortable in this setting, Mr. Livingston says. "When they see it for the first time coming in to interview, they see how different this is from other companies."

Designed to look and feel like a Starbucks, the credit card issuer's lunchroom is often the site of business meetings. The staff lounge has foosball and other games, and there's a reading library and a nap room.

All of these things strongly appeal to younger employees in their 20s, but for the older-than-30 crowd, flexible work arrangements are what really matters. Although most staff work at the office during the core hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they can tailor their schedules around family and other personal commitments. There's also the option to telecommute from home or elsewhere.

"It adds another dimension to work-life balance," says Erin Muir, Capital One Canada's human resources consultant.

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Flexible hours and telecommuting aren't just perks – they are a strategic business decision. In surveys, Capital One found that these policies increased employee satisfaction by 41 per cent.

Among other efforts to attract and retain workers younger than 40, Capital One Canada tops up parental benefits to 100 per cent of salary for the first six months of maternity leave. New hires start with three weeks of annual vacation.

Young associates like to work hard and play hard, Mr. Livingston says. "For them, playing hard means taking time off and getting as far away from the office as possible," he explains. "And with two weeks of vacation, it's just not possible sometimes for them to unwind and de-stress."

Of the values that Capital One espouses, Mr. Livingston says, his young employees prize two the most: working as part of a team, and owning what they do and making decisions for themselves. He offers his own experience as proof that the company delivers on the latter.

Mr. Livingston, who became Canadian CEO in June, 2010, joined Capital One straight out of Yale University in the mid-1990s. Starting as an operational process manager, the economics graduate moved into credit policy, business development and finance before returning to management.

"Capital One was a flexible enough organization to allow me to do all these different things," Mr. Livingston says. "In a sense, there's this element of being able to build your own career path."

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Editor's note: In a previous version of this article, Rob Livingston was incorrectly described as Capital One's CEO. This version has been corrected.

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