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Dave Giglio, Social Media TELUS Corporate Communications, practices yoga at Flow Wellness in Vancouver.Rafal Gerszak

Flexibility is something Telus Corp. communication specialist Dave Giglio appreciates when he drops into the YYoga studio near his downtown Vancouver office for a class before or after work. Health and wellness are huge priorities for the 24-year-old, so he uses his annual $500 "life balance account" to do yoga. The Telus program is designed to provide cash to each employee for anything they choose that helps keep their life in check. No strings attached.

"You don't have to tell Telus what you do with it," says Mr. Giglio, who used his account last year for a fitness membership and a personal trainer. "Yoga works best for me, but other people might buy a big screen TV or get a new set of golf clubs. It's there to impact our life in a positive way."

The "life balance account" is one of the most popular benefits with staff, says Sandy Innes, vice-president of compensation and benefits at Telus in Vancouver. Competitive wages and financial benefits such as performance bonuses and share options are important, but they're just a starting point. When a company combines such benefits with lifestyle perks, they can separate themselves from the pack.

"People absolutely want choice," says Mr. Innes. "That's a trend we're seeing."

That kind of flexibility goes well beyond whether employees prefer yoga or a family camping trip. Workers are also being allowed to customize their health benefits and work arrangements.

Yet when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, particularly the millennials (or Generation Y), life balance has the edge.

"Young recruits are looking for the complete package," says Mr. Innes. "They're dedicated to the organization, but they have other interests in life as well. They're not just focused on the financial," he says.

A choice in work styles is another priority for people, says Mr. Innes. At Telus, employees can work in the office, or be mobile with part of the time spent in the office, with customers, at home or in alternate locations. Some can even work from home almost exclusively and visit the office once or twice a month. The company's shift to mobility started with a pilot project in 2005, and now Telus hopes to have 70 per cent of employees working remotely or in a mobile manner by 2015.

"When you're designing your programs or making changes to them, you need to be thinking, 'What degree of employee choice am I putting into this program and how is it relevant to the changing needs of the work force?'" says Per Scott, RBC's vice-president of human resources.

"It's a diverse work force," says Mr. Scott. "You try to look at it as a total pie and figure out which slice matters more to employees – which ones are likely to have more attraction and retention motivation."

While Mr. Scott concurs that everybody wants flexibility these days, he finds people are most interested in the company culture. How do we practise diversity? How innovative are we? What are our values? Most importantly, he explains, people want to know about their growth prospects and how they can learn in the company.

"Opportunities for learning and development is one of the big reasons people come and stay at RBC," Mr. Scott says. "They want to grow. When we asked our millennials what they're trying to achieve in their career, what came out on top was trying to deepen their knowledge and effectiveness as specialists, so they're really trying to declare an area for themselves and carve out that career."

That often involves extensive training to get entry-level hires up to speed right off the bat, as well as ongoing internal learning programs. For people who are more on the leadership track, RBC might support an MBA program. There are also coaching programs such as RBC's Diversity Dialogues, an internal mentorship initiative in which employees learn from each other, which the bank is expanding to 500 new participants.

"Each year we continue to invest more in our development side," says Mr. Scott. "It's part of why people come to us, why they stay and how we achieve our business goals."

Another key element that prospective employees, especially millennials, are looking for is a way to give back to their communities.

"People want to work for a company they feel proud of and that they feel has a soul," says Shawn Hall, senior communications manager for Telus. "On the Telus 'day of giving' this year, 11,000 members came out on a Saturday and volunteered a day of service at hundreds of projects across Canada."

Telus's Mr. Giglio was one of those employees this year, volunteering at the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation in Vancouver.

"It's a charity that's not too far from my house," says Mr. Giglio. "Our motto is 'We give where we live,' so it fits. The company is focused on doing some really great things."