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Newspapers and magazines are full of "best" lists. This is, in fact, the eighth year that Report on Business magazine has published this ranking of Canada's best employers. It's still the most important one for employers and employees.

But why?

The strength of the 50 Best Employers ranking lies in the quality of the research and the data. It is based on more information collected from more employees, business leaders and human resources professionals than any competing list. This year, more than 100,000 employees, 2,000 leaders and 100 HR professionals completed questionnaires and provided opinions and perspectives to our research partner, Hewitt Associates, a leading global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm.

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The overall measure used to identify and rank Best Employers is employee engagement, which quantifies how closely leaders and employees work together toward a common vision, as well as the collective energy that goes into making an organization a great place to work. It's not only senior executives and HR departments that provide this information--in fact, the lion's share of each organization's score is based on a survey of employees. This year, an average of 77% of employees at the 50 Best Employers were classified as engaged, versus just 55% at the organizations that didn't make the list.

Engaged employees have a bond with their employer that goes well beyond a contractual obligation to show up for work in exchange for pay and benefits. "They display an emotional commitment to their employer," says Neil Crawford, who headed the Hewitt study. "That leads them to speak positively about their organization, to be committed to staying there for a longer period of time and to go beyond the day-to-day routine of their job to ensure their organization is successful."

Research by Hewitt and others demonstrates that high levels of employee engagement lead to better business results: higher employee attraction and retention rates, better customer service, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and more.

To participate in this study, organizations must have at least 400 permanent employees in Canada, and must have operated in the country for at least three years. Firms complete three surveys. The first is an employee opinion survey. It is based on workforce size, and a minimum number of 400 employees must participate. The other two are a senior executive survey that measures how closely employees' and leaders' goals are aligned, and a human resources survey that details HR practices.

All responses are vetted to ensure employers follow guidelines. This year, nearly 130 organizations took part in the survey. For more information, including instructions on how to join the next survey, go to http://www.hewitt.com bestemployerscanada

PETER DIAMANTAKOS

Senior Courier

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Federal Express Canada

Toronto

Peter Diamantakos lives life by the minute. As soon as the 33-year-old arrives at Federal Express Canada's Lakeshore station in Toronto at 7:30 on weekday mornings, the clock starts ticking. He and 60 or so other drivers each have to sort and electronically scan up to 500 envelopes, parcels and packages, then deliver them to as many as 100 customer drops per day.

The depot is a choreographed study of time and motion. There is no idle chit-chat, only the constant whirr of the conveyor belt shuttling sorted mail to trucks parked along the line. Diamantakos is organizing deliveries destined for Bay Street as another worker pulls two boxes off the belt and drops them beside him: "Peter, last two boxes." Diamantakos and the other couriers then close truck doors, start engines and head into what they call "the jungle." Within five minutes, the warehouse is empty save for a handful of cleaners pushing brooms.

FedEx drivers may be alone on their routes, but each one depends on dozens of co-workers to meet deadlines. Based in Mississauga, FedEx Canada has about 5,000 employees and 69 stations coast-to-coast. During peak times, like Christmas, even top-level managers pitch in on the line or delivering packages. "Our first job is taking care of employees," says Pina Starnino, FedEx Canada's vice-president of Canadian operations. "It's a team environment, and we rely on one another," says Diamantakos. "There is a real sense that we are all in this together."

Diamantakos looks the model of efficiency as he pushes a dolly through the corridors of the gold-coloured glass office towers of Royal Bank Plaza on Bay Street. Trim, neat, with his head shaved, he's friendly and courteous--"Hello, how are you?" and "Have a nice day"--at every stop. On the advice of a friend, he joined FedEx nine years ago, after graduating from a community college in law enforcement. Since then, Diamantakos has climbed to near the top of the courier pay scale, and his pay has almost doubled to over $25 an hour.

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Too polite to criticize competitors, Diamantakos is clearly convinced when he calls FedEx the "gold standard" of couriers. As he walks purposefully into a below-ground mailroom on his route, a staffer says to him, "Fed Ex is the best." Says another: FedEx is "excellent--they never give us problems."

FedEx believes happy employees make for happy customers. The company is proud of its efforts to communicate with staff. That's no easy task when 85% of the workforce is literally on the road most of their workday. Still, employees have quarterly meetings with senior brass and, several years ago, after staff complained that formal sessions with PowerPoint presentations were too intimidating, FedEx switched to informal chats. The sessions help managers "listen for new ideas and build trust," says VP Starnino. Employee feedback has helped the company stream-line its customs process for packages being sent abroad.

Starnino says the supportive environment has also helped FedEx retain staff. At its call centres, the voluntary turnover rate is just 11%, versus an industry average of more than 60%. FedEx's overall turnover rate among full-time employees is just 3.4%.

Diamantakos loves the day-to-day camaraderie, the fast pace, and perks such as recognition awards (he has won several) and a tuition-rebate program. He feels he has a future with the company. "Managers are always talking about opportunities," he says. "They want you to make this a career." Recently married, he's planning to apply for a management-training program. "Everyone is so into FedEx," he adds. "It's my home away from home."

Steve Brearton

CHARLENE BIRDSALL

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Investment adviser

Wellington West Capital

Winnipeg

Charlene Birdsall lowers her eyes and strides quickly through the cubicles at Wellington West Capital's headquarters in Winnipeg. Once stock markets in Toronto and New York open at 8:30 a.m., the 48-year-old investment adviser will have no time for idle chat. But she has another reason for heading straight to her desk. "When I'm walking in the stairwell, I just say 'hi' to everyone because I have no idea who they are," she says jokingly. That's because the company has grown so fast, she doesn't know half her colleagues.

In fact, the new faces are part of what she loves about her job. The 10-person company she joined a decade ago has become a leading independent in the bank-dominated brokerage business, with more than 400 employees and 26 offices across the country. Wellington West is also a leader in employee satisfaction, moving from second place overall last year to No. 1 in this year's ranking of the 50 Best Employers in Canada.

Birdsall says that, in part, the No. 1 ranking stems from the fact that Wellington is still private, and advisers and other employees own 91% of the company. "Being an owner, you want to make sure the firm looks good," she says. Moreover, Wellington West will likely go public some time in the next two years, and she and her colleagues will share in millions in proceeds from an IPO. "Charlie [company founder and CEO Charlie Spiring]said everyone will be able to buy their canoes or cottages or whatever," she says.

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These days, Birdsall spends most of her time in front of a computer screen, monitoring markets and taking calls from clients. She and senior investment adviser Walter Silicz work as a team. Birdsall started at the company in 1996 as an office manager; she had young children, and the 12-hour days were tough. She offered to quit, but Silicz asked her to be his assistant, and offered her the same pay to work fewer hours. Gradually, she's taken on more responsibility and now handles a roster of clients with investments that total millions.

It's an ideal arrangement, Birdsall says. Her typical day starts just before 8 a.m. and ends around 4:30 p.m. "Family is very important to all of us," she says.

Wellington West is housed in a four-storey modern office building next to the CanWest Global Park baseball stadium on Waterfront Drive, an area the city is trying to revive. Inside, the walls are lined with sepia-toned photographs of Winnipeg's pre-Second World War golden era, when it was a major centre of industry and commerce. There's an active social committee at the company, a small gym and a walking club that strolls along the banks of the Red River at lunch.

It's a long way from Bay Street in just about every respect, and Janice Goldsborough, Wellington's human resources manager, says the welcoming atmosphere stems from the company's prairie roots. Wellington likes to hire people from rural communities. "If they've been raised on the farm, they know how to work. Most of them have had to learn responsibility at an early age," she says. "Even if you're not from a small town but from Winnipeg, a small city, it makes a difference in how you approach things."

"It's a different cultural attitude," Goldsborough adds, and one that's clearly working.

Joe Friesen

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DARRIN NIELSEN

Terrestrial Ecologist

Golder Associates

Calgary

Back in 1993, Darrin Nielsen was like a lot of idealistic science grads. "I didn't have a clue what was out there for someone with my qualifications," he recalls, referring to his diploma in landscape architecture from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and his BSc in geography from the University of Alberta. He went to work for a small environmental consulting company in Edmonton, working mostly with clients in government and the forestry industry. In 2001, a friend tipped him to try Burnaby, B.C.-based Golder Associates, an international ground engineering and environmental services consulting firm.

"I wanted to try something new," says Nielsen, 40. Golder's Calgary office, the company's largest, fit the bill. Then, as now, the office was bursting at the seams, and Golder was eager to recruit bright and committed young professionals. "There was a lot of energy, a huge buzz," Nielsen says. "They gave me a wastebasket filled with office supplies, eventually found me a desk, and I dove right in."

Nielsen now leads the office's vegetation subgroup. Much of its work involves helping with environmental assessments, including documenting the state of plants and trees at a project site, and advising clients on how to minimize or repair any impact of their operations on the environment. If requested, Golder will then monitor progress and provide follow-up advice. It's a complex and highly gratifying business that requires a lot of collaboration. "There are a lot of 'ologists' here," Nielsen says. "They're all very bright people, and it took me a while to realize you don't have to do everything yourself. When you get the right people doing the right things, it's amazing how much quality work gets done."

Nielsen works mainly on projects in Alberta and B.C., and most of his clients in recent years have been in the oil and gas industry (the Alberta oil sands in particular), mining and transportation. He's also worked in Africa on occasion, including a two-week trip to the Congo to help with an environmental assessment of a copper/cobalt mine.

Nielsen had some initial worries about filling a narrow niche in a large company, but the variety of work is one of the most stimulating aspects of his job. Projects can last anywhere from a week to a year, and his group advises other divisions within Golder as well as external clients. "All of this provides interesting challenges," he says.

Given the red-hot demand for almost any type of professional in Calgary, Golder works hard to retain staff. The company is 100% employee-owned, and it encourages employees to map their career path. Nielsen has done several stints at Golder U, an internal program that offers one- to five-day intensive courses on subjects that include safety, project management and communications. Every year, employees fill out a so-called balance scorecard, setting goals--personal, financial and client-related--and measuring their performance the previous year. "Let's say I decide I want to develop more business in, say, land reclamation," says Nielsen. "Well, the company will support it."

There's a rewarding social component at Golder as well. Like many staff in Calgary, Nielsen is a backpacking and mountain biking enthusiast. He is a member of the 10-person Golder team for the annual Canadian edition of the international 24 Hours of Adrenalin adventure races. The company foots the entire bill for the trip to the Rockies, including food and gasoline.

Another perk is a highly casual office and flexible hours. "They are very accommodating about work/life balance," says Nielsen. If staff, say, work out in the field for 10 days in a row, they will want to reconnect with their families, and they likely will not have to keep regular office hours when they return. Nielsen is also happy that he has had his pay bumped up after his performance review every year.

Golder is still expanding in Calgary, and plans to move in 2008 to a larger new office just east of downtown that was designed with sustainability criteria in mind. Nielsen is also part of the new-employee interview process. "We're looking for people who are personable and technically well-rounded," he says. Just like him.

Kevin Brooker

KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, POPS

Take any two employees in your organization, and chances are the older one will feel more engaged. "In the past, many companies' HR policies were driven by the baby boomers," says Neil Crawford of Hewitt Associates.

"One size fits all doesn't work any more, and companies really need to listen to different age groups and different genders to find out what will make their workplace better."

Percentage of workers saying it would take a lot for them to leave their organization

Mature Workers, age 61 and over 74%

Early Boomers, age 56 to 60 72%

Mid-Boomers, age 46 to 55 69%

Late Boomers, age 41 to 45 65%

Gen Xers, age 26 to 40 60%

Millennial Workers, age 25 and under 56%

(based on ages in 2006)

WHO WANTS TO LEAVE?

Average voluntary turnover among full-time employees

50 Best Employers 9.4%

The rest 12.4%

Average voluntary turnover among part-time employees

50 Best Employers 22.4%

The rest 33.6%

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Employers in booming Alberta have had to up the ante to attract and retain workers. Some Tim Hortons outlets have offered counter staff free transport to work and chances to win iPods and university scholarships, as well as a premium over minimum wage. In Quebec, which has been battered by layoffs, most employees are happy to hang onto the jobs they have.

Percentage of workers saying they hardly ever think of working at another company

Quebec 66%

Atlantic Canada 59%

Prairies 56%

Ontario 56%

B.C. 55%

Alberta 51%

BEATING A PATH TO YOUR DOOR

Average number of applications received for each job advertised

At top 10 employers 47

At bottom 10 employers 17

HOW CANADA MEASURES UP

Average employee engagement score

Latin America 72%

Canada 62%

Asia Pacific 53%

United States 48%

Europe 46%

Global average 51%

Rank|Last Year|Company & Headquarters|Industry|Employees in Canada|Voluntary Turnover(%)*

1 2 Wellington West Capital Inc., Winnipeg Financial services 470 7.9

2 3 EllisDon Corp.,London, Ont. Construction 648 4.4

3 10 Edward Jones, Mississauga Financial services 1,662 15.9

4 6 Bennett Jones LLP,Calgary Law 738 12.9

5 8 PCL Constructors Inc.,Edmonton Construction 1,460 8.5

6 13 Sleep Country Canada, Toronto Retail 876 7.9

7 9 Envision Financial, Langley, B.C. Financial services 757 4.2

8 12 Farm Credit Canada, Regina Financial services 1,183 2.6

9 17 JTI-Macdonald Corp., Mississauga Tobacco 490 0.7

10 24 GlaxoSmithKline Inc., Mississauga Pharmaceuticals 1,731 6.8

11 - Intuit Canada, Edmonton Software 396 16.0

12 - Desjardins Groupe d'assurances générales, Lévis, Que. Insurance 3,135 2.7

13 - CIMA+, Montreal Engineering 950 6.6

14 - DaimlerChrysler Fin. Services Canada Inc., Windsor Financial services 441 8.8

15 23 Ultramar Ltée, Montreal Oil and gas 1,090 3.0

16 15 Procter & Gamble Inc., Toronto Consumer products 694 1.3

17 39 Coast Capital Savings Credit Union,Surrey, B.C. Financial services 1,736 9.0

18 18 Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.,Mississauga Pharmaceuticals 456 7.0

19 1 Cintas Canada Ltd.,Toronto Uniforms and laundry 1,662 12.5

20 25 The Co-operators,Guelph, Ont. Insurance 2,732 7.5

21 - Marriott Lodging Canada, Mississauga Hotels 2,400 20.4

22 36 Midwest Surveys Inc.,Calgary Oil and gas services 457 14.4

23 - Rocky Mountaineer Vacations,Vancouver Travel 700 5.7

24 5 BC Biomedical Laboratories Ltd.,Surrey, B.C. Health care 567 1.6

25 27 Flight Centre North America, Vancouver Travel 734 32.7

26 16 Delta Hotels,Toronto Hotels 5,159 22.0

27 38 McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Ltd., Toronto Restaurants 4,750 15.8

28 22 Chubb Insurance Co. of Canada, Toronto Insurance 446 7.0

29 4 G & K Services Canada Inc., Mississauga Uniforms and laundry 1,720 15.2

30 33 Ceridian Canada Ltd., Markham, Ont. Human resources 1,416 9.2

31 - Deloitte & Touche LLP, Toronto Professional services 6,402 12.5

32 - Federal Express Canada Ltd., Mississauga Courier 4,894 3.4

33 - AstraZeneca Canada Inc., Mississauga Pharmaceuticals 1,349 5.4

34 21 Wal-Mart Canada Corp., Mississauga Retail 65,915 25.4

35 50 Abbott, Ville St.-Laurent, Que. Health care products 2,000 4.7

36 30 Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc., Montreal Real estate 952 8.9

37 20 Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Canada), Toronto Hotels 3,919 13.9

38 - Xerox Canada Inc., Toronto Document management 4,178 6.6

39 - British Columbia Automobile Assoc., Burnaby, B.C. Consumer services 1,046 6.7

40 - Nexen Inc., Calgary Oil and gas 1,407 6.9

41 42 Golder Associates Ltd., Burnaby, B.C. Ground engineering/environmental 2,041 8.0

42 26 Business Objects, Vancouver Software 1,325 10.4

43 - Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Markham, Ont. Health care 3,651 8.2

44 43 Scotiabank Group, Toronto Financial services 31,769 3.5

45 40 Keg Restaurants Ltd., Toronto Restaurants 2,580 11.2

46 49 National Bank of Canada, Montreal Financial services 12,748 4.9

47 - Canadian Western Bank, Edmonton Financial services 880 11.6

48 45 CONEXUS, Regina Financial services 842 2.4

49 - Bell Nordiq, Montreal Telecommunications 871 2.9

50 - Bentall Capital LP, Toronto Real estate 1,094 n/m**

* Annualized rate for 2005, not including retirement

** n/m: not meaningful

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