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News from The Globe and Mail

Elizabeth Raymer

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Most employees aren't running the companies for which they work, but they do keep the engines greased.

Employee loyalty is vital, but many Canadian firms are lagging in offering flexible, diverse benefits and in hiring new employees, says one consultant.

"Cafeteria-style" benefits, including daycare, enhanced retirement options and work sabbaticals, are not being broadly offered here, says David Nitkin, president of Toronto-based EthicScan Canada Ltd., the country's oldest corporate responsibility research house and consulting firm. "That kind of experimentation is happening notably internationally, but we're not seeing it in demonstrable numbers" in Canada.

And many Canadian companies, under pressure from labour unions seeking job security for their members, are offering overtime to existing employees rather than hiring new ones, Mr. Nitkin says, which has a negative effect on internship programs and will lead to an increasingly geriatric workforce.

Some companies, though, are engaging in "interesting experiments" to benefit their employees. For instance, he says, bolton, Ont.-based Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., which was chosen by Corporate Knights magazine as the most environmentally responsible company in Canada for 2002, rewards its employees with shares in the company for engaging in progressive practices such as purchasing a hybrid-engine vehicle, planting an organic vegetable plot or car-pooling.

And Four Seasons Hotels Inc. of Toronto, acclaimed for the hospitality it offers its guests, also provides a concierge service to its employees during their working hours, Mr. Nitkin says.

"Those are two ways in which creative companies are doing it."

Employee loyalty is the single most important thing for a company to cultivate, says Chris Pinney, director of Imagine, Canada's national program to promote public and corporate giving, volunteering and support for the community.

Mr. Pinney points to Hamilton, Ont., steel producer Dofasco Inc., an Imagine "Caring Company", as a firm that has successfully fostered such loyalty. Dofasco offers employees a profit-sharing plan and a variable compensation plan tied to corporate performance, recreational facilities which include seven baseball diamonds and a golf course, and other employee benefits and programs.

Last year Dofasco's chief executive officer cost cuts, Mr. Pinney says, and did it entirely through employee suggestions.

The CEO "attributes that to tremendous loyalty."

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