Top employers get creative to retain top Alberta talent
Entering year three of this 'new normal' means understanding the different priorities employees now have when making career choices
Finding a job in Alberta has been a fraught experience for years, but even as 2021 presented all-new global and province-wide difficulties, the Albertan workers saw significant gains. It turns out that uncertainty in the market may be benefiting Alberta's workers as much as the province's big employers — a trend that can be seen by looking at some of the most beloved and successful companies in the country.
Each year, the Canada's Top Employers competition releases its picks for the best employers in each province, analyzing a wide range of factors to help applicants figure out which companies offer the best work environments. Now, 2022's Alberta selections have arrived to highlight those employers that offer creative, competitive compensation and benefits packages, even while dealing with a host of local and global difficulties.
The winners are chosen based on multiple criteria, including compensation and benefits, the work and social atmosphere, the quality of the physical workplace, training and upward mobility and community involvement — none of which were easy for companies to prioritize as Alberta's economic situation became even more precarious.
"I think the past year has continued to present very difficult challenges for virtually all employers," said Richard Yerema, managing editor at Canada's Top 100 Employers. "We are now entering year three of this 'new normal,' compounding the difficulty of challenges like navigating new safety protocols and transitioning to remote or hybrid work."
Despite difficulties, many Albertan workers are still winning
The average Albertan worker had a harder time this year than workers from other provinces, in part due to continuing problems in the oil and gas sector. Certain types of resource positions have seen continued lay-offs, leading to more competition for any new positions that do crop up.
"At an individual level," Yerema says, "understanding this economic reality would present unique variables for people in planning their careers."
Still, nationwide trends show a need for employers to use creative and attractive benefits to bring in the best talent.
When the going gets tough, the tough get creative
In a tough job market, employees often expect to see depressed wages — but as the last year played out, the market saw several examples of how hard economic conditions can instead lead to increased competition among employers. Some fast-food restaurants, for instance, have been forced to raise even low-end salaries in order to compete.
This trend is even more evident in higher-paying and more knowledge-based industries like software development, where companies have to get creative to entice the province's top talent. These sorts of companies have leaned into the remote work paradigm, benefiting from the fact that most of their employees can easily transition their work to the home.
As power shifts somewhat to the candidate in more hiring interactions, employers have had to get creative to retain top talent. Attractive benefits packages can often seem to carry more value than they actually cost to deliver, while less standard offerings like increased flexibility in time-off can entice new workers for zero money down.
Enbridge has a program called FlexWork, which lets employees partially manage where and when they work. According to Enbridge's Mandy Dinning, the company also has "ambitious goals and strategies for increased Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion; and regular employee listening to ensure our people's feedback is regularly collected and considered in business decisions."
Alberta Blue Cross VP of people, wellness and innovation, Mark Razzolini, says that Blue Cross has implemented a battery of creative, employee-centric policies, including a one-year onboarding program that makes sure all new hires get settled properly. "[Our] policies include our internal wellness strategy and 15-minute daily wellness breaks… a professional development fund, leadership training… diversity and inclusion strategy and learning program," and more.
What makes the best the best?
It seems that 2021 was the year in which it became impossible to ignore that building and maintaining strong teams in Alberta comes down to being the best place to work.
Even attention given to a personal identity can be an issue for some employees; Tim Haney, the CEO of Dentons Canada says his company emphasized a "more inclusive approach to benefits and wellness programs, including employees across all roles, regardless of gender identity, and inclusive of adoption."
The best employers come to decisions about policies and the work environment from an understanding of what their employees want. Not all types of workers require the same things; younger workers might value pure compensation, for instance, while older workers with children might prioritize extra flex time.
At Gibson Energy, a hybrid work model has played a big part in providing that sought-after edge of choice. "We decided to leverage the resilience that was demonstrated over the course of the pandemic to challenge the traditional workplace model," says Gibson's Sarah Favel. "By implementing a hybrid work schedule where office employees are required to work three pre-set office days per week and are able to work from home the other two days if they choose."
Put simply, there is no one set of benefits that modern workers want; what they want is a company that listens to their feedback and takes whatever steps are necessary to let work integrate easily with the rest of life.
"Necessity often leads to innovation," Yerema says. "That includes everything from introducing greater work flexibility and new work-from-home policies, to enhancing support for physical and mental health, to emphasizing more open communication with senior leadership."
When Albertans win, Alberta business wins too
There was no one formula for success in Alberta last year, but an emphasis on employee experience was a component of every successful strategy. By making an effort to offer unique benefits for employees, employers were able to stand out from the crowd.
In a world where pure salary varies by a smaller margin than ever, it's these less monetary differentiators that will determine where the best talent goes and where it stays for more than just a while.
– Graham Templeton
From the official magazine announcing Alberta's Top Employers (2022), co-published with the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal on January 25, 2022.
Despite struggles, Alberta workers come out on top
Hybrid work, creative benefits keep employees engaged in a competitive market
It's no secret that both employers and employees found 2021 to be a hard financial year; it was defined by disruptions from resurgent COVID strains, destruction from increasingly common extreme weather events and general economic downturn from a global supply chain backup. Harder still, Alberta continued to experience its own brand of economic hardship through continued struggles in the resource sector.
However, this year's Alberta's Top Employers shows that in this struggle, the most successful companies make sure that employees come out on top. Among the province's top employers, there is a trend toward not just better compensation, but toward a better work-life balance as well.
In particular, this has meant providing a transition toward hybrid in-office and work-from-home arrangements that benefit workers and help bring some much-needed flexibility back into their lives.
Hybrid work is becoming the most important perk of all
"Once upon a time, remote or hybrid work models were perks for the few, varying by seniority and role," says the competition's managing editor Richard Yerema. "Over two decades, we have watched them evolve along with communications technology to become more available and common in most industries."
"The perception that work can only happen when we are all together in the same place at the same time no longer applies," says the North Alberta Institute of Technology's associate VP of human resources, Clayton Davis. "The past two years has proven we can be successful wherever and whenever we're working… This is an exciting step forward and supports all of NAIT in being relevant and responsive in an ever-changing world."
This is easy to see in 2022's rankings, which feature companies like Covenant Health, which offers unique wellness classes for free, and BluEarth Renewables, which puts significant effort into fostering regular, COVID-safe company get-togethers and team-building exercises.
These company-wide efforts impact all employees, not just those at the top, and are changing the way that even entry-level recruiting is done.
Creative benefits beat pure compensation
Last year's market trends highlight a greater level of creativity in benefits-creation, one that emphasizes the use of company-specific benefits that no other employer could provide. This can range from free home ownership advising from real estate companies to complimentary gym membership from healthcare companies. In all things, employers are leaning into the value that only they can provide.
Beyond company-specific benefits, success in hiring last year also came down to offering benefits that most people haven't seen before, including improved maternity leave benefits and the extension of parental leave benefits to new fathers, as well. Norton Rose Fulbright Canada incorporated such benefits for all new parents, and has seen some of the best talent come its way, as a result.
According to Ali Aziz of Norton Rose Fulbright, even a strong and employee-centric internal communications strategy can be an important perk. "Over the last couple of years, the flexibility that we have offered to our people to manage their work and personal lives has been significant," he says. "The understanding and vulnerability expressed by our leaders has helped our people in feeling connected and supported."
The employers selected for Alberta's Top Employers (2022) show one thing: the end of salary as the be-all and end-all of compensation, and the end of compensation as the be-all and end-all of employment.
Now, companies are increasingly aware that even in a stressed jobs market like Alberta's, workers are still the ones who decide when, where and how work gets done.