Canada's Top Small & Medium
Employers (2021)
Winners from our 8th annual editorial competition
At Montreal-based BAM Strategy, the firm encourages a unique concept: 'careiosity' – a workplace culture that emphasizes learning and making sure people care about what they are doing and are able to grow

About the Competition

Background

Now in its 8th year, Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers is an editorial competition that recognizes the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that offer the nation's best workplaces and forward-thinking human resources policies. Canada's SME sector is tremendously important to the nation and is responsible for: over half of the nation's gross domestic product; over 90% of the private-sector labour force; and over 95% of the new jobs created in the past decade. Our 2021 winners were announced in a special magazine published on April 6, 2021, with the winners featured in The Globe and Mail. Read the press release issued the same day for more background on this year’s competition.


An employee at Saint-Bruno, Que.-based ISAAC Instruments writes personalized Valentine’s Day notes for her colleagues

Selection Process

Employers are evaluated by the editors of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers using the same eight criteria as our national competition:

  • (1) Physical Workplace;
  • (2) Work Atmosphere & Social;
  • (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits;
  • (4) Vacation & Time Off;
  • (5) Employee Communications;
  • (6) Performance Management;
  • (7) Training & Skills Development; and
  • (8) Community Involvement.

To determine eligibility, the Top 100 editors adopted the SME definition used by Statistics Canada, limiting the competition to private-sector commercial organizations with under 500 employees.


An employee of Jacob Bros Construction directs traffic around a job site in downtown Vancouver

Reasons for Selection

Each year, the winners are announced in a special feature published in The Globe and Mail, which is our media sponsor on the competition. For our detailed Reasons for Selection, please review the full list of winners below. Publishing detailed Reasons for Selection is a distinguishing feature of our competition: it provides transparency in the selection of winners and “raises the bar” so that other employers can discover and adopt initiatives that work well elsewhere.


Employees at Montreal-based TrackTik Software taking time to celebrate Black History Month

Eligibility Requirements

To be considered a "Small or Medium Enterprise", your company must: (a) have less than 500 employees worldwide, including employees at any affiliated companies; and (b) be a commercial, for-profit enterprise, i.e. non-profit organizations don't meet the definition.

2022 Competition

Applications for our 2022 competition will be available early in 2021. Our 2022 winners will be announced in a special magazine in The Globe and Mail in the spring of 2022. Join our mailing list to stay up to date and receive an application for next year's competition.

Calgary-based Startec is active in giving back to the community, helping local unemployed tradespeople upgrade their skills to find work
Calgary-based Startec is active in giving back to the community, helping local unemployed tradespeople upgrade their skills to find work

Canada's Top SME Employers show compassion and resilience in the face of crisis

In a year like no other, we celebrate Canada's Top Small and Medium Employers (SMEs) 2021, selected by Mediacorp Canada Inc., for their resilience in these challenging times.

With SMEs employing 90 per cent of Canada's private sector labour force, these companies have not only shown persistence and agility, but also compassion. Most outstanding are the myriad of initiatives targeting the well-being of employees, from increased safety measures on site to additional physical and mental health benefits for all. For instance, ISAAC Instruments Inc. includes coverage for online Best Doctors telemedicine service as part of its new health plan, and Groundswell Cloud Solutions offers employees a flexible health spending account plus access to mental health practitioners, all as part of its benefits plan.

Staying connected has proved to be not only important for business, but also for a sense of camaraderie. Until staff can get together physically, companies have launched numerous online social activities to help keep employees in-touch while working from home. For example, Prophix Software Inc. holds virtual yoga classes twice a week, as well as e-games, an online book club and guided meditation, while R.F. Binnie & Associates keeps employees informed through the company's "Bintranet" with peer-to-peer recognition and a newsreel of daily announcements.

Giving back to the community is another hallmark of Canada's Top SMEs. Notably, Rogers Insurance continued to support a number of charitable initiatives. Impressively, the firm donated approximately 6,000 volunteer hours on company time in the past year.

That's a benchmark we can all be inspired by.

Methodology

Mediacorp’s Top Small & Medium Employers is an editorial competition that recognizes exceptional small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across Canada. The competition is limited to private-sector commercial organizations with less than 500 employees worldwide. Non-profit organizations are not eligible.

Employers are evaluated by the editors at Mediacorp using the same criteria as Mediacorp’s Top 100 Employers competition: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Mediacorp’s editors compare employers to other organizations in their field to determine which ones offer the best workplaces and forward-thinking human resource policies. Whether an employer has positive employment growth is also a factor in determining the winners. As well, the unique initiatives of each employer are taken into account.

The Globe and Mail is not involved in the judging process.

Mediacorp’s Top Small & Medium Employers is an annual national competition, and all applicants must pay a fee to enter. Any employer with its head office or principal place of business in Canada may apply regardless of size, whether private or public sector.

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2021 Winners

Here are the 2021 winners of the Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers competition. Click an employer name to read our editors' full Reasons for Selection:


Employees from Victoria-based Redbrick Technologies volunteering at a local charity that provides housing, meals and resources to the city's most vulnerable residents
Cabot Cliffs Halfway Hut in beautiful Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, designed by Halifax-based FBM Architecture | Interior Design, one of this year's winners
Cabot Cliffs Halfway Hut in beautiful Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, designed by Halifax-based FBM Architecture | Interior Design, one of this year's winners

Moving Quickly

In crisis times, Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers have been at their agile best

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down so many Canadian workplaces in 2020, Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (SMEs) could fall back on a key element of their continuing success: their agility.

"These are companies that are very fleet of foot," says Richard Yerema, managing editor of Mediacorp Canada, which runs the annual competition. "They were able to move employees off site right out of the gate, early on, where in larger organizations the logistics of shifting the workforce to work from home could be a significant challenge, with multiple layers of employees and different contracts.

"Moreover, the SMEs, often involved in professional services or high tech, were already very well set up. They were building on policies for alternative work arrangements that they already had in place. In fact, often these were not-so-alternative arrangements, where people were regularly working from home at least some days of the week. It only remained to take some equipment home or add subsidies for a full home office."

Agility is indeed a key reason why many employees like working for Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers, and not just in terms of the pandemic. Asked about the advantages of a smaller company, Oksane Kielbasinski of Calgary-based Integrated Sustainability has a ready response: "Without a doubt, the ability to be a first mover," says Kielbasinski, director, environmental, social and governance (ESG), sustainability & risk at the sustainable infrastructure firm. "You can very quickly adapt and evaluate new opportunities coming to the table. It's always being prepared to change your strategy or be prepared to tweak your solution as new opportunities come forward.

"And you don't have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to get to some of these solutions," she adds.

At BAM Strategy, a digital-first marketing firm in Montréal, account supervisor Bernande Duré remembers her former job at a large organization. "I was really working pretty much alone," she says. "You would step into the office and it was silence. Everyone was working with their headphones -- no one was talking to each other. When I came to BAM I was very surprised to see the open space, and an environment where you could talk to people and exchange views. It was a diverse potluck of people mixing different opinions and ideas."

Her colleague, Vivian Aranda, vice-president of human resources and operations, notes that preserving "the family vibe" is of critical importance, especially when everyone is at home. BAM, like many SMEs, holds a weekly town hall video call, known as BAM JAM, along with employee-led games and trivia, regular team and one-on-one check-ins, and lunch & learn sessions. Integrated Sustainability carries out many of the same events, including its Friday morning "Brewed Awakening" session to go over the week's happenings.

Many top SMEs have also stepped up their benefit support for staff, particularly in employee assistance programs for mental health, but Yerema says an improved standard of benefits is a continuing trend. In fact, it is a hallmark of the 100 winners of the Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers competition. "This isn't just a list of cool businesses," notes Yerema. "These organizations are adding programs like parental and maternity leave top-ups that we see more represented every passing year."

Generous health and parental programs are supposed to be the province of large organizations, but increasingly, SMEs are competing for talent with some of the same attractions. Extended health benefits are pretty much the price of entry for top SMEs. And now, too, "they're figuring out, maybe we can do a maternity and parental top-up like a big employer," says Yerema.

Perhaps the most intriguing development in the contrast between big and small is in time off. Many SMEs now allow employees to take unlimited days for themselves, whether it is called vacation, personal days or sick days. "It's like a combined time-off program," says Yerema. "You decide how to use it. There might be some restrictions on blocks of time, but it's project-based."

Such unlimited-leave policies are a rarity at large employers, but Yerema says that close to 10 per cent of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers now have such a policy in place.

That, notes Yerema, is one of the important services the SME list provides. "It's designed to help people who are looking for work, of course, but it's also for organizations to figure out how others are responding. Employers learn from one another. This has been an exceptional year, and it's been fascinating to see how it has challenged organizations and put their policies to a real-world test."

And the best, of course, have responded with the agility that has always driven them.

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