What Makes a Great Place to Work?

What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Every year, Great Place to Work Canada analyzes comments from thousands of employees and compiles a list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada,” which is published in Fortune magazine. Having compiled its list for more than twenty years, the institute concludes that the defining characteristic of a great company to work for is trust between managers and employees. Employees overwhelmingly say that they want to work at a place where employees “trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.”[1] They report that they’re motivated to perform well because they’re challenged, respected, treated fairly, and appreciated. They take pride in what they do, are made to feel that they make a difference, and are given opportunities for advancement.[2] The most effective motivators, it would seem, are closely aligned with Maslow’s higher-level needs and Herzberg’s motivating factors. The top ten companies are listed below.

Job Redesign






Kruger Products






Vitalité Health Network


Queen’s University


Concordia University






Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

The average employee spends more than two thousand hours a year at work. If the job is tedious, unpleasant, or otherwise unfulfilling, the employee probably won’t be motivated to perform at a very high level. Many companies practice a policy of job redesign to make jobs more interesting and challenging. Common strategies include job rotation, job enlargement, and job enrichment.

Job Rotation

Specialization promotes efficiency because workers get very good at doing particular tasks. The drawback is the tedium of repeating the same task day in and day out. The practice of job rotation allows employees to rotate from one job to another on a systematic basis, often but not necessarily cycling back to their original tasks. A computer maker, for example, might rotate a technician into the sales department to increase the employee’s awareness of customer needs and to give the employee a broader understanding of the company’s goals and operations. A hotel might rotate an accounting clerk to the check- in desk for a few hours each day to add variety to the daily workload. Through job rotation, employees develop new skills and gain experience that increases their value to the company. So great is the benefit of this practice that many companies have established rotational training programs that include scheduled rotations during the first 2-3 years of employment. Companies benefit because cross-trained employees can fill in for absentees, thus providing greater flexibility in scheduling, offer fresh ideas on work practices, and become promotion-ready more quickly.

Job Enlargement

Instead of a job in which you performed just one or two tasks, wouldn’t you prefer a job that gave you many different tasks? In theory, you’d be less bored and more highly motivated if you had a chance at job enlargement—the policy of enhancing a job by adding tasks at similar skill levels. The job of sales clerk, for example, might be expanded to include gift-wrapping and packaging items for shipment. The additional duties would add variety without entailing higher skill levels.

Job Enrichment

Merely expanding a job by adding similar tasks won’t necessarily “enrich” it by making it more challenging and rewarding. Job enrichment is the practice of adding tasks that increase both responsibility and opportunity for growth. It provides the kinds of benefits that, according to Maslow and Herzberg, contribute to job satisfaction: stimulating work, sense of personal achievement, self-esteem, recognition, and a chance to reach your potential.

Consider, for example, the evolving role of support staff in the contemporary office. Today, employees who used to be called “secretaries” assume many duties previously in the domain of management, such as project coordination and public relations. Information technology has enriched their jobs because they can now apply such skills as word processing, desktop publishing, creating spreadsheets, and managing databases. That’s why we now use a term such as administrative assistant instead of secretary.[3]

Life | Work Quality

Building a career requires a substantial commitment in time and energy, and most people find that they aren’t left with much time for non-work activities. Fortunately, many organizations recognize the need to help employees strike a balance between their work and home lives.[4] By helping employees combine satisfying careers and fulfilling personal lives, companies tend to end up with a happier, less-stressed, and more productive workforce. The financial benefits include lower absenteeism, turnover, and health care costs.

Alternative Work Arrangements

The accounting firm KPMG LLP, which has consistently made the list of the “Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers”,[5] and is committed to help “employees balance work and their personal lives through a variety of flexible work options.”[6]


Employers who provide for flextime set guidelines that allow employees to designate starting and quitting times. Guidelines, for example, might specify that all employees must work eight hours a day (with an hour for lunch) and that four of those hours must be between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thus, you could come in at 7 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m., while coworkers arrive at 10 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m. With permission you could even choose to work from 8 a.m to 2 p.m., take two hours for lunch, and then work from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Compressed Workweeks

Rather than work eight hours a day for five days a week, you might elect to earn a three-day weekend by working ten hours a day for four days a week.

Job Sharing

Under job sharing, two people share one full-time position, splitting the salary and benefits of the position as each handles half the job. Often they arrange their schedules to include at least an hour of shared time during which they can communicate about the job.


Telecommuting means that you regularly work from home (or from some other non-work location). You’re connected to the office by computer and cell phone. You save on commuting time, enjoy more flexible work hours, and have more opportunity to spend time with your family. A study of 5,500 IBM employees (one-fifth of whom telecommute) found that those who worked at home not only had a better balance between work and home life but also were more highly motivated and less likely to leave the organization.[7]

Though it’s hard to count telecommuters accurately, Statistics Canada estimates that, in 2008, 11% of employees work from home.[8] Telecommuting isn’t for everyone. Working at home means that you have to discipline yourself to avoid distractions, such as TV, personal phone calls, and home chores and also not be impacted by feeling isolated from the social interaction in the workplace.

Family-Friendly Programs

In addition to alternative work arrangements, many employers, including KPMG LLP and BASF Canada, offer programs and benefits designed to help employees meet family and home obligations while maintaining busy careers. As exemplar companies, they offer the following benefits.[9]

Dependent Care

Caring for dependents—young children and elderly parents—is of utmost importance to some employees, but combining dependent-care responsibilities with a busy job can be particularly difficult. Through its Personal Care program, KPMG LLP provides employees with up to 50 hours of paid time off annually to help with a range of personal matters. They also offer emergency backup dependent care all year round, either at a provider’s facility or in the employee’s home. KPMG LLP also has a Working Parents Network, Special Parents Network, offering support for parents raising children with physical, emotional and behavioural (virtual support group for parents raising children with physical, emotional and behavioural issues. Meanwhile, BASF Canada offers its employees a privately-run on-site child care facility.

Parental Leave and Support

New parents in Canada are guaranteed paid leave via Employment Insurance Maternity and Parental Benefits. BASF Canada tops-up these payments for new parents to 100% of salary for up to 17 weeks. KPMG LLP further supports new parents by providing those on leave support with their transition back to work.

Caring for Yourself

Both KPMG LLP and BASF Canada offer employees comprehensive health and dental benefit coverage programs. The also provide employees with generous vacation allowances and personal days for employees to use in any way they want. Both organizations also offer an Employee Assistance Program for employees experiencing personal and/or work-related problems that may negatively affect their job performance and overall well-being. If staying fit makes you happier and more productive, BASF Canada offers a $400 fitness club subsidy and KPMG LLP offers the equivalent of 1.25% of an employee’s salary for home gym equipment.[10]

Unmarried Without Children

You’ve undoubtedly noticed by now that many programs for balancing work and personal lives target married people, particularly those with children. Single individuals also have trouble striking a satisfactory balance between work and non-work activities, but many single workers feel that they aren’t getting equal consideration from employers.[11] They report that they’re often expected to work longer hours, travel more, and take on difficult assignments to compensate for married employees with family commitments.

Needless to say, requiring singles to take on additional responsibilities can make it harder for them to balance their work and personal lives. It’s harder to plan and keep personal commitments while meeting heavy work responsibilities. Frustration can lead to increased stress and job dissatisfaction. In several studies of stress in the accounting profession, unmarried workers reported higher levels of stress than any other group, including married people with children.[12]

With singles, as with married people, companies can reap substantial benefits from programs that help employees balance their work and non-work lives. PepsiCo, for example, offers a “concierge service,” which maintains a dry cleaner, travel agency, convenience store, and fitness centre on the premises of its national office in Somers, New York.[13] Single employees seem to find these services helpful, but what they value most of all is control over their time. In particular, they want predictable schedules that allow them to plan social and personal activities. They don’t want employers assuming that being single means that they can change plans at the last minute. It’s often more difficult for singles to deal with last-minute changes because, unlike married coworkers, they don’t have the at-home support structure to handle such tasks as tending to elderly parents or caring for pets.

  1. Great Place to Work Institute. (2018). The Definition of A Great Workplace. Retrieved from: https://www.greatplacetowork.ca/en/about-us/trust-model
  2. Rohman, J. (2015). 15 Practice Areas Critical to Achieving a Great Workplace. Great Place to Work Institute.  Retrieved from: http://www.greatplacetowork.com/events-and-insights/blogs-and-news/3040-15-practice-areas-critical-to-achieving-a-great-workplace
  3. Kerka, S. (1995). The Changing Role of Support Staff. ERIC. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED378351
  4. Greenhaus, J., Collins, K.,  & Shaw, J. (2003). “The Relationship between Work-Family Balance and Quality of Life.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 63(3). p. 510–31.
  5. Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers. (2019). Retrieved from: http://www.canadastop100.com/family/
  6. Mediacorp Canada Inc. (2019). Retrieved from: https://content.eluta.ca/top-employer-kpmg
  7. WFC Resources. (n.d.). The Business Case for Telecommuting. Career/Life Alliances Services.
  8. Statistics Canada. Working from home, by type of worker [11-008-X, Chart 19.3 ]. Retrieved from: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/information/information02-eng.htm
  9. Yerema, R. & Leung, K. (2018). BASF Canada Inc: Recognized as one of Canada’s top 100 employers (2019). Retrieved from: https://content.eluta.ca/top-employer-basf-canada
  10. Yerema, R. & Leung, K. (2018). KPMG LLP: Recognized as one of Canada’s top 100 employers (2019). Retrieved from:  https://content.eluta.ca/top-employer-kpmg
  11. Collins, K., & Hoover, E. (1995). “Addressing the Needs of the Single Person in Public Accounting.” Pennsylvania CPA Journal. p. 16.
  12. Collins, K., & Killough, L. (1989). “Managing Stress in Public Accounting.” Journal of Accountancy 167 (5), p. 92.
  13. Withiam, G. (1993). American Concierges Set Service Standards. The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 34 (4) p. 26.


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