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Striking the right work/life balance: Building employers of choice

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Work/Life Balance Community Forum
Centre for the Arts
Cambridge, Ontario

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mayor Craig (Doug), thank you for the hearty Cambridge welcome and warm introduction…I've been to this city enough times to know that it truly is "a fine place to do business, a great place to call home." Cambridge is often described as a thriving city, a well-positioned city, a quality of life city and a vibrant, unique business/trade city - a vital member of the triangle. I couldn't agree more on all counts. And Cambridge is also a city that takes pride in its people and its future. The Mayor's leadership speaks volumes. Whether it's in part because of his teaching, public affairs, newspaper or public service background, (which includes some time on a daycare advisory committee), it's clear that the man who some of you will see at the Cambridge Mayor's Gala Dinner & Auction tomorrow night - an event that recognizes Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada as the first recipient of the Mayor's Community Award (with proceeds supporting child and youth programs) - is a Cambridge man who gets it.

It's equally clear that the same Mayor who will be hosting the 12th annual Mayor's Award for Excellence in Workforce Training & Development on May 16th understands that in "today's competitive business environment, sound, strategic workforce training and development simply makes good business sense. Organizations are benefiting from the long-term value provided by a well-trained and forward-thinking workforce. Training and development enhances a company's competitive advantage, improves efficiency and directly influences employee goodwill." In recognizing workplace leaders, Cambridge is emphasizing the role that learning plays in driving this city's innovative growth and economic prosperity. And the City is also emphasizing the importance of work/life issues in business and in the community. We know the Mayor and the City of Cambridge gets it. So does the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries.

As most of you know, the Council engages community residents, human service organizations, governments, business and investors in its varied work. From independent, community-based research and planning, to groups such as the Cambridge Action on Homelessness, Work-Life Balance, Employment Facilitation of Cambridge and North Dumfries and the North Dumfries Community Development Network, this Council is nothing less than leadership in action. Linda Terry and her team are evidence of that - as both Nora Spinks and I are here today because of the Council's determination to place work/life balance issues on the front burner.

We're in Cambridge to talk about the value of work/life balance and to engage all of you in thinking, dialogue and action. Work/life balance is "an issue in Canada because of the significant changes taking place in multiple dimensions. Global economic change, new technology and the shift to the knowledge-based economy, coupled with population aging, are creating labour shortages right here and in many countries around the globe. The nature of work, the organization of work, and employment relationships are all changing. There are (also) a large number of social and institutional changes taking place in Canada affecting families (for instance, there are many more dual-earner and single parent families, affecting employees' needs in the work place). Employers (and some employees) are seeking more employment flexibility. Changes to the composition of the workforce and to work structures are resulting in greater work-related stress, due to increased workload, non-standard hours and job insecurity. Work-related stress and work-life conflict are a growing concern for employees and employers who are experiencing increased benefit costs, absenteeism and productivity losses. The workplace is where there is a convergence of the major changes in Canadian society and the economy." (From The Changing Face of Canadian Workplaces, Government of Canada - Department of Human Resources and Skills Development). And striking the right work/life balance is also about building employers of choice.

Since I have the pleasure of sharing this podium with a woman who is the epitome of leadership in action and a good friend of RBC, I'm taking the liberty of quoting Nora Spinks, without stealing her thunder. Nora has often said: "unless there are "teeth" to work/life strategies, they are only a piece of paper." She couldn't be more right on the mark. In developing work/life balance strategies, we must remember to "clearly articulate roles and responsibilities and identify accountability measures." Clarity usually builds for success…

As RBC Financial Group's CEO, Gord Nixon confirms, "We believe that our success as a company is intrinsically connected to the economic and social well-being of our community and our country. Behaving in a socially responsible manner is not just something we want to do. It's something we know we must do as an essential part of our relationships with our customers/stakeholders and as a strategic investment in the future prosperity of a civic society… we believe that by contributing our funds, our network, our leadership and, most importantly, by encouraging and celebrating the involvement of our people, we can make a difference in helping to build a strong, healthy society". Being socially responsible starts right in our own backyard, where supporting our people makes the difference in promoting and sustaining a healthy workplace and healthy communities. RBC is strongly committed to investing in our people…not only by offering competitive compensation and benefits - but by investing in learning and education - by fostering a work environment that values communication - and by supporting diversity as well as work/life solutions.

At RBC, work/life is a formal series of policies, programs, resources and benefits for our employees, designed to help people manage work, family and personal responsibilities over a lifetime, while meeting and supporting business objectives and strategies. Establishing work priorities within our broader life framework is a partnership between RBC and employees. We also continue to develop innovative ways of looking at where, when and how work is done - offering choices and customized work accommodation options as well as introducing workload management solutions. RBC is in the business of building business…and it begins with the way we care for and treat our people. People are our most valuable asset. Technology and financial products/services can be copied, bank rates can be matched… and the list goes on. So what's left? The one sustainable advantage is what's left - the best people in the business. To secure and manage the "top talent" on our team and your teams, not to mention be an "employer of choice", we must all be creative/flexible in our approaches.

Work/life helps RBC respond to the ever-changing nature of the workforce/workplace, recruit and retain employees, increase individual and organizational performance, leverage diversity, reduce stress and short-term absenteeism, as well as gain a competitive advantage. Work/life continues to have a strong tie to diversity, which is why it's a high priority on the agenda of RBC's Diversity Leadership Council, a Council composed of senior executives from all businesses in Canada/United States and chaired by Gord Nixon. We're now operating in the most diverse marketplace, with the most diverse workforce we've ever seen. The most successful organizations will be those that best adapt to the current reality - that re-shape their cultures - that plan for the future today. The replacement cost of "top talent" is huge… just consider this: "Canadians who have a hard time juggling work/life are costing employers at least $2.7 billion a year in lost time due to stress, medical leaves/health care costs, absenteeism, lost productivity."

More research tells the story… an AON Consulting Canada work-study, in partnership with RBC, resulted in some of the following findings:

  • "Acknowledgment of people's needs outside of work is the key driver to employee commitment - outranking compensation, benefits, training, job growth; acknowledgement costs companies almost nothing and the payback can be enormous in terms of improved employee morale;
  • Employers who help workers manage work and personal needs will not only retain more of their workforce but also attract new recruits looking for companies with a "people first agenda," such as progressive work/life initiatives and pay-for-performance incentives."

A 2002 RBC survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid, "showed how information technology and the Internet shapes Canadian family life, and helps families and small business owners better balance the new demands and opportunities of home and work life. The survey also demonstrated that the PC and the Internet are redefining how Canadians approach many aspects of their lives. More than ever, people can work at home in a fashion that replicates the office. More time working and less commuting time means more time with the family. The tangible benefits of telecommuting are many: 77% say it increases job satisfaction - 72% say it allows more time with the family and 58% say it permits more convenient child care arrangements."

On February 2, 2005, the Jeune Chambre de commerce de Montréal (JCCM) unveiled a new position paper, which proposes measures to create a better work-life balance. "The Jeune Chambre de commerce de Montréal believes it must contribute to this debate. It's essential that they (governments and business) understand and react to the needs of the next generation, and that all those who are involved take responsibility for reaching this balance." From more flex time, daycare hours and telecommuting (better time management), to increased information/accessibility, not to mention, the support of non-conventional work styles, such as self-employment (for example, "family savings plans to ensure long-term financial stability"), young professionals are speaking up and speaking out about work/life balance priorities.

Research of Canadian law firms "shows that work life balance is now an issue for both male and female lawyers. A new study released on March 16 by Catalyst Canada (based on a survey of more than 1400 lawyers across the country), presents a strong business case for flexibility in law firms. The study, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Building the Business Case for Flexibility, demonstrates that losing legal talent because work life balance issues in firms are not being addressed can cost millions of dollars a year."

"There is of course the odd company that is spoken of in hushed, awed tones by workplace-family experts. Husky Injection Molding Systems of Bolton, Ontario, is one such company. Founder Robert Schad receives kudos for his progressive employment practices and his work with environmental groups. Campus life offers fitness and wellness facilities, a child development centre, subsidized cafeterias, a commitment to recycling, and natural landscaping. Staff have at least diplomas, but usually degrees, in early childhood education, and there is far more staff than what the law demands."

As for RBC, our work/life solutions have come a long way since we launched the original Work and Family program in 1990. We've gone from being reactive and active, to proactive and now interactive. We also developed an Intranet web site for staff that outlines work/life components and how our people can benefit from the variety of programs.

Here are some examples of our work/life tools and choices offered across the country - and of course right here in Cambridge - solutions that help us invest in our people and build healthier workplaces and communities:

Flexible Work Arrangements. We experiment with various work arrangements where it's in the interest of employees, the organization and our clients. We provide ongoing professional development and career opportunities to those employees who choose to pursue flexible work options. Some options include: reduced hours, job sharing, flex-time, modified work week, flexi-place (working off-site, from home or a satellite office) and phased retirement.

With more than 1000 job-shares across the country, we're finding that our teams tend to be very productive. In many cases, customers also tell us they're receiving better service because two people are familiar with their account/business.

Wellness. A diverse range of employee health service resources and information is available to our people, including access to health and safety committees and the RBC EmployeeCare Program…employees can gain information/support on a number of health and wellness related topics via telephone, e-mail, online and one-on-one meetings.

Dependent Care. The RBC EmployeeCare Program, our combined employee assistance and work/life support services, provides up-to-date, expert information and support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to help employees deal with various life issues such as parenting and quality child care, resources for seniors - eldercare, disability and accessibility. Professional consultants provide confidential, personalized telephone consultations, individualized searches as well as referrals and educational materials.

Child Care. "As part of our ongoing commitment to create work/life options that support employees in meeting their diverse needs we piloted in 2004 an Emergency Backup Childcare program for staff in the downtown Toronto area. Designed to respond to the needs of employees whose regular child care provider is ill/not available, their usual child care site is closed, or their child's school is closed due to bad weather, RBC sponsored free coverage for up to 5 days of a licensed child care provider close to the office. Over 200 employees accessed the service, with 38% of this group purchasing additional coverage directly from the service provider. Based on the positive response from employees, we plan to continue offering some version of this program in 2005."

Needless to say, I've only mentioned some RBC initiatives today. If you're interested in finding out more about our work/life solutions, please check out the web site,, then click on the Unique Careers link followed by the Diversity link. Members of the RBC team can also tell you what work/life means to them. Peter Nickerson, who many of you know as our team leader for small business in this region, can speak to many successes in Cambridge and the surrounding area. From promoting job sharing, to flex time and volunteer activities, Peter is another example of leadership in action. He can tell you how some employees feel about the opportunity of coming into work, picking up a child later in the day and returning to the office - accommodating work/life situations on a one-by-one basis. He can also tell you about the group of 9 in Cambridge that delivers Meals on Wheels during lunch hours - and that RBC encourages extra time to do so - to support volunteer activity in the community.

From the beginning, we knew that the success of work/life depended on how well it was developed, communicated, managed and measured. Nothing has changed on this score. Although we know that on any given day, approximately 30%-40% of our employee population uses a component of our work/life solutions, we also know that employee/management buy-in, effective communication and changing economic times, as well as shifts in values and work expectations are ongoing challenges.

We don't pretend to have all the answers, however we subscribe to continuous learning and improvement. Visible senior leadership and supportive managers are essential, as well as employee ownership of the tools at their disposal. Creating solutions where everyone wins - the employee, the employer - the customer, the shareholder - the community…this is the total reward.

Work/life is an investment in human capital - a long-term commitment - and it's here to stay. However, we need to consistently monitor programs (using measurement tools) to ensure objectives are being met. We're also watching what other companies are doing, sharing ideas and considering/piloting innovative programs of our own. I'm sure there are many success stories and promising practices in this room…

RBC Financial Group is committed to staying on the cutting edge of trends in the workplace. Partnering with leading Canadian survey/research companies and academia has a two-fold result. RBC has access to the information we need to remain leaders in people management and we also contribute to the body of workplace knowledge - assisting other companies and organizations in nurturing the Canadian healthy workplace/workforce - today and in the future. There's still much to be accomplished on RBC's work/life journey…

Special thanks to Linda, Dina Etmanskie and Wendy Adema for helping to coordinate this event. I want to close with an excerpt of an article entitled, "Employers ease staff childcare emergencies", that appeared in the February 9th edition of the Globe and Mail, by Wallace Immen…and a quote from a popular former CEO in the States…

"…the most chilling moment of her 11-year professional career came late on a Sunday night last September, when her nanny called in sick just hours before (she) had to chair a make-or-break meeting about a multimillion-dollar deal. Calling off the crucial Monday morning meeting to stay home because she had nobody else to look after her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter would have been a career killer." As she said, "I was the original link in the deal and I had to be there. To bail out at the last minute would make it look like I wasn't organized professionally." "Fortunately, (she) didn't have to make such a choice, thanks to an initiative by her employer to help staff handle such child care emergencies. (She) was able to drop off her kids at a centre in the heart of Toronto's financial district on her way to the meeting, which, she says, ended up going extremely well." This is a story about RBC's own Kate Stothers, who sums it up well: "Having a family makes balancing a career more difficult, but having an employer that understands makes it so much easier… it's comforting to know you don't have to worry if your normal plan falls through."

Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises from 1959-1994, had his own take on work/life balance. It goes like this: "Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them - work, family, health, friends, and spirit - and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls - family, health, friends, and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same." Lesson learned: We must all strike the right work/life balance - as employees and as employers of choice. And yes, we must keep on juggling, with great humanity and a little humour to boot…

Thank you… by the way, both Nora and I will field questions after her presentation - we really want to hear from all of you!