Pay­offs of perks far out­weigh costs

Smaller firms that can’t com­pete on salary need to make work ‘fun and in­spir­ing’ to re­tain top tal­ent

Ottawa Business Journal - - SMALL BUSINESS WEEK -

What is the cost of los­ing a good em­ployee? En­trepreneurs know it can be high. At Frima Stu­dio, a fast-grow­ing video game maker based in Que­bec City, the chal­lenge of at­tract­ing and keep­ing tal­ent got harder five years ago, when a pair of deep-pock­eted multi­na­tional com­peti­tors opened of­fices nearby.

“We couldn’t com­pete on salary, so we de­cided to cre­ate an at­trac­tive work­place – one that was fun and in­spir­ing,” says Nathalie McLaugh­lin, Frima’s hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor.

Twice a year, Frima em­u­lates the Dragons’ Den TV show and in­vites its em­ploy­ees to pitch in­no­va­tive projects to a panel of judges.

“If we judge a project to be solid enough and to have suf­fi­cient mar­ket­ing po­ten­tial, we will re­lease its cre­ators from a few of their usual tasks so that they can de­vote one day a week to the de­vel­op­ment of their amaz­ing idea. A few months later, we re­view the state of the project and de­cide if it’s worth pur­su­ing, in which case we green­light its pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing. This pro­gram is al­ready start­ing to yield im­pres­sive re­sults,” ex­plains Ms. McLaugh­lin.

The ar­ray of ben­e­fits de­signed to make Frima’s em­ploy­ees’ lives eas­ier in­cludes flex­i­ble work hours, as well as a week of paid va­ca­tion time be­tween the 25th of De­cem­ber and the New Year. The company of­fers em­ploy­ees gaming ar­eas and an on-site gym. Twice a month, two mas­sage ther­a­pists and a hair stylist also drop by.

Frima isn’t alone in turn­ing to cre­ative ways to pro­vide em­ploy­ees with non­mon­e­tary re­wards.

“Com­pa­nies in all in­dus­tries – not just high-tech – in­creas­ingly see non-fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion as vi­tal to their growth,” says Nathalie Géli­nas, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent, con­sult­ing, at the Business De­vel­op­ment Bank of Canada.

In to­day’s chal­leng­ing econ­omy, it’s harder than ever for many en­trepreneurs to find the re­sources to draw in and re­tain skilled em­ploy­ees, she adds. At the same time, boomers are quit­ting the labour mar­ket, lead­ing to labour short­ages in many fields. This means busi­nesses are in­creas­ingly com­pet­ing for good work­ers, but they have less money to do it with.

The good news: non-fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits can be in­ex­pen­sive and can even boost a company’s pro­duc­tiv­ity, Ms. Géli­nas says.

“The cost is a lot smaller than what the em­ployer gets back. Los­ing an em­ployee is very costly. Hu­man cap­i­tal is the most im­por­tant re­source a business has,” she says. “The ul­ti­mate chal­lenge is to

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