The pandemic has given more power to Montréal's workers
In the age of remote work, employers must adapt to having less leverage than before
Montréal has always been one of the country's most attractive places to live, and employers have had a relatively easy time attracting talent to the city as a result. Now, travel restrictions and the availability of remote work are starting to change that reality -- and Montréal's top employers sat up and took notice.
The best companies have adapted in a variety of ways, most notably by offering a greater level of remote work themselves.
The Montréal's Top Employers competition shows that in the struggle for employees, the most successful companies found ways to maintain efficiency while transitioning to a remote or hybrid work model. Among the city's top employers, there is a trend toward not just better compensation, but a better work-life balance overall.
Live in Montréal, work anywhere
"Prior to the pandemic, the Montréal region presented one of the more attractive job markets in the country," Kristina Leung, senior editor for the Montréal's Top Employers competition explains.
Now, however, remote work has made jobs outside Montréal more available to residents than ever before. Employers seem to be looking for ways to differentiate themselves to workers who consider applying for jobs outside the city — and that number of employees is going up.
Mark Olivier, senior director of corporate talent at Air Canada, says that his company has been forced to adapt quickly, not just to pandemic conditions, but changing perceptions among applicants. "It's a different situation right now," he says. "Job seekers are saying, 'Oh I don't have to live in Montréal.' That's made a big difference."
Olivier believes that the future for Montréal employers is to lean into creative benefits that create real worker loyalty and to reinvest in the local community in terms of experience and education initiatives.
For older and larger companies, the issue has evolved over generations; complete solutions could very well end up rolling out over generations, too.
Remote work is the new normal
The pandemic has introduced the necessity of remote work, but most companies agree that as pandemic restrictions ease, remote working won't necessarily leave with them.
Chantal Teasdale, human resources director at Fromageries Bel Canada, says her company knows that it needs to "adapt (its) hiring practices and offer a hybrid work model to potential candidates." Still, they also need to be aware that some people are also looking to reconnect. According to Teasdale, "Offering this kind of culture could help prevent Montréal residents from looking for jobs outside Montréal."
That's the incentive for many companies, though it's too early to see which of them has the best path to success. Leung says that, "I think the impacts of the pandemic and government responses have varied somewhat and presented unique local challenges for all residents and businesses, and I suspect we'll be debating what worked and what did not work for some time."
Creative benefits are the answer to hiring woes
The common thread that runs through the policies among 2022's top employers is clear: a focus on benefits that go beyond compensation alone that also provides what their workforce wants during uncertain times.
Teasdale says that "We launched several CSR initiatives and wellness programs in 2021 that could be done remotely to keep people engaged and interested in the company mission... We also offered a lot of development options such as e-learnings to keep people motivated and to enable them to learn new skills."
It turns out that, facing real difficulties that can be eased with meaningful support from an employer. Montréal's workers show loyalty to companies that show loyalty to them. That means that even as their coworkers move physically away from Montréal and other densely populated work hubs, they stay on as a company's best, most experienced employees.
In the past year, what helped companies retain talent in Montréal was a recognition that the most talented applicants and workers are often the ones most likely to leave for greener pastures. In Montréal, the best employers have realized that, to retain such employees, the solution is to place more emphasis on worker happiness in their workplace policies and practices.
From the official magazine announcing Montréal's Top Employers (2022), co-published with the Montreal Gazette on February 15, 2022. All rights reserved.
Top employers go all out to retain top Montréal talent
Higher salaries and creative benefits are becoming the minimum needed to attract top Montréal talent
With one of the most versatile labour markets in the country, Québec employers have always faced unique employment challenges but, two years into the pandemic, even its highly adaptable employers were forced to change and adapt. That rolling uncertainty in the market may be benefiting Montréal's workers as much as its big employers. It's a trend that can be seen by looking at some of the most popular and successful companies in the country.
Each year, the Canada's Top 100 Employers competition releases its picks for the best employers for most regions of the county, analyzing a range of factors to help applicants figure out which companies offer the best work environments. Now, 2022's Montréal ranking has arrived to highlight those employers that offer creative, competitive compensation and benefits packages even while dealing with the host of local and global difficulties the pandemic has brought.
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 -- all of which were pushed forward by a healthy level of competition between public- and private-sector employers.
"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."
When the going gets tough, the tough get creative
In a tough job market, employees can often suffer from 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 worker-focused 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.
Sarah Hanel, senior director of global corporate communications at OneSpan, a security-focused software developer, says that "like all Montréal-based employers, OneSpan has had to integrate greater levels of remote work." She believes that as a globally-focused tech company, the company is perfectly placed to navigate the remote work revolution. In Montréal, as in Canada at large, tech firms lead the way.
Remote work is changing Montréal's hiring advantage
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 little money down.
Many workers find Montréal to be an attractive region for its many lifestyle benefits, and that has always given the city's employers ample access to talent. Now, remote work is allowing companies based outside of the city to compete for workers who live in it -- and it's having a big impact.
Michael Chan, head of people and operations at Compulsion Games says, "When it comes to recruitment, geography is never the first factor that we look at. We focus on finding the right talent, and then evaluate whether remote work or relocation is possible." As the shift to more remote work becomes the norm, new corporate mentalities are developing to accommodate that new normal.
Yerema says that, living in one of the country's largest urban regions, "Montréalers benefit from a healthy mix of industry and opportunities, and most recently the metropolitan area has become home to a thriving high-tech sector." That tech sector has helped Montréal adapt quickly to the pandemic, since many already had alternative working policies in place.
Yerema believes that "as with many large urban regions, Montréal's job market has been well-suited to adapt to the changing nature of work."
What makes the best the best?
It seems that 2022 was the year in which it became impossible to ignore that building and maintaining strong teams in Montréal comes down to being the best place to work.
Benjamin Fouchard, communications coordinator at the Laurentian Pilotage Authority, says that not only has his company gone to a full telecommuting model since COVID-19, but that it has also implemented flexible work scheduling and even reduced hours during the summer.
The best employers derive their 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 compensation alone, for instance, while older workers with children might prioritize extra flex time.
Put simply, there is no one set of benefits that today's employees want; what they want is an employer 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."
In the end, Québec's fortunes are Montréal's fortunes
With a strong economy across Québec, this year's Montréal's Top Employers owe much to the rising economic fortunes that have resumed in the province even as the pandemic enters its third year.
There was no one formula for success in the Québec business world in the past year, but an emphasis on employee experience was a component of every strategy that found meaningful success. By making an effort to offer unique and above all well-targeted benefits for employees, this year's Montréal winners were able to stand out from the crowd to retain the best talent on the market.
In a world where salary alone varies little across employers, it's these non-monetary differentiators that will determine where the best talent goes, and where it stays for more than just a while.