Workplace revolution

From today's The Province, p. 41
By Tony Wanless
Business Reporter

It's a Thursday morning and Peggy Porsnuk is about to go to work.

First, she feeds her five-month-old baby, Courtenay.

Then she sits down at a computer and starts working -- at home.

Porsnuk, a senior public affairs officer with British Columbia Automobile Association, splits her work week between home and the office.

It's an arrangement she worked out with her employer in order to keep her job and at the same time look after her baby.

Courtenay isn't aware of it, but she and her mother are on the cutting edge of a trend that's rapidly spreading in B.C. businesses.

Faced with a looming shortage of skilled workers, the companies are quietly developing programs to serve their workers in an effort to keep them.

Tagged with techno-speak names like the "family-friendly workplace" or the "value-added workplace," the trend involves a shift in management thinking from the old-style attitude that workers should come in and do their jobs, period, to a belief that a company had better keep its employees happy -- or lose them.

The driving force for this change in thinking is an impending shortage of skilled workers and a different value system emerging among workers no longer satisfied with just a paycheque, human resource consultants say.

The worker shortage is not exactly news to many companies, but the change in management thinking is. Last summer the Conference Board of Canada predicted an increase in company services to workers because of the shrinking labor pool.

The influx of women into the work world has peaked, and there is a dearth of young people expected to join the workforce in the '90s, said the board's Judith MacBride-King during a seminar on child care.

The shortage means employers are being forced to consider a dizzying array of employee benefits, ranging from the traditional better pay and pensions to innovative offerings like better training, career guidance, fitness programs, flexible working hours, daycare facilities, commuting help and more.

Some of these benefits have already become standard.

A recent conference board study of Canadian companies, for example, showed flexible working hours were common, and part-time work or job sharing arrangements were increasing.

"The focus has changed," explained Trevor Boggie, president of the international division for Priority Management Systems Inc., a Vancouver management consultant. "The shrinking labor pool means if a company is going to be competitive, it's going to have to offer things to employees.

"Values are changing. Families are becoming more important to workers than money.

"They're now looking for careers that offer a balance between work and their private lives. They want things like flexible hours, quality work, and to get away from work on time."

At BCAA, the new thinking has taken root. The company, recognizing that as a service operation, its employees were its most valuable asset, has embarked on a program aimed at making it one of the top employers in B.C.

The program involves a variety of worker services such as involvement in company decision-making, flexible work hours, involvement in workspace design, job-related and personal training, child care and fitness availability.

It has even extended a management opportunity to join BCAA travel tours to all employees.

"The kind of people we want are wanted by other companies too," said L. Gary Neilly, BCAA vice-president of administration and corproate affairs. "It's our wish to have a waiting list of people who want to work here. We'd like it if our employees can tell someone where they work and be considered lucky for it."

For Peggy Porsnuk and Courtenay, the new management attitude has worked out just fine.

"I wanted to spend time with Courtenay, but continue working," she explained. "Now it really has made all the difference for me. I find work less stressful, and I'm more productive because I'm more focused when I do work."

Go Back to Shy David's Feminism Page.