Benefits: What do employees in Québec want?

Competitive wages, competitive benefits, and work-life balance... How does an employer meet these criteria to attract and retain talent?

By Fonds de solidarité FTQ

You've heard about it in the news and have likely seen the effects in your industry or your own company—the job market in Québec is changing. Due to the labour shortage, retiring baby boomers, and job-hopping millennials, companies are being forced to adapt to a new reality and new employee expectations.

A number of studies show that employees in Québec want to feel happy and fulfilled at work. What's more, experts agree that happier employees are more productive, absent less often, and more committed. But what exactly makes employees happy? Obviously, salary is king, but benefits, incentives, and work environment can make all the difference. Here's how.

Well-being at work

According to the HR firm BRIO (French only), attracting new candidates and retaining employees comes down to work conditions and environment, compensation, flexible hours, group insurance, vacation time, clear internal policies, and a people-first management style. These are the essential ingredients to improving a business's employer brand and boosting employee happiness at work.

What makes your employees happy?

Happiness is a difficult concept for an employer to quantify and address. According to Kolegz president and founder Marianne Lemay: "In 2019, the focus has been on employee well-being. Happiness is a bit utopian—it's something you strive for, but it can be hard for a company to control everything to make its employees happy." So where do you begin? With the human and relationship side of things. BRIO sums up the situation: although perks at work have a positive effect on employees, they will not be the source of their well-being. Things like free coffee and fresh fruit each week are certainly appreciated, but "after a certain level of wages and benefits, happiness is no longer affected by these perks, and other criteria come into play."

Employees need to feel recognized and appreciated by their team and employer. They also want to excel and realize their full potential in their work. "People want to make an impact, and we're seeing more and more of this with the younger generations—they want to be part of something bigger than themselves," says Lemay. This can involve contributing to the company or to society. Either way, give your employees the opportunity to be heard and ask them what they want directly. "The smaller the business, the easier it is to engage people," says Lemay. 

Physical, psychological, and financial well-being

Now more than ever, you play a role in your employees' well-being. In 2017, the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés (CRHA) surveyed workers about health and wellness in the workplace. The CROP-CRHA survey results (French only) confirm that a majority of workers in Québec feel it's important for employers to take steps to promote the health and well-being of their employees.

As for the Leger Happiness Index, it uses six significant criteria to calculate workplace happiness:

  1. Self-realization
  2. Work relationships
  3. Recognition
  4. Accountability
  5. Money
  6. Sense of belonging

All companies can work on these factors with their employees to actively participate in their well-being.

Salary and benefits

Employees in today's job market also expect to be wooed and taken care of, which was not necessarily the case a few years ago. This change means companies need to adapt. As a result, SMEs are becoming more creative, flexible, and open in terms of offering competitive benefits to their employees. This creates greater competition with big companies that are drawing from the same pool of workers. In Marianne Lemay's experience, "Big companies used to be able to rely on their reputation to attract candidates. But that isn't enough today, when smaller companies can offer their employees more."

In an employees' market, you need to offer your top candidates working conditions and positions that will appeal to them on different levels, no matter the size of your business.

Do more with less

That said, not all companies can give their employees competitive wages or big salary bumps. If that's the case for you, there are other options. It can be advantageous, cost-effective, and easy to offer your employees a group savings plan, which would help them adopt responsible financial habits and achieve their life goals. If your financial resources are limited, this kind of plan lets you give them a bonus in the form of an RRSP contribution.

The RRSP+ through payroll deduction, a win-win solution

It's even more advantageous for you and your employees if you contribute to their RRSP+ through payroll deduction from the Fonds. Your contributions are not subject to employer payroll taxes, and employees can benefit from an additional 30 percent tax credit.1 You can also set up an RRSP+ at your company without contributing to it for your employees.

This payroll tax exemption also applies to employee bonuses in the form of an occasional lump-sum contribution to their RRSP+. In concrete terms, a bonus that costs you $500 turns into $650 for your employee thanks to the additional 30 percent tax credit.1

Benefits, perks, and incentives

Although salary is still the cornerstone of any offer to attract new candidates and retain employees, some benefits can make a difference and give you a leg up on the competition. According to the firm Robert Half, there are benefits (e.g., group insurance and pension plans), perks (e.g., telecommuting, workplace wellness programs), and incentives (e.g., bonuses, profit-sharing plans) you can offer to meet the needs and expectations of your teams.

According to the firm's 2020 Salary Guide, the most common company benefits to date are health insurance (81 percent), paid vacation (76 percent), retirement savings plan (65 percent), and vision care insurance (63 percent). The study also shows that employees are increasingly asking for benefits that will improve their physical, mental, and financial wellness.

Since only 65 percent of companies offer retirement plans to their employees, setting up a group savings plan at your company will help you stand out and provide a significant competitive advantage to your employees. It also lets them know that you take their mental and financial well-being to heart. Considérant qu'il est difficile de mettre de l'argent de côté pour les travailleurs qui n'ont pas accès à un régime d'épargne-retraite collectif, vous vous positionnez comme un allié dans leur épargne personnelle. Considering that  it is much more difficult for  employees who do not have access to a retirement savings plan through their employer  to save, you will be positioning yourself as a true ally with respect to their personal savings.

The essentials: Trust, flexibility, and transparency

Employees expect companies to be transparent in terms of their identity, their values, and the challenges they face, without glossing over the facts. According to Lemay, employees are interested in realistic and transparent companies. This is exactly what 29-year-old Louisa is looking for in an employer: "I want trust and transparency—that's what matters most to me. If you hire me, I hope it's because you believe in my abilities, my skills, and my value. If I choose you, it's for the same reasons. There's a two-way relationship we need to establish and maintain."

Work-life balance

Another major change in the labour market is the shift from work-family balance to work-life balance. As such, as recommended by a special committee of the Ordre des CRHA, all employees, whether they are parents or not, are included in the viewpoint that "[all employees] need balance in their lives, whether that means taking a course, volunteering, taking a year off, or simply participating in their social activities."

This shift dovetails with another major trend: flexibility. Whether through remote work, self-scheduling, or more days off, what employees want more often than not is the option to manage their own time to achieve a better work-life balance. And what's great for companies is that, when done right, flexibility is an inexpensive perk. This is what Marianne Lemay is advocating for when she says that "SMEs often throw up their hands, saying that they don't have enough money to implement new measures, while big companies claim their structure is too complex. You just have to adapt to your reality."

For Louisa, flexibility is a perk that implies that, as an employee, she must be accountable, and that's very important to her. "It's a sign of trust when an employer says: get here whenever you want, work from wherever you want, as long as you get results and you're completely transparent when it comes to your schedule and your projects."

The importance of good communication

"Things differ from one sector to another, but there's no company where communication is perfect," says Lemay. "You have to educate employees, take the time to fully explain all the benefits and incentives, and, above all, give them all the tools they need to make their lives easier." This is particularly important given that some benefits can be harder for employees to understand and use. For instance, Louisa finds taxable benefits tough to grasp, especially in relation to her pay stub deductions. She also has trouble understanding her employer's group RRSP.

"I'm automatically lost when it comes to anything that involves even a minimum knowledge of finance," says Louisa. With this in mind, consider making resources and tools available to your employees, at all times and in a clear manner, through an official document, information sessions, or intranet links. Make sure they know you're there to answer their questions.

To help your employees get the most from what you are offering, it's vital that you explain the benefits they're entitled to and, above all, the impact these benefits will have on their salary and well-being. In Québec, personal savings are often seen as a burden rather than a benefit. Be an ally to your employees by helping them plan for their life goals, retirement, and financial wellness.

In all instances, remember that the costs, time, and resources required to make your employees happier should be viewed an investment in your company, a competitive advantage for your employees, and a major draw for candidates.

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    The acquisition of shares of the Fonds de solidarité FTQ may give rise to labour-sponsored fund tax credits. The tax credits amount to 30%, namely 15% at the Quebec level and 15% at the federal level, and are limited to $1,500 per fiscal year, which represents a $5,000 purchase of shares of the Fonds de solidarité FTQ. On March 1, 2024, The Government of Québec announced in Information Bulletin 2024-3 that tax legislation would be amended to postpone by three years the rule providing that the tax credit would be available only to individuals whose taxable income for a given taxation year was below the highest tax rate. Please note that this postponement may be subject to legislative changes.

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