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In the RBC #AsktheExpert series, we call on experts to answer important questions about your business — from staffing and taxes to marketing and digital transformation. Offering valuable insights, they can help you navigate through constant change and give you tools to help your business thrive.

In this article, we ask HR experts to share their insights on how business owners can manage and support their employees in the midst of uncertainty.

Attracting and retaining staff

Q1: It’s hard to find new employees. What can I do to attract staff?

A recent ADP Canada Workplace Insights Survey revealed work-life balance and flexibility are top drivers for many job candidates when selecting an employer — eclipsing salary. “Company recruiters are leading with a work-life balance over salary and benefits to entice workers away from their current role. Equally important, more candidates are searching for purpose-driven organizations whose values align with their own and create a strong sense of belonging and meaning in the workplace,” says Thao Tran, Senior HR Business Advisor at ADP.

Joanne Acri, Co-founder, Junction Collective echoes Tran’s perspective. “The number one question from candidates at every level — even before salary — is about the return to the office policy,” she says. “Not one person is looking to go back to an office full-time in any capacity.”

Tran adds that this shift has brought a new sense of urgency to how companies acquire talent as many employers have chosen to curtail traditional recruiting strategies for a digital-first approach, based on consumer marketing tactics.

“In a digital world, the spotlight on an employer’s brand and the stories its employees share on social media can help companies outpace other employers in the competition to acquire the most promising candidates.” Employers can consider:

  • Enhancing employee referral programs
  • Accessing untapped talent such as retirees or students/new graduates using online recruitment tools like Magnet
  • Leveraging popular online job boards
  • Encouraging employees to review your company on popular online employer review sites
  • Exploring a campus recruitment strategy (for tips, listen to the special Effective Campus Recruiting episode of ADP’s Insights@work podcast).

Q2: How can I effectively onboard staff if they’re working remotely?

A: The events of the last two years have spurred businesses to place a greater focus on improving the onboarding process for both remote-location employees as well as workers in the traditional office environment.

“Successful employee onboarding requires the support of the whole team the new employee is joining — from hiring managers and employee peer groups to supervisors and company-level leaders. The faster the new hire can transition into a workplace, the sooner they can move from ‘new employee’ to an up-to-speed contributor,” says Tran.

Employee onboarding best practices continue to evolve. Some tips that can help you build an effective remote onboarding program include:

  • Ensuring leaders and staff welcome the new hire virtually (through an email, call, video, etc.)
  • Scheduling introductions with key contacts
  • Teaming the new hire with a peer “buddy”
  • Ensuring necessary resources and equipment are set up and accessible to the new hire
  • Frequent and ongoing communication with the manager, including daily or weekly check-ins
  • Remote team-building exercises
  • Acquiring feedback from the new hire on the onboarding process

For more tips, see the ADP webinar Employee Onboarding: Your Guide to Building Engagement, Strengthening Retention and Enjoying Bottom-Line Benefits.

Help make your business a safe and supportive environment

Q3: What are your tips to reduce the risks of infection in the workplace during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

“Employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to provide a safe and healthy work environment for employees,” says Tran. “Employers must ensure they follow applicable government measures, including with respect to public health, as well as all applicable employment standards and health and safety legislation.”

She outlines some measures employers should consider (and may be required to implement), including:

  • Performing regular deep cleaning of the premises in addition to frequent sanitization of the workplace
  • Conducting a workplace risk assessment, including consulting with their joint health and safety committee or representatives, and developing a safety plan
  • Implementing controls to address the spread of communicable and infectious diseases (for example allowing work from home or requiring masking and physical distancing in the workplace wherever possible)
  • Ensuring an adequate supply of cleaning material, personal protective equipment, and protective barriers where required
  • Training employees on workplace risks and measures to prevent the spread of communicable and infectious diseases, including public health and occupational health and safety guidelines, work methods and material handling
  • Implementing policies with respect to sickness reporting and leaves
  • Implementing health and wellness programs and practices

Q4: How can I support employees in the workplace with protocols that are easy to understand?

A: First and foremost, if you have an employee who is hesitant to come to work due to safety concerns, be empathetic to their anxieties and take them through all of the measures you’re putting in place to protect everyone who walks through your doors.

Being transparent and open about your protocols will be an important way to show you care about your employees’ health. “One piece of advice is to communicate more than ever, says Joanne Mason, RBC National Director. “[When it comes to cleaning], part of it is doing it, and part of it is communicating. Health and safety are really important — but if you’re not telling your customers and employees what you’re doing, they won’t necessarily know and have an appreciation for everything you’ve put in place to ensure their health and safety.”

Q5: How do I manage staff shortages when they are ill or self-isolating?

Staff shortages have unfortunately become common across businesses and industries, as employees stay home when ill or when required to self-isolate due to a COVID exposure.

Keep in mind that a staffing shortage is stressful for your employees who are currently working, as they could quickly become overwhelmed if you don’t adjust your operations somehow. It’s therefore essential to watch for signs of burnout when you’re understaffed.

“To relieve staffing challenges, employers can consider hiring temporary or seasonal workers or, perhaps, outsourcing certain jobs to independent contractors. Organizations may also look to re-distributing tasks, responsibilities and workload, job-sharing, cross-training, and upskilling,” says Tran.

Q6: How can I show my staff I really care about their health and safety?

A: Protecting the health and safety of your employees is likely your number one concern — and it’s important that they are aware of how much you value them. Tran offers the following advice:

In addition to demonstrating an employer’s commitment to its legal responsibilities, proactively communicating health and safety policies and procedures supports a commitment to providing a safe and healthy work environment for employees. It’s also important to ask for and, more importantly, respond to employee feedback on health and safety best practices; ideally in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or representative.

Wellness programs and options for flexibility can also help promote employee safety, health, and overall wellbeing. Employers may consider:

  • Remote and hybrid work options
  • Shift flexibility
  • Company sponsored wellness benefits (such as Employee Assistance Programs and virtual health services) as well as paid sick leave (which is now required or subsidised in several provinces and territories).


Employment considerations

Q7: What if I need to temporarily lay off staff? What are the steps involved and what rules should I be aware of?

A: “Prior to making the decision to temporarily lay off staff, an employer should review applicable employment standards in their province or territory (if they are not federally regulated), as well as their employment contracts (and/or collective agreements, if any) and consult with their legal counsel,” advises Tran.

“In many cases, an employer can only temporarily lay off employees, without risking constructive dismissal claims at common law, if it has an explicit contractual right, or if there is an implied right to lay off based upon past business or industry practice,” she adds.

Tran advises Ontario employers, for example, considering temporary layoffs should be prepared to take steps including the following:

  • Inform impacted employees of the layoff; there are specific rules under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”) about written notice.
    • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government has made temporary changes to certain ESA rules concerning layoffs that continue to be in effect until July 30, 2022. Employers will need to review if these changes affect their workplace.
  • Issue Records of Employment in respect of affected employees within required time limits.
  • Follow applicable ESA rules regarding recall.
  • If an employee remains laid off for a period longer than the maximum length of a temporary layoff, the employer is considered to have terminated the employee’s employment.
  • Typically, the employee will then be entitled to termination pay and any other rights they may have upon termination.

Q8: My business doesn’t work as well with everyone working from home. Can I mandate employees to work at the office?

A: When government COVID-19 pandemic measures allow, employers generally can require staff who usually work from an office location to return to the office. “However, employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment,” urges Tran. “Employers must ensure they follow government measures, including with respect to public health, and applicable laws, such as employment standards and health and safety legislation, when re-opening their workplace premises and allowing employees to return to the office.” She adds that best practices on transitioning from virtual to in-person work include giving employees as much notice as possible and to keep employer-employee communication flowing.

About Thao Tran:

A Senior HR Business Advisor at ADP, Thao Tran is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP/CRHA) and supports various HR disciplines (including talent acquisition, payroll, benefits, performance management and compliance). Thao is part of the ADP® HR AssistSM team, a one-stop shop to support the HR needs of small businesses. Using ADP HR Assist, small businesses can connect live with specialists such as Thao for HR tools, best practices, and compliance guidance, to help them manage, retain, and recruit their people — protecting their business for the future.

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