By Tracy Hanes

Corporate culture can play a pivotal role on staff recruitment and retention

When a sale is made on behalf of one of their builder/developer clients, a bell at TCS Marketing Systems in Toronto is rung to celebrate the team’s accomplishment. In summer, office staff at Reid’s Heritage Homes in Guelph start their weekends at 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and are paid for the full day. When two Dunpar Homes employees recently welcomed infants, a company-wide lunch was held to welcome the ‘Dunpar babies.’ At Ottawa-based Minto, workers have embraced an employee recognition program where they earn points towards goods and services. 

These are just a few components of corporate culture that have helped these companies successfully attract and retain workers. 

“Even without the labour shortage, corporate culture is the most effective business tool we can have,” says Jo-Ann Taylor, V.P. of Human Resources at the Minto Group. “With no people, there is no business. We want a culture where people feel motivated, want to be here, feel gratitude and appreciation. Corporate culture is at the heart of it.” 

When Ron McMillan joined Reid’s Heritage Homes as president three years ago, he was amazed at how easy it was to attract talent to the company, which has approximately 100 employees. “This is well known as a great place to work and has a reputation for treating people right,” McMillan says. “Talk to any recruiter in the business—it’s so easy to find people who want to work here.” 

And stay there. Several employees at Reid’s have had a lengthy tenure with the company, including one who just celebrated a 40-year award, another a 30-year and two 25-year honourees. 

Fair compensation is certainly important to any hires, says Taylor. Potential hires may also gravitate to companies that offer benefits and RRSP matching. However, Taylor says even if the compensation is great, employees won’t stay if the work culture is poor. 

During a career in the industry that spans more than 25 years, Mark Cohen, managing partner of TCS Marketing Systems, worked for powerhouse developers including Bramalea Ltd. and Concord Adex Developments, as well as family-run businesses Tribute Communities and Menkes Developments. That valuable insight into corporate culture has filtered down to his own business, a boutique firm with 20 people. 

“Bramalea was a remarkable place to work,” Cohen recalls. “It was a big company with 2,000 employees but with a small-company mentality. It was conveyed to us how important customers were, that they were to be viewed as people, not transactions.” 

Bramalea realized that valuing workers went hand-in-hand with valuing clients, Cohen notes. “The focus on people was extraordinary. I learned the importance of people and saw that successful people empower others.” 

 “The right people are your best asset,” agrees McMillan. “I think we’ve done a great job getting the right people in the right position. Culture filters down. We’ve really done a great job in getting superb leaders.”

The message must be supported by a company’s mission statement and business strategy. Reid’s, for example, cites its values as kindness, respect and compassion. TCS highlights a commitment to teamwork and compassion in its vision. Minto has what it calls its ESG commitment, with the pillars of environmental impact, community impact (social) and business resilience (governance). Each pillar covers a myriad of things the company does. Social, for example, covers employees and engagement with the community. 

Sustainable construction has long been among the core values at Minto, and Taylor says it has helped to attract employees. “I think this is especially important to the younger generation and is definitely part of what differentiates us.”

Here are some ways these companies and others have built a positive culture. 

Employer certifications/recognition

Minto, with 1,300 employees in Canada and the U.S. in home building and property management divisions plus trades, boasts Workhuman Certification, designating it as a company committed to providing an environment where its people are valued and their specific needs considered. Workhuman covers eight key areas: environmental and social stewardship, purpose-driven work, employee appreciation, work-life harmony, inclusive culture of diversity, fair pay, psychological safety and privacy.

“That certification differentiates us as an employer,” says Taylor. “Many companies look at recognitions such as Top 100 Employers, but that looks more at the operational side, such as how much pension contribution they make, when benefits kick in, etc. That doesn’t address the culture side, which is everything, and how you make a workplace human-centric.”

Mattamy Homes recently was named as one of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers for the fourth year in a row in a competition open to any employer of any size with a head office or principal place of business in the GTA. Top Employers competitions (regional and national) are run by Mediacorp Canada Inc., publisher of employment periodicals. Winners are selected on criteria such as work atmosphere, benefits and training/skills development. Among the reasons for Mattamy’s selection were its support for new parents, with maternity and parental leave top-up payments (and the option to extend leave into an unpaid leave of absence) and an employee homeownership program that offers a cash payment of up to 4.5% (up to $40,000) for the purchase of a company-built home. 

Reid’s Heritage Homes, meanwhile, was named one of Canada’s Top Small and Medium Employers 2021 in a competition also run by Mediacorp. 

Rewards and recognition for employees

Minto has an annual bonus plan tied to its long-term goals. Taylor says bonuses often only go to executives, but at Minto “every single employee participates. It’s one way to ensure what people need to be focusing on.” 

Although TCS has just 20 employees, it offers financial incentives to its staff for jobs well done. “They understand it’s a partnership for all of us,” says Cohen. “A number of people are rewarded when something happens; not just those in the sales centre. If we can overachieve, we share the wealth.”

Companies with positive cultures also recognize employee service milestones. Reid’s Heritage provides perks such as an extra week of holidays or monetary rewards for long-term workers (from five years and up, in five-year increments). Minto’s long-term employees of 10 years (and then in five-year increments afterward) are treated to a celebratory lunch with the leadership team and the Greenberg family, Minto’s founders and owners. Their longest-standing employee, Dennis McTavish, was honoured for 45 years of service last fall.

Through Minto’s BRAVO! program, employees and managers can nominate individuals or teams for recognition. The levels range from High Five to Standing Ovation (higher levels need manager and vice-president approval), and nominees received points they can collect and redeem for gift cards, electronics, travel, etc. The program has been very successful since it was launched in 2016, with more than 80% of employees receiving recognition. Those with the most BRAVO! points at the end of the year are nominated for the annual Greenberg Awards, which are tied into the core values of achievement, courage, innovation and partnership.

Events and team-building 

While many firms typically hold annual summer barbecues and Christmas parties, the special ones go beyond that to keep employees engaged with each other and management. Cohen recently hosted his entire staff at his cottage for a ‘Fun in the Sun Day’ of socializing and relaxing. 

Dunpar Homes, with about 50 employees, holds team-building events on a regular basis, with escape rooms, paint nights and axe-throwing, to name a few. “We believe in hard work, but it’s important to get together outside of work to have some fun and enjoy each other’s company,” says Jennifer Bahk, V.P. of Accounting for Dunpar Homes and the John Zanini Foundation, founded by Dunpar’s president. 

During the early days of the pandemic when many were working from home, Tridel employees from all departments participated in virtual monthly trivia. And as construction site workers were deemed essential and had to stay on the job, the Tridel Take Action team partnered with Feed the Frontlines TO to deliver lunches to those employees.

Reid’s Heritage, for its part, holds bi-weekly meetings in a big, open, comfortable space, where members of different teams—e.g. warranty and development—get together to introduce each other and talk about their roles. Such cross-department interaction is a tenet of the company. Its office workers can also sign up for a bi-weekly site tour to view progress on new builds and to talk with the workers there. “It’s always a challenge to connect the office to the site, but the tours bring everyone together,” McMillan says. “The worst thing in any company is to have silos.”

Inclusion, diversity and engagement

Listening to employee feedback—and acting upon it—is paramount to corporate culture, our experts say. Workplaces that are inclusive and diverse, some with employee committees devoted to promoting those goals, are par for the course.

Minto has an annual employee engagement survey, plus asks for feedback regularly on other issues. Reid’s features a corporate culture council. TCS’s Cohen regularly asks his employees for their views and opinions.

“We all work well together and it’s inclusive and respectful here. It’s a very open organization,” echoes Dunpar’s Bahk, who joined the organization
last year.

In November 2020, Tridel launched a Built for Respect campaign to tackle racism in the construction industry after several nooses were found at Toronto construction sites. The campaign, developed by Tridel and Deltera, its construction division, focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and formed a steering committee made up of employees at all levels and from all teams. ElllisDon, Local 183 of LiUNA, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario and BILD all partnered on the campaign. 

Training and development

Onkar Dhillon has worked with Mark Cohen for more than two decades, starting as a computer technician when he was a student, and is now TCS’s V.P. of Operations. “I’m fortunate in that I’ve worked for Mark since I was 17, and I’m 39 now. He has an ability to grow and breathe life into us. That’s corporate culture. When we look at new talent, we want to know who you are, what your objectives are, the impact you wish to make.”

Cohen sensed the then-teen had more to offer than his computer skills and wanted to draw out his personality and other talents. “Onkar became extraordinary and has transformed into my right arm and part of the personality at TCS,” Cohen says. “If you don’t give people a shot, you’ll never know.”

Reid’s Heritage, Minto and Dunpar are among companies that offer training and development on the job or provide funds for employees to take courses and attend seminars. Reid’s provides up to $750 a year—sometimes more. They also do internal postings of jobs to give employees the first opportunity and provide employees with a fee if they recommend someone who is hired. 

“We definitely encourage mentorship. We want to build from within, and our leaders and managers are all trained to coach and bring their team up,” says McMillan. “We want superstars and we want to build the career of those who stay with us.”

“I’m a firm believer that learning never stops,” says Dunpar’s Bahk. “We encourage employees to take courses and there are opportunities for advancement within the group.”

Flexible hours and hybrid workplaces 

When the pandemic forced most of its staff to work remotely from home, Minto used the time to completely re-design its Ottawa office to support a hybrid work model. The company listened to employee feedback about their concerns about touching shared surfaces. As a result, the workplace is touchless—for instance, doors open at the wave of a hand.

Minto office employees can also determine when they want to work from home or in the office. Taylor says they need to be in the office for meetings or to brainstorm with a team, but for many other tasks, such as creating reports, they are free to work from home. 

Based upon feedback from its corporate culture council and others, Reid’s Heritage offers flexible work options. “A lot of companies get lots of feedback, but the key is to act,” says McMillan. Employees have to be in the office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but other than that, they can choose when they want to work to complete their daily eight hours. This is especially beneficial to workers who have to drop off or pick up children at school. 

“People appreciate that. We don’t get into the hourly thing and watching the clock. Hire the right people and you don’t have to worry about that,” says McMillan. 

From the May long weekend until after Labour Day, Reid’s has also adopted summer hours, so office employees can leave on Fridays at 1:30 p.m. without losing any pay or having to make up the time. The company is exploring how to offer on-site workers an equivalent perk, as summer is peak construction season. 

The pandemic also inspired a new Dunpar employee program with a focus on mental, emotional and physical wellbeing through programs such as yoga or meditation classes or purchases of fitness equipment. These are not typically covered by insurance plans, so Dunpar will reimburse employees for a portion of such expenses. 

Giving back 

Contributing to the neighbourhoods where they operate, though, remains a particularly powerful incentive for many.

“For me, it’s very important,” says Bahk. “It makes the personnel proud to be part of a company that gives back. We want to make a meaningful impact in the communities where we live and work. Many of us at Dunpar have children and it’s important for us to support our youth.” Dunpar is closely aligned with the John Zanini Foundation, which primarily supports initiatives for at-risk youngsters and postsecondary education for students in Etobicoke.

The company and its employees also partnered with homeowner Joshua Fick to create the annual Kelly Marie Atyeo Holiday Toy Drive, named in honour of Fick’s late wife. Before Kelly Marie’s death, she had started a Christmas toy drive to donate items to children in need. Dunpar places boxes in its head office and other locations where employees and clients can drop off toys that are donated to the Salvation Army’s Toy Mountain. 

Each year, Reid’s hosts the Annual Orin Reid Memorial Golf Tournament, held in honour of the company’s late founder. It annually raises $100,000 that is donated to hospitals in communities where Reid’s is building. This year’s donation will benefit mental health. Previously, employees have also come together for Take a Ride for MacKids, a fundraiser for the McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation held on Reid’s headquarters property, with carnival rides, attractions and heavy equipment for families to enjoy.

Minto, meanwhile, has a charitable foundation that supports multiple organizations. As well, its employees volunteer for causes such as Run for the Cure and Habitat for Humanity builds.

TCS and its team support several charitable organizations, and Cohen and Dhillon have used their volunteer history to shape their corporate culture—Cohen has extensive involvement with amateur hockey and Dhillon in soccer, including as a coach for the University of Guelph women’s soccer team. 

“It helped us create a certain playing field as a healthy place for people to work,” says Cohen. “The volunteer positions we took are extremely intense. We learned some lessons from minor sports and about how to run a business, how to nurture people and let them shine.”


And how do the employees themselves feel? Katie Miller joined Reid’s Heritage Homes a little more than a year ago as a sales coordinator. She previously worked for a gym, as a real estate agent and for building industry contractors. Miller had been living in Guelph for eight years and knew of Reid’s through the real estate world. Aware of the company’s good reputation as a builder and employer, she applied when she saw a posting for her current role.

“I feel incredibly trusted and empowered to do my job,” Miller beams. “I am treated as a person not just an employee. I am made to feel that I am an important part of the team and that what I do matters.”

Miller appreciates the flexibility in hours, as it allows her the freedom to bring her six-year-old son to school, or pick him up when need be. “There is the understanding here that people have lives outside of work and it’s nice not to have to feel guilty to take care of those things.”

She also finds the weekly meetings between employees of various departments enlightening. “It’s been absolutely amazing to find out the ins and outs of other people’s roles and getting a better understanding of who does what,” says Miller, who has also participated in the site tours and appreciates seeing the home she has sold to people come to life.

Reid’s commitment to charity and volunteerism also matters to Miller, who volunteered to help organize the company golf tournament shortly after she came aboard, and who regularly joins employees to volunteer for other causes.

Nicole Chapman had no prior industry experience when she was hired as a summer student by Minto six years ago, but has had the opportunity to work in various departments and advance to more senior roles. She currently works in Customer Experience, and says the Minto Learning Centre has played a major role in her success. 

“Having an in-house team dedicated to enhancing the employee experience through educational opportunities and having courses tailored to our industry and business is incredibly beneficial and has taught me numerous new skills,” says Chapman, who appreciates the company values that are ingrained in her daily work, including the BRAVO! program that recognizes employee achievements. 

“My managers and leadership have supported every opportunity I’ve expressed interest in,” Chapman says. “Every day is different and you never know what exciting new projects or opportunities will present themselves.” OHB