After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.
“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.
“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”
Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.
“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”
Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.
“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”
The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.
“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”
The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.
“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”
For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”
The teams at Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine have once again named GEF Seniors Housing one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). The staff at GEF Seniors Housing all took a survey expressing their opinions on what it’s like to work with the organization, what they enjoy most, and what they would change about it. For Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod, seeing so many of the GEF Seniors Housing staff engaged with giving feedback about where they work is very important.
“Any feedback, good or not so good, is always valuable,” says MacLeod. “The good keeps us motivated and pushing forward, and the not so good lets us know where we can do better. No one is perfect and the more we hear about where we can do better, the more we can do for the staff who work with us.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s efforts for its staff are clearly reflected in the survey’s results. The Foundation was placed in the Platinum category, the highest designation any organization can receive when being named on the BSME list. Other groups on the list include Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada Inc., Grantek Systems Integration Ltd., and the Berkeley Retirement Residences.
“There are some amazing organizations named on this list,” says MacLeod. “It’s an honour to see GEF Seniors Housing’s name printed right alongside them. It helps validate all the hard work we do to ensure that the people who work here, like working here and keep coming to work feeling positive.”
This is the ninth year that GEF Seniors Housing has been named on this list. Each year, GEF Seniors Housing is able to take the survey results and analyze them to see where to the focus the year’s efforts on improvements. Survey results have been improving from year to year and the people who make up the team at GEF Seniors Housing all take having a positive working environment very seriously.
For the staff at GEF Seniors Housing, being named BSME means more than just being on a list. The sense of pride throughout the organization when this designation is announced is tangible Everyone, from the front line staff right up to the CEO, is very clearly proud of this annual accomplishment.
“It’s a reminder of how invested we all are in making sure we’re improving the lives of the seniors who call our buildings home,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This is an incredible achievement for all of GEF Seniors Housing!”
Every month, ATB Financial holds ATB Culture Day for the newest members of its staff. The event is hosted by Lorne Rubis, ATB’s Chief Evangelist, and is meant to show the newest members of ATB’s staff what they as an organization value. For a bank, it’s easy to assume the values would start and end at money and maybe include something about customer service and value as a means to make money. But, throughout the event, the tone felt less like corporate onboarding and more like philanthropic motivational speaking.
ATB Financial is often named one of the best organizations to work with in Canada and frequently appears on the same best employer lists as GEF Seniors Housing. After spending a day at the event that is meant to instil the organizational values into the new employees, it’s easy to see why the $50 billion company with more than 5,000 staff sees more than 50,000 resumes come through its doors annually.
“A small group from GEF Seniors Housing’s Management team were invited to sit in on ATB’s Culture Day to see where its orientation differs from our own,” says GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod. “The minute we walked into the conference space, we could feel the energy in the room. It was obvious that we were about to witness something truly unique.”
The day saw presentations from ATB Financial’s CEO Dave Mowat, Senior VP of Reputation and Brand Peggy Garritty, and CFO and Head of Operations Bob McGee. They each went through a list of what’s called the ten ATBs, which is the overarching list of values that ATB Financial as an organization lives by. In general terms, the list of values that make up the ten ATBs range from accountability to outreach and even having fun. What’s striking about the list of ten ATBs is how much empowerment it gives back to the employees and how it encourages all employees to not even necessarily do what’s best for the company’s bottom line, but do what’s best for the people they interact with whether they be customers, fellow staff members, or people in the community they encounter.
“Between each session, we moved tables and were encouraged to sit with people we hadn’t sat with before,” MacLeod recalls. “At every one of the tables I sat at, everyone had a story to share about something they did or they witnessed about going above and beyond for other people. It made me realize that when they talk about valuing people, they genuinely live those values.”
On the surface, it would seem odd that members of GEF Seniors Housing’s staff would attend a major staff orientation event for another organization. For MacLeod, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and see what else the Human Resources and Seniors Management teams can do for the staff at GEF Seniors Housing. As MacLeod explains, there’s always room for growth and improvement and the minute you stop looking for those opportunities, you’re doing a great disservice to the amazing staff that make up GEF Seniors Housing.
“ATB’s Culture Day left such a strong impression on me, I knew I had to bring what I saw back to the staff at GEF Seniors Housing,” says MacLeod. “The amount of care and investment that ATB’s staff showed is the same that I see in our own staff. I want to share that impression that was left on me with our staff to help us remain one of the best places to work in Canada.”
Towards the end of 2016, GEF Seniors Housing was once again named one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME) by Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine. This is the eighth out of nine years that GEF Seniors Housing has been given this designation, but this time around feels especially important.
GEF Seniors Housing was placed in the Platinum category, the highest ranking a business can be named. The staff with GEF Seniors Housing was also ranked at an 88 per cent engagement score, which is not only higher than the average across North America (which is at 62 per cent) but also higher than the average among other Platinum level organizations (which is 80 per cent).
For GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod, this score is a significant point of pride. The role the Human Resources Department plays within GEF Seniors Housing is not only to find the best people to fill all the employment positions but to retain those employees and ensure that they are happy with where they work.
“On the one hand, the more business side of things, when you have people who are happy, they will do a better job,” says MacLeod. “On the other hand, and the more important hand to me, when our staff are this happy with where they work, they serve our clients, the seniors, much better. The fact that so many of our staff work in people’s homes is always front of mind. So, when our staff are happy with where they work, the people who live in our buildings have a better quality of life.”
When GEF Seniors Housing’s CEO Raymond Swonek saw the incredibly high engagement score, he knew celebrations were in order. Throughout the winter and into early spring, members of GEF’s senior management team are travelling to the lodge sites, gathering up all the staff who work at the lodges and the adjacent apartments, and serving a hot catered lunch from St. John’s Institute catering followed by a cake for dessert from local bakery Whimsical Cake Studios.
“It’s the staff here that makes GEF Seniors Housing an amazing organization to work with,” says Swonek. “It’s important for me to recognize our staff and demonstrate to them why the BSME designation is so important and why our engagement score is something to be incredibly proud of.”