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.”

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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!”


Miss Hofman officially retired from teaching grades one to 12 in Edmonton’s German Bilingual and regular program schools in the summer of 2013, but her teaching career didn’t. She’s taking her experience from teaching in schools and teaching English classes in Germany and applying it in helping some of GEF Seniors Housing’s staff improve their English. As Hofman explains, teaching these hard working individuals who spend their days making the lives of seniors living in Edmonton better is vastly different from much of the teaching she did in the past.

“These classes are almost entirely student driven,” says Hofman. “I always put together a class plan, but whatever the students need always comes first.”


The idea of teaching English to members of GEF Seniors Housing’s staff who are looking for the help started when Hofman initially met the staff during customer service courses. The courses had gone so well that she was offered an opportunity to also teach some health and safety courses. She agreed on the condition that she could also start teaching English classes, something she noted that many staff could benefit a great deal from.

“I grew up in Edmonton, but my first language is German,” explains Hofman. “I didn’t begin to speak English until grade one. I understand what it’s like to be in those situations where you don’t understand what’s going on and you can’t ask for what you need because of the language barrier. So I empathize a lot with the staff members who are working with people every day but don’t necessarily fully understand the language.”


Hofman explains that one of the biggest success factors she’s noticed with the classes, which she’s been teaching for three years across five GEF Seniors Housing sites, is that the class sizes are small. She notes that some classes have upwards of 10 people in them while others have only two officially registered students. The classes often focus on real world examples that the students encounter during their work day or even out in the community. Hoffman points out that some of the real world examples can be very personal for the students in the class.

“I’ve worked with students to pass the Canadian citizenship exam, I’ve helped students prep questions to be asking their doctors, I even sat on the phone with one student while she tried to book a medical appointment,” says Hofman. “The students will sometimes come to the class asking about something and we will spend that class going over things like brochures that can benefit their health. When they can apply what they’re learning, it sticks with them better.”


The students echo Hofman’s view about the real world application of her classes. Though most of the time the classes are full of laughter and jokes, some of the exercises can even bring on a few tears.

“We were working on an assignment where we had to use past tense,” says Cindy, a Dining Room Attendant. “So we wrote about a game we enjoyed playing in our childhood and some of us wound up crying. Sharing these personal experiences help this be more than just a class. We’re close here and it’s a lot of bonding for us.”


For the staff, having English classes offered by GEF Seniors Housing at no extra cost to them means improving their communication skills with the people they work with, the residents and tenants who live in the buildings, and to help them fully adjust to their new homes. They’re able to access something that previously was only available in formal classrooms, which many of them found intimidating.

“I’m very proud that GEF is able to give us these classes,” says Rose, a Dining Room Supervisor. “Not every company would do something like this for their staff. We don’t mind being corrected and we’re not embarrassed when we make a mistake because we’re always learning and improving. We’re very lucky that we’re being given these classes.”


Hofman reflects on many of the students who have come through her English classes and notes that so much of the success isn’t just found in the pronunciation or proper use of grammar, but comes in the new level of confidence that so many of the staff are showing.

“When they first came into the class, some were afraid their English wasn’t good enough, others were scared of failure,” says Hofman. “They do so much to teach themselves. All I’ve done is organize the space and the time and they do all of the hard work and that has helped make such a huge difference.”