Best Places to Work: Is cash the best perk of all?

Editor's Note

The Ottawa Business Journal’s Best Places To Work feature appeared in the fall edition of the newsmagazine, which you can find at the bottom of this article.


A few jobs ago, I left the Canadian journalism industry, wooed by the bright lights of Silicon Valley social media giant. 

The perks alone made a move compelling – three free meals a day, onsite laundry, masseuses on staff. I could drink my coffee in a 250-year-old log cabin flown in from Oregon to warm up the San Francisco office’s seventh floor if I found my hotdesk of the day a little boring.

Everyone assumed the pay was astronomical, but the company focused its efforts around extravagant extras and best-in-class snacks rather than straight-up salary. There was even an unlimited vacation policy (which nobody used).

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It took a while, but I finally realized you couldn’t pay a mortgage with a foosball table and you can’t get your kid braces with a flight upgrade and a nice hotel suite.

This takes us (in a roundabout way) to Ottawa’s Best Places To Work – an annual program organized by the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Board of Trade that asks employees to take a deep look at their values and rank them against how they are treated by their employers.

The companies were ranked according to the results of employee questionnaires and surveys conducted by the U.S.-based Best Companies Group. Workers were asked to rank their workplaces’ performance in areas such as leadership and planning, corporate culture, job satisfaction, training and pay and benefits.

The results are tabulated, and one company is named the best employer in the city – sitting at the apex of a Top 10 list of equally impressive companies. Only the first-place winner is given a final ranking to keep things collegial.

Noibu took the top place this year, which didn’t surprise anyone at the company. Director of People and culture Sarah Crandlemire says the company’s 45 employees focus on keeping things breezy and that culture is reinforced by the company’s senior leaders.

“I think it really has to do with the founders,” Crandlemire says. “While business is serious, we like to kind of keep things light as well.”

The company has regular social events, morning trivia games and extended long weekends as some of the ways the company tries to ensure its workers don’t get stressed out.

Noibu – which placed fourth on OBJ’s 2021 list of fastest-growing companies with three-year revenue growth of 960 per cent – also offers perks such as a $1,000 stipend to help employees set up home offices. 

The privately held company also hosts monthly town hall meetings where it shares its latest financial numbers and staff are free to air concerns or questions with management.

The anecdotal testimonials from all 10 companies sound similar and place a heavy emphasis on culture and independence. There’s a pandemic effect rippling through the results, and it would be a rare employer indeed who didn’t place employee well-being at the top of their list of priorities.

These shifts happened with a jolt and cultures changed overnight as employees settled into their home offices. There are encouraging signs that employers want to make employees feel comfortable in their homes while also feeling like part of a team.

But there’s a warning for employers embedded deeper in the results. The survey compiled aggregate results from the companies involved and then contrasted them with results from non-participating companies. And mostly, the results were the same.

Everyone wants to be engaged. Everyone wants to feel valued. But there’s one notable difference: employees who work at the city’s best places to work feel far better about their compensation than employees working elsewhere. While results for other categories yielded almost identical ratings, workers at the best places to work felt almost 20 per cent better about their compensation. 

That includes everything from straight-up salary to disability benefits.

It’s just like that old saying: You can offer all the free buffets and haul wooden cabins from 500-kilometres away to impress your staff, but you’re better off to provide a better vision package. 

Fun perks are great, but when it comes to employee satisfaction, money talks.

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