How Canadian tech companies are upping the benefits ante

How do four hours of housecleaning a month, a baby bonus and a monthly allowance until a child turns five sound as employee benefits?

Those are among some of the more unique benefits offered by Canadian technology company Shopify Inc. From low-cost gym memberships and annual health stipends to daily lunches and unlimited snacks, the company is among Canadian technology businesses of all sizes that are incorporating robust perks on top of traditional benefits plans as they compete for the top graduates eyeing the lure of California’s Silicon Valley.
“There is great technical talent in Canada, and the reality is people are still going to the United States for jobs,” says Jared Saks, growth and talent acquisition lead at Stacked HR, a Montreal-based recruiting company specializing in venture-backed technology companies.

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According to Saks, job candidates and employees in the technology sector have come to expect benefits outside of standard health and dental coverage.

“Aside from salary and opportunities for growth, benefit plans offering unique health perks are something that people definitely look for when they are joining a company,” he says.

Small startups moving beyond the basics

Phil Jacobson, president and co-founder of social fitness app PumpUp, says basic health and dental coverage are “table stakes in the tech industry.”

“We view it as a competitive recruiting advantage for employees who care about health and fitness,” says Jacobson. “We allow them to live a healthy lifestyle, without any personal financial burden.”

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On top of flexible hours and vacation policies, PumpUp provides employees with free healthy snacks and lunches, as well as weekly outings such as rock climbing and biking.

“We try to give our employees the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle,” says Jacobson. “Through empowering them to be both physically and emotionally well, they are more energetic and focused at work.”

Focus on flexibility

At Shopify, the benefits include not just the housecleaning and child allowances but they also provide support to help employees start their own businesses as well as a free store on the company’s electronic commerce platform. And when it comes to health perks, Jen McInnis, talent success lead at Shopify, says the aim is to “encourage employees to be their holistic self at work.”

Accordingly, Shopify offers gym memberships for $10 a month and facilitates wellness programs that are unique to each location, such as yoga classes and running clubs.

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McInnis says increased coverage to support mental health, as well as flexible hours and vacation policies, are other ways Shopify encourages employee wellness.

The company also offers employees and their families an annual health and wellness budget it calls Sportify. The personalized program provides employees with $250 a year to spend on staying healthy and active. They could spend it on new running shoes, fitness classes or however they see fit.

Konval Matin, Shopify’s director of culture, stresses the importance of flexibility in the Sportify offering. “We want to treat employees like adults and allow them to make their own decisions,” she says.

Impact on other sectors

As a recruiter, Saks notes that while he doesn’t see such perks surpassing salary and growth opportunities as the driving factors in recruitment at technology companies, they’re part of a trend among employers in an array of industries.

“In 2016, it has become the norm for companies in the tech space to offer these types of benefits,” says Saks. “I definitely see companies outside of tech moving that way as well.”

Evan Hamilton is a freelance writer based in Brampton, Ont.

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