August 27, 2016 Kelly Maxwell

At Line 21, we have an incredible staff. Many of us have been together since the ’90s, through the life changes of all kinds that you might expect over 20 years or so. I’ve been asked to write some tips about how we’ve achieved our staff retention. The answer, of course… it’s been a team effort.

  • One way to retain staff is to hire good people to begin with. Hire people that you want to share your life with, and ideally, people that add skills to those you already have on hand, rather than matching them. Then be prepared to evolve their job descriptions.
  • Understand what an employee is, what a contractor is, and what an employer’s responsibilities are. Do not attempt to classify an employee as a contractor.
  • Offer benefits to employees; a company or group has access to tools like group benefit plans and RRSP plans that make lives more convenient, and these are really worthwhile and valuable to staff. One thing we did that made a big difference for people was to reduce the number of hours worked  that was required to qualify for our benefits plan to include our long-term, part-time staff in our full benefits group.
  • Pay quickly. Pay often. Never miss or delay. Pay in a manner that is convenient for staff, like etransfer. Payday is a celebration of your basic contract and is the foundation of trust in an organization. This is super important.
  • Make sure everyone takes their vacation time, and do allow people to negotiate extra days off and leave if you can accommodate them at all. Remember that vacation time and vacation pay are separate ideas; both necessary, but if you untie the ideas from each other, it allows more flexibility. For this reason, we pay most people hourly, rather than as salary.
  • Holiday parties, birthday recognition, bonuses… do these things!
  • Understand that nothing stays the same, in lives or in business. Times and technology change, and people’s availability changes. If you can keep great people on staff by making changes to their work conditions or calendar, make the changes. Great people are very hard to replace, doing so takes a lot of time, and an employee who has helped to shape the business will stay with you longer.
  • Think about how you would like to be treated in any situation. Apply that logic when making decisions. It’s basic, it’s simple, but it’s powerful.
  • Do not envision barriers where none have to exist. Instead, try to boil your situation down to establish basic criteria, communicate those as clearly as you can, and allow others to make intelligent decisions that respect those criteria (or challenge the criteria, if they deserve challenging). For instance, we need all our work to be done on time. That is non-negotiable, but if someone prefers to work funky hours to do their work, or if they can figure out how to work remotely, we have no reason to disagree.
  • Try to be fluid in your ideas about how a particular goal will be accomplished.  Ask for help from all quarters, and see what people come up with. Try to notice if people are spending energy on making suggestions. Can you put them in a position to make changes? On the flip side, sometimes small projects never seem to gain any traction because some key piece of context is missing. Don’t be too attached to how you think this job will get done. Be prepared to re-assess. Think about what people will need to do the task at hand.
  • Do staff the courtesy of not micro-managing them. Everyone has a different work style and a different work pace. Invest them with trust that they will hit the benchmarks that you have agreed on, and if those benchmarks are hit — you have no problems. It can be tricky to ask what people have been up to without appearing to micro-manage their time. Work on having this conversation.
  • Look forward to finding out what your staff will create, both inside and outside of your organization. Be genuinely interested in them as people. Encourage staff to have lives and interests outside of your work together.
  • As a manager, I’ve had a few proud moments that took me by surprise. One memory that stands out for me was when one staff member’s child made a present for another staff member’s child. More recently, one of our staff hired her son, whom we first met as a two-year-old (You know who you are. I won’t name names unless you want me to…). These are huge moments in the life of a company. They are among the moments when, as a business owner, you realize that your company has taken on a life of its own.

New Releases 

There are lots of great Canadian and International film choices at Toronto International Film Festival (September 8-18) and Vancouver International Film Festival (September 29-October 14). Make it your mission to support these two great Canadian festivals! Turn off your computer for just one night and go out and explore the wonderful world of film festivals. Rain or shine!


 Summer of Dreams
Airs on Hallmark, September 3 at 7pm

Fading pop star Debbie Taylor is on the verge of losing everything – including her freedom – when she runs away to suburban Ohio where she finds her way into teaching music to a talented group of misfit kids. As she lays low and taps into the kids’ talents in an attempt to become relevant again, she begins to realize that fame isn’t everything. Stars Debbie Gibson and Robert Gant.

 Bachelorette Canada
Premieres on W Network, September 13 at 9pm

In the Canadian version of this show, bachelorette Jasmine Lorimer tries to find her Mr. Right. Based on the format of the U.S. version of the show, she’ll navigate group and individual dates with 20 male suitors, hoping to find her soulmate… and perhaps her future groom.


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