Every email from Siobhan Kukolic, a communications officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Peel Dufferin affiliate in Brampton, Ontario—one of the roughly 80 CMHA affiliates across Canada—shows how sensitive CMHA is to its employees’ work-life balance. The signature reads:
“I recognize that MY working hours may be different than yours. Please don’t feel obliged to reply to me outside of YOUR working hours.”
The empathy for others’ needs is fitting for CMHA, a nonprofit that provides a wide range of community-based programs—including professional counseling, peer support and education—for Canadians with mental health issues and addiction as well as those enduring homelessness. This focus extends to their employees as well.
“The organization’s mission, vision and values are not just posted on the website—we live it out, we walk the talk,” says Michelle Lewis, a social worker and director of clinical services at CMHA Peel Dufferin. “We have amazing benefits but during the height of the pandemic, senior leadership doubled the amount of money we received for seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. It made a huge difference for a lot of staff.”
This people-focused approach helped earn CMHA the No. 2 spot on Forbes’ seventh annual ranking of Canada’s Best Employers.
Many other high-ranking companies come from the education sector, including No. 1 Sheridan College. Carleton University, McMaster University and Concordia University also ranked in the top 16. Technology and software companies rounded out the top 10, including Cisco Systems (No. 8), Microsoft (No. 9) and Open Text (No. 10). Last year’s No. 1 company, the renewable energy utilities company Hydro-Québec, remained in the top 10 at No. 7.
While most honorees fit into those familiar sectors, No. 3 was a restaurant chain: The Keg Steakhouse + Bar, which has 97 locations throughout Canada (along with 8 in the United States). The company emphasizes not just fostering an enjoyable work environment for employees—affectionately known as “Keggers”—but also giving them a chance to grow, whether they’re in the kitchen or the corporate office.
The Keg organizes many popular staff events, like ski days, baseball games and karaoke tournaments, which are always a big draw for staffers. The comradery enriches the workplace, says Krista Krziyzek, vice president of human resources at the company’s corporate headquarters in Toronto. “You don’t have to train people on teamwork when they already have each other’s back,” she says. “They genuinely care about each other.”
Krziyzek, who started as a host at a Keg restaurant in London, Ontario 32 years ago, exemplifies how people can build thriving careers at the company and often choose to stay for the long term. “We’ve always had a promote-from-within mentality,” says Krizyzek, noting that a majority of the general managers at Keg locations started out as restaurant staff members and have risen to now run multimillion-dollar businesses.
“Some of them have a business education and some of them have no post-secondary education,” Krziyzek adds. “But they grew up learning the Keg, learning hospitality, and we helped develop the skills they needed to be business leaders.”
Sometimes people who have moved on to completely different careers keep one or two shifts a week at the Keg because they love working there so much. Those strong relationships have led to many marriages, Krizyzek says, and “lots of Keg babies.”
Although their businesses appear very different—one serves the mind, the other the stomach—CMHA and the Keg illustrate that employees thrive when they feel a connection to their work, their co-workers and the public.
“People have a very strong sense of purpose,” says Margaret Eaton, the National CEO of CMHA. “The work is very satisfying in the sense that you really feel like you’re helping people. You’re making a difference.”
Canada’s Top Employers 2023, compiled in partnership with market research company Statista, was created through a survey of 12,000 Canadians who work at companies and institutions with at least 500 employees.
Participants were asked to assess aspects of their employer such as working conditions, potential for growth and work-life balance. They were also asked to rate how likely they’d be to recommend their employer to friends and family; they could also recommend employers other than their own. The surveys were anonymous, enabling participants to share their opinions freely.
All told, 2,900 different organizations received reviews and recommendations. The final list presents the Top 300.