Getting creative: Townships offer perks to secure, retain staff

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the townships of Essa, Oro-Medonte and Springwater in 2024 is quality labour — or rather, a lack of it.

All three of the local townships reported ‘savings’ in the first half of 2023 in the staffing and benefits line of their budgets.

Oro-Medonte was $622,000 under budget, Springwater finished $537,000 under budget and Essa came in about $100,000 under budget.

On the surface, that may appear to be a good thing, as savings are savings, but it’s actually the Achilles heel of each municipality, according to Essa Township’s top administrator.

“Not having the right staffing complement affects everything we do,” said Colleen Healey-Dowdall, Essa’s chief administrative officer. “If you don’t have the right people in the right places, the entire process slows down. Additionally, the people who are covering the vacant positions begin to burn out.”

To varying degrees, all three townships face similar challenges when it comes to hiring planning and building department staff, seasonal staff and DZ and AZ truck drivers. There’s a lack of applications, a lack of qualified applicants and simply too much competition.

In their efforts to hire new talent while also keeping the staff they have, all three townships offer various perks or enticements to their people, which can range from four-day weeks and extensive benefit packages to flex-time and employer-sponsored social events.

Last year, Springwater introduced the four-day work week, a program that has resonated with potential hires and current staff alike.

“Since the implementation of this program in 2022, we have seen a greater response to our postings with added interest from qualified applicants and a high retention rate of existing staff,” said Erin DeVreede, Springwater's manager of people, talent, payroll and benefits. “While participation is not mandatory, staff have embraced the four-day work week and we have an over 80 per cent participation rate.”

One of the keys to making a four-day work week, DeVreede said, is ensuring staff know customers still come first and the municipality will always take care of resident needs ahead of their own. Operational requirements are the township’s priority.

“While the majority of our public works department worked a four-day work week during late spring through to early fall, they will not be working a four-day work week during winter operations,” DeVreede said.

Jenny Leggett, communications officer for Oro-Medonte, said the township is currently “committed to a review of flexible work arrangements,” but is just starting the process.

She said Oro-Medonte offers employees an extensive benefit program including access to online/virtual health-related resources, a computer purchase program, a gym and sports memberships/home gym equipment purchase program, and social opportunities for employees to get together outside of regular working hours.

Healey-Dowdall says Essa is always looking at ways to be flexible with staff, but the township’s focus will always be “to put our residents and customers first and foremost.”

She said the township has had success with a modified or compressed work week that allows staff to work beyond the normal work day, but is capped within each pay period.

The advantage to this program, Healey-Dowdall said, is the township can offer the customer service Essa council demands and it can do it without increasing costs.

“Our traditional 8:30 to 4:30 hours are upheld and ‘counter coverage’ is always maintained,” she said.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,