Connection is a key benefit at Johnston Group

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It says a lot about a workplace when someone’s who’s been in a job for eight years is considered a newbie. But that’s how Heather Cote, vice-president of human resources at Winnipeg-based employee benefits specialist Johnston Group, is seen at a company where some have been working for more than three decades.

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This article was published 15/03/2022 (264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It says a lot about a workplace when someone’s who’s been in a job for eight years is considered a newbie. But that’s how Heather Cote, vice-president of human resources at Winnipeg-based employee benefits specialist Johnston Group, is seen at a company where some have been working for more than three decades.

The reason for that is simple, says Cote: “I really believe Johnston Group is unique. We have a culture of caring and kindness, and while I know a lot of organizations say they put their employees first, we truly do. Of course there’s a business strategy, but my focus is to make sure that strategy serves our people and not the other way around. I love that.”

The company backs that up with education subsidies and leadership training programs as well as diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and a culture that supports and encourages its employees across their careers.

The social committee at Johnston Group completing another successful virtual party with their staff.

Special projects coordinator Ashlee Hodge has been at Johnston Group for 16 years, and says she basically grew up there, as her mother worked as a human resources manager for many years. “We call ourselves a family, because we’re very connected,” she says. “It’s a great place. They make you feel valued, no matter what your role is.”

Hodge oversees a range of employee engagement and community outreach initiatives, and she has been particularly busy maintaining connections during the pandemic. “Finding ways to engage our staff when more than 80 per cent of them are working remotely has been a priority,” she says. “Our president sends out a biweekly message, and we do lots of online activities.”

One initiative is an internal wellness program called Work Life Wonderful that includes engagement initiatives like parties, virtual bingo games and Lunch and Learn events with financial advisors.

Hodge also helps manage the company’s extensive philanthropy program, which supports more than 100 community organizations in Manitoba. “We have long-term relationships with local organizations,” she says. “And since they couldn’t hold their fundraising events during the pandemic, it was really important that we kept our commitments and continued to support them.”

A highlight for Hodge is Johnston Group’s annual United Way campaign. “It’s the week when nobody goes on vacation because everyone wants to be there for it,” she says. “This year we held a virtual gala and an auction that raised a lot of money. It was lots of fun. And we educate our staff about the organizations, so they’re connected and hopefully inspired to give more, or volunteer.”

The company also took care of its employees during the pandemic by offering flexible work schedules and increasing mental health benefits and programs. “That’s been super important over the past two years,” Hodge says.

“We made a commitment early in the pandemic to be open and honest, and have no layoffs,” says Cote. “Our executive team reached out to every employee to see how they were doing at home and whether they had the resources they needed. Many were trying to teach their kids, and we accommodated them working evenings or part-time. Whatever they needed, we supported them. Even during the pandemic, we put our employees first.”

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