Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 8, 2015)
Here are some of the reasons why Sigma Systems Canada LP was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016):
- Sigma Systems Canada lets everyone share in the company's success with a share purchase plan and profit sharing options, and also offers a number of additional financial benefits including signing and year-end bonuses for some employees and referral bonuses for employees who help recruit candidates in their network (up to $2,500)
- Sigma Systems Canada provides maternity leave top-up payments to employees who are new mothers (to 75% of salary for 17 weeks) and offers flexible hours for when they are ready to return
- Employees working at Sigma Systems Canada enjoy a number of social events and celebrations, organized by Sigma Event Planners Extraordinaire -- past events include a holiday party, a Halloween pumpkin carving contest, a summer event with a "sigmAzing race" and employee appreciation day celebrations
The Sigma Way is paved with surprises
During his Sigma Systems job interview, Shawn Henshall looked around for just a touch of grey. "I searched for the occasional grey-haired person," he explains, "because I hoped the company also had some experienced employees to complement its youthful energy. In the high-tech world, retention is a pretty good indication that the workplace atmosphere is positive and stimulating enough to keep people happy at their jobs."
Henshall's 15 years in the telecommunications sector made him wary when he approached Toronto-based Sigma, a global provider of software and systems application solutions for communication, media and other high-tech enterprises. "I was tired of companies unable to fulfill their assurances to customers, but Sigma is just the opposite," he says. "Here, we deliver exactly what we promise."
In addition to keeping its customer commitments, Sigma has a number of other attributes that attract and retain employees. Says Henshall, now the company's Director of Product Management: "For one thing, I rediscovered the passion you usually find only in a startup."
For another thing, Henshall says Sigma treats its people with considerable respect and understands the importance of people's personal lives. "If I arrive at work later because I had to take my daughter to school, it's not a problem," he says. "They are very flexible when it comes to all sorts of personal and family matters. That flexibility is worth its weight in gold."
Another attractive Sigma workplace feature: management that is accessible and listens. "I can walk into the CEO's office without an appointment to discuss an issue at almost any time - and I have," Henshall says. "That's empowering."
President and CEO Tim Spencer engages with employees in a variety of other ways beyond his open door. Once a week, either he or another member of the senior team pushes a cart to distribute free ice cream throughout the office. "It could take 15 minutes, but I easily spend more than an hour listening to what is on people's minds."
Once a month, Spencer invites everyone who has a birthday that month for an informal session in his office. "We talk
about everything from sports to product launches," he says. "But I always ask if they have any impediments in their work or routines. Once someone complained about a slow-boiling kettle. It was replaced the next day."
When Spencer became Sigma president in 2004, one of his first moves was to introduce bonuses and profit-sharing to the then decade-old company that had experienced few profitable years. "Profit-sharing is essential," he says, "because it connects people directly to our business."
Funny thing. Ever since the company began sharing its profits, it has been profitable. For Henshall, who had been used to working for struggling companies with erratic profit records, Sigma's approach is yet another competitive advantage. "My bonus was so fantastic that it surprised the heck out of me," he says.
Meanwhile, Spencer acknowledges that while generous benefits are important to attract and retain staff, they are only one part of a winning workplace formula. Creating an overall positive employee experience is key. "We call it the Sigma Way," he says. "We like to have fun?our quarterly and annual social events are very important to us."
Staff are also generous in their own right. Since 2007, they have supported Free the Children's efforts on behalf of two villages in India. In total, Sigma employees have raised more than $500,000 for the Canadian charity. Says Spencer: "Our people want to be engaged in social causes and feel good about what they are doing."
In the end, Henshall found a few of those longer-term employees he was seeking. The average tenure among the engineering team is more than 11 years, over half the life of the company.
Henshall sees himself becoming one of Sigma's more experienced hands. "This is a career position, not a temporary job," he says. "Sigma is where I want to be."
This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year's Greater Toronto's Top Employers winners, published December 8, 2015 in The Globe and Mail. This article was prepared with the financial support of the employer, which did not write or edit its contents.