Recognized as one of Alberta's Top Employers (2017)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 21, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Calgary Co-operative Association Limited was selected as one of Alberta's Top Employers (2017):
- Calgary Co-op supports employees who are new mothers with maternity leave top-up payments of up to 100% of salary for up to 12 weeks as well as the option to extend their leave into an unpaid leave of absence
- In addition to helping employees save for the future, Calgary Co-op offers retirement planning assistance and phased-in work options for those nearing retirement
- Calgary Co-op encourages long-term career development with tuition subsidies for job-related courses, formal mentoring opportunities and in-house career planning services
Calgary Co-op team members put their customers first
Carmela Russo trained to be a phys-ed teacher, but found her calling as a grocery cashier for Calgary Co-operative Association Limited. She works at the Co-op's North Hill location near the Trans-Canada Highway. "I love what I do," she says. "You meet a new person every five minutes, and you talk about what is going on in the community."
Owned by its members, Calgary Co-op is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America. It has 4,000 full- and part-time employees serving 460,000 members, ringing up annual sales of over $1.2 billion. Most staff provide groceries or prepare oven-ready meals, while others pump gas, fill pharmacy prescriptions or retail wine, liquor and beer.
"Our workplace is very customer-service driven," says Bart Willmore, Vice President of Human Resources. "We're proud of our history within the community, having been in Calgary for 60 years." The Co-op believes in giving back to the community. In 2015, it donated over $3.9 million to food poverty reduction programs and other worthy local causes.
"We're also very family oriented, as many of the employees have worked in the organization their entire careers," says Willmore. Russo began working part-time for the Co-op in 1991 after 14 years as a grocery cashier at a competitor. "I've grown with Calgary Co-op," she says. "They treat their people like human beings." In turn, that's how Co-op employees are expected to treat their customers.
In 2014, Russo won a White Hat Award in the category Best Retail Customer Service. "Of course, you never expect to win," she says, "but it feels good to be honoured in front of 1,000 people from your community." Two other Co-op employees won the award in the preceding and following years. (The awards are given by Tourism Calgary to the best customer-facing employees in the local service sector.)
The Co-op's own Smile program enables managers to award points to employees for exceptional performance. The points can be redeemed online for prizes. Some 94 per cent of Co-op staff participate annually. "Any manager can award those points to anyone else in the organization," says Willmore.
The Co-op staff grew by 100 in 2016. Most hires are young people who either have just finished high school or are working their way through university. "We look for new team members who have a service minded mentality," says Will-more. "We hire both the attitude and the aptitude. We believe that if we take good care of our team members, our team members will take good care of our customers."