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‘Adapting to the needs and aspirations of our community’

For Carolina Willsher, associate vice-president of Human Resources, Concordia’s longstanding position as a Top Employer of Montreal is a source of great pride. The university is one of only 11 organizations to earn this ranking every year since the competition started in 2016.

As in the past, the generous benefits packages offered to employees was lauded in 2023 by the editors of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Willsher also says that the university’s strong focus on sustainability is a major draw.

“But what really stands out are the programs and services that Concordia has to support employees on their working journeys. I think that’s super important,” she shares. “And how they’re involved in decision-making and have opportunities for providing feedback throughout the course of their lifetimes at the university — that’s critical.”

Reflecting on the HR transformation journey

A commitment to service drives Concordia’s HR team. Following the rollout of the new human resources information system (HRIS) — Project UNITY — in 2021, Willsher’s team continued to support the transformation and enhancement of the services they offer throughout 2022-23. 

“Any transformation is a journey,” she says. “And I think that’s part of service — it’s a journey of change. It’s a journey of trying to adapt to the needs and aspirations of our community and the folks who are supporting that transformation journey, because they’re learning to use new tools and what those tools can do.”

This past year, CommUNITY Member Experience Workshops were organized to provide training and solicit feedback regarding the community’s expectations towards service. Recommendations from these workshops are and will continue to inform the direction of the service HR offers the community. 

Work has also gone into reviewing how the team manages service requests. Willsher acknowledges that the volume of requests has been significant as people learn to use UNITY. That’s why they’ve put a program in place to assist the HR team in dealing with requests in an efficient and effective way. With an improved community member experience in mind, the Employee Services team has revised their processes to respond to service requests, supported by a Microsoft 365 solution. This new approach was put in place to prioritize requests in a more efficient manner, notably when it comes to payroll concerns. Willsher is happy to report that they have been able to significantly reduce the turnaround time. This remains a work in progress, and the teams is committed to continuous improvement.

Mental health and financial wellness

HR also continues to prioritize employee well-being through support services on a variety of topics ranging from mental health to financial wellness.

A mental health section of the HR website offers tools and resources for managers and employees. These sections are also complemented by special-edition newsletters focusing on the same themes. Willsher says the response has been very positive and that engagement with employees has allowed them to further expand the services and tools on offer.

One of the special-edition newsletters focussed on financial wellness, specifically outlining the financial services available to the university community. It touched on the value of their defined pension plan as well as information about their benefits plan and tips on how to organize their finances.

“Coming out of the pandemic, people were feeling a lot of stress, uncertainty and insecurity. We wanted to be able to provide some services in these priority areas in response,” Willsher says.

Change resilience and learning capsules

Concordia’s Change Resilience Development Program is a comprehensive training program for managers and directors to help them manage change, build capacity and integrate change into their everyday work. 

“The goal of this initiative is to develop a critical mass of managers with tools to thrive in a changing landscape,” Willsher says. “We were excited that we brought it forward again in 2022-23. We had great participation and received some really great feedback about the tools and the skills that managers learned.” 

The return of long service and retirement receptions

The tradition of honouring Concordia long service and retirees resumed in 2022-23 after a pandemic-related hiatus. At these receptions, the university recognizes faculty and staff beginning at 20 years of service and every fifth anniversary after that. Every year the gathering draws at least 200 honourees. Three celebrations took place this year, to catch up for the missed events during the pandemic. Members of the university leadership team as well as a featured honouree at each event addressed the audience.

“It’s great to hear their personal journey, how it started and where they’re at right now,” Willsher says. “As well, it’s great to learn about all the connections and the sense of community they have, and their sense of service to Concordia, to their colleagues and to the faculty and staff and students.”

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