Last year, the mortgage industry, like many others, experienced a significant upheaval to the traditional notion of the workplace. As the COVID-19 pandemic pushed brokers out of the office and into a remote working model, virtual meetings and conference calls took the place of lunchroom chats and in-person meetings. The traditional brick-and-mortar image of a work-place was replaced by a virtual arrangement that caused a variety of new challenges and opportunities to emerge.
But even with the disruption of the pandemic, some things didn’t change, including the expectations employees had of their employers. For this year’s Best Mortgage Employers survey, mortgage professionals from across Canada cast their votes on how their organizations measured up on a number of key indicators – and the results suggest that the country’s top mortgage employers have maintained an admirable level of dedication and commitment to their staff, despite the travails of the past year.
A change in focus
The importance of mental health and well-being came into greater focus in 2020 due to enforced social isolation and the grim daily pandemic-related news, and it’s clear that addressing those challenges was a high priority for Canada’s Best Mort-gage Employers. Regular Zoom calls and virtual interactions featured prominently among the list of initiatives submitted by nominated employers. Home Trust’s Success @ Home program was among the measures aimed at delivering work, wellness and fun to employees amid the challenges of the pandemic.
The reality of working from home meant that companies also had to find new and innovative ways to help brokers do their obs. Numerous organizations said they immediately acted to ensure that their staff had access to the technology required to work from home. Some also went above and beyond to keep their employees safe: BC-based Blue Pearl Mortgage Group, for example, launched its own workplace screening app for employees in case office work was unavoidable.
Jill Paish, executive vice-president of national sales at MERIX Financial, a two-time Best Mortgage Employer, says maintaining connections and contact with staff has become more important than ever.
“I really like those scheduled calls on a weekly basis,” she says. “It’s really easy to lose touch with people if you’re not scheduling those calls – it’s all about trying to support the employees and make them feel that they are supported and make sure that we care for their well-being. There has to be some humanization of the business, too, in these times. It can’t just be all work, work, work. There needs to be a good balance.”
Many companies found new ways to boost their employees’ morale during a trying time. Ontario-based brokerage Mortgage District mailed a monthly gift, such as a business-related book, to employees. Private lender Magenta Capital Corporation created a new resource hub on the company’s intranet to connect employees to support and benefit information. Toronto brokerage Citadel Mortgages launched an online office with a combination of work and leisure features that helped employees remain productive and have fun at the same time.
The reaction from mortgage professionals to their companies’ efforts during the pandemic was almost uniformly positive. “They handled COVID-19 really well, allowed us to work from home and have had open lines of communications to executives for questions,” one employee told CMP. “I feel valued as a person and not just for the results I can produce.”
Others expressed a yearning for more in-person meetings and group outings, but emphasized that they knew their companies had little choice but to keep their staff working virtually for now.
Different year, same priorities
While companies have been forced to rapidly and significantly adapt their work-force model due to the pandemic, numerous other factors that contribute to a happy and productive workplace haven’t changed. One word that cropped up again and again in employees’ feedback was ‘culture’ – an aspect of the workplace that Jared Morrison, chief operating officer at Alta West Capital, says is integral to companies’ success.
“It can’t just be about the metrics and the numbers and the typical business,” he says. “Pay and benefits are important, but people have to like what they’re doing. We have to know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and then we have to live that as a company. If we do that properly, the staff will work for each other.”
According to CMP’s survey, the majority of Top Mortgage Employers (81% on average) offer continuing education programs or tuition reimbursement. Work and career path plans were also hugely popular, although it’s worth noting that just 56% of companies with 26 to 100 staff members offered such plans, compared to 100% of those with more than 500 employees.
Employee recognition and communication in both directions – from top executives to staff and vice versa – also featured prominently among employees’ appraisals of what their companies are doing well.
“I work in an outstanding workplace where upper, middle and supervisory management have a great working relation-ship with the people who carry out the tasks, working towards our common goals together,” one employee told CMP.
Paish agrees that feedback and communication are important components of a strong workplace. “An extraordinary amount of effort can be spent on activity, but if that activity isn’t getting the results required, you’re spinning your wheels,” she says. “I think it’s really important to have conversations with people: ‘Tell me about your week, what you’re working on and what’s coming up.’”
The end of 9 to 5?
While the mortgage industry has traditionally been viewed as a male-dominated environment, this year’s survey responses indicate that companies have embraced a commitment to gender equality and diversity. Men outnumbered women in only one category (companies with 101 to 500 employees), although more than one respondent expressed the view that greater female representation among senior staff would be a welcome development.
Perhaps amplified by the new realities of working from home, flexible work options are also increasingly prominent. All companies with more than 100 employees offered options such as a compressed work week, flexible hours or job sharing, and team-building and leisure activities also factored heavily into the mix.
Morrison believes the idea of a 9-to-5 job might not be as popular as it used to be – although he also points out that preferences vary from person to person.
“What I suspect the new norm will become is some sort of hybrid, whether that’s three or four days in the office and one day at home,” he says. “The mortgage industry is full of people who are very good at working from home, but there are others who want to come in and see their workmates. We will end up in some situation that allows them the flexibility to be at home some of the time, but also in the office when required.”
It’s been a long and often difficult year for mortgage companies and their staff, who have had to make the transition to working from home. That fact makes the achievements of CMP’s Best Mortgage Employers doubly impressive. Through thick and thin, each company on this year’s list truly had their employees’ best interests in mind.
To find and recognize the best employers in the Canadian mortgage industry, CMP first invited organizations to fill out an employer form, explaining their various offerings and practices. Next, employees from nominated companies were asked to fill out an anonymous survey evaluating their workplace on a number of key factors, including job satisfaction, bonus and incentive programs, career development opportunities, and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each company was required to meet a minimum number of employee responses based on overall size. Companies that achieved a satisfaction rating of 80% or greater were named a Best Mortgage Employer.