Innovation Starts Here: A 360 on work-life balance

Jason Atkins posing with 360Insight's commitments wall in the Whitby office.

innovation 2

Jason Atkins was a successful man: a CEO of a $20 million company, a husband and the father of two kids. 

But when Atkins flew home to Whitby from where he worked in Ohio, he realized being successful at work doesn’t always amount to being happy at home. When his own daughter  once greeted him as ‘uncle,’ Atkins knew he had failed her.

“I realized that I suck at being a father but I’m really good at business,” says Atkins. “Fifty per cent of my life was awesome. I was crushing it. Fifty per cent sucked. You think that you’re doing the right stuff. But I realized that one of the balls in life is family, and I dropped it.”

At that moment, Atkins vowed to change his life. He quit his job the next day and leased an office space eight-minutes away from his house.

Today, that office is 360Insights, a rebate and incentive management company that revolutionized how big name brands use their money. Atkins didn’t want employees to have to sacrifice half of their lives in order to make income, and 360Insights was that vision for Durham Region.

“I talk to so many people that hate their jobs. When we interview people, they talk about how much they hate going to work. That’s not what I want anywhere,” says Atkins.

But how pressing is this issue that Atkins is working to change?

Judging from recent data, it is pretty urgent. According to a 2016 survey by Hays Canada, 47 per cent of Canadian employees are unhappy with their jobs. Almost 90 per cent of those interviewed stated that feeling like they belong in a workplace took a backseat in comparison to their salary.

Could Atkins’s company be innovating the way people see their jobs right here in Durham Region?

Barbara Boudreau, Atkins’ assistant, seems to think so.

“People just think differently here. You always hear companies saying ‘our atmosphere is different’, but here we really mean it.”  

Judging from the present delivered to Atkins’ desk with the note “360 rocks!”, Boudreau isn’t 360’s only fan.

Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada, said in a news release that employee unhappiness could stem from their dismissive attitudes towards what jobs suit them.  

“No one intends to be unhappy,” he said. “But one in two Canadians spends their working lives that way because they disregard it.”  

Would you expect a shy employee to perform well at a socially demanding job?

Probably not. But according to O’Grady, most employees and employers tend to ignore the fact that they are unfit for the job because the recruits’ salary and benefit demands suit them.  


Despite the fact employees don’t feel a sense of belonging among their colleagues, they choose to stick with their jobs for long periods of time. According to a global study by Aon Hewitt, unhappy employees, dubbed ‘prisoners’, can stick with their jobs for over 26 years if they are tenured more than others.  Other reasons could be as obvious as pay, as the study shows 61 per cent of unhappy employees were paid better than others with the same position in the market, and thus stayed.

Sarah John is a ‘prisoner’.  She used to enjoy going to work everyday and clocking in extra hours.

Until she started working as a supervisor at Tim Hortons two years ago. Now, John is part of the 47 per cent. Her job has taken a toll on her physical and emotional well-being.

“The fact that I hate my job and I don’t want to be there anymore is a big problem in my life,” said John.  “I’m miserable when I go there, and I’m very tired when I come home.”

While John’s duties include overseeing and training employees as well as assigning tasks, she reported having to do everything from being the manager at the store to cleaning. If employees had abandoned tasks, it became her responsibility to finish them up. Often times, she is forced to stay extra hours beyond her shift to get other employees’ tasks done.

John is a grain of sand on a beach of overworked Canadian employees.

According to a 2016 study by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 62 per cent of 332 employees demanded their employer’s need to address overworking them in order to improve the overall mental health of those employed. However, 42 per cent of the employees said their companys’ efforts in addressing the mental health issues were inadequate.  

But mental health is not John’s only concern.

“Everybody treats you really badly. There are signs of sexism and racism. There is no respect,” she said.

John has also witnessed favouritism firsthand in her workplace. In one instance, she recalls seeing two equal-level supervisors being allocated surprisingly different tasks. Whereas the ‘favourite’ supervisor took minimal orders at the store, the underdog cleaned out the trash and supervised all the employees.

At her job, John felt minuscule. Unappreciated. Replaceable.

“I just feel like they don’t really care.  As long as somebody is doing the hours or the task then that’s all that they need,” she said. “At the end of the day, to them, you’re just a number. You’re just one more person who is helping the brand and helping the owner of the store make more money. Either way no matter how hard you work, when they don’t want you anymore or when you do something they didn’t want you to do, you’re done.”

Almost half of Canadian employees probably feel the way John does. Yet why do people like her stay?

As mentioned in Aon Hewitt’s study, salaries are the bars that keep ‘prisoners’  trapped in their cell of a workplace. For the past two years, John was, and still is, navigating through all the roadblocks shoved in her path because her position pays more than minimum wage.

According to, an average Tim Horton’s supervisor is paid $12.18 per hour. That is 78 cents more than the minimum wage in Ontario.

For 78 more cents, John handled being overworked, belittled, and undertrained.

But how can she not? She had bills to pay. Rent to make.

So do thousands of Canadian employees.

Are the nation’s employees approaching a massive burn out?

According to a 2015 Hays Canada survey, they’re on their way there. Out of the 70 per cent of employers that expected their business activity to increase, only 38 per cent expected to hire new employees.

This means that existing employees have to work, perhaps overtime, to fill in the roles of the unrecruited. John’s cookie cutter scenario is prevalent.   

So how does 360Insights provide solutions for John’s problems?

Well for one, 360Insights has ‘culture ambassadors’ that are elected every year. These ambassadors are given $25,000 per month to run fun events and charity drives in order to contribute to the fun atmosphere in the office. Their events fill up an entire calendar – from office awareness challenges, to pie eating contests, to RibFest booths, to the mannequin challenge.

According to the Head of Cultural Ambassadors Travis Dutka, the events can help people like John feel less disconnected and less replaceable.

“Happy people are productive people. Happy people find solutions,” said Dutka. “Overall, [culture ambassadors establish] an atmosphere where you’re connected with your colleagues and they’re not just a number, but they’re a friend.”

The stress John feels at Tim Hortons is evident in 360 as well. But, according to Dutka, the events led by cultural ambassadors ease of that stress and tether the employee to their job.

“We have a hiking group, a craft group, beer connoisseurs, all these events connect people to their jobs.”

Dutka also says culture ambassadors help pinpoint employees’ ideas, excitements, and passions and give them a platform to showcase them. Dutka also spends time in training managers, something John says she lacked.

“Personally I never got trained to do that position. I was just thrown there,”  she said. John recalls being told that making mistakes is acceptable as it is a natural process of learning. However, with every mistake John made, she would get reprimanded by her superiors.

“When you do the mistake, [they’re] just like ‘what did you do, are you stupid?’”

But John cannot communicate her concerns with management. She feels they do not care.

According to CMHA’s study, 26 per cent of employees felt the same way.

With 360insights, employee feedback is welcomed. They have a survey filled out by the employees four times a year.  The survey, which is anonymous, helps 360 better communicate with its employees to set up more appealing events and improve the overall workplace.  According to Dutka, Atkins reads every single response himself.

Employees at 360 find other ways to immerse themselves into their jobs. Each employee belongs to one of four houses – red (called Maison Rouge), green (Villa Veridis), blue (Blue Steel) and yellow (The Pac Men). Houses compete against each other in challenges and help bring their ambassadors together. At the end of the year, they have an award ceremony with medals and trophies for the winning house.

Jennifer Cowle is a member of the yellow house, which won the award ceremony last year. Cowle feels things such as the ceremony make a difference in an employee’s perception of their bosses.

“They’re just like side initiatives and things that really make you feel that the people above you are looking out for you, especially in my [lower] position,” she said.  “[They] want you to feel appreciated, to feel included within the company.”

Cowle feels the competition between the houses reinforces the connections between the employees within instead of dividing them.

Linsday Giroux seems to agree. She is in the blue house and is close friends with Cowle. However, that doesn’t phase their relationship.

“At the end of the day it is a game,” she said. “You need to be able to separate that from your work and your day-to-day life.”

At the 360 office, there are no walls. Even Atkin’s office has a large glass sliding door that is always kept open.  

Jason Atkins' transparent office door gives the feel of having no walls.
Jason Atkins’ transparent office door gives the feel of having no walls.

Their strategy seems to be working. Just last month, 360Insights won the “Employer of the Year” title by the Toronto Board of Trade. And the satisfaction isn’t just within the office, but with their clients too. In 2013, the average turnover rate, or lost clients, for Canadian organizations was 7.5 per cent, according to Conference Board. However, 360Insights has lost only two of its clients since it started eight years ago, according to Atkins. Today, they’re in the process of getting one of those clients back.


But what if companies do not have $25,000 to spend on events monthly?

Dutka thinks that having that money isn’t directly correlated to employee happiness. “The things we have done that have been the most impactful to employees cost the least amount of money,” said Dutka. “The things that make the biggest impact is when I feel valuable. When someone cares.”

Dutka notes that saying thank you in a genuine way is free. Buying a thank you card costs a dollar. Writing a note on some printer paper costs you 30 cents.

“I think the misconception is that culture is expensive.”  

Atkin’s efforts to create a unique workplace environment have pulled off at 360Insights. Today, he works on implementing that environment in companies that he hopes to build around 360. This might just kick-start a ripple effect in Durham Region. And maybe, just maybe, employees like John wouldn’t fall through the cracks of a bigger industry.