Lucie Chagnon

Ashoka Fellow
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Canada
Fellow since 2009

I was elected for Commodus, the first online work-life balance services harmonizing employee-employer relationships. I have since returned to the field of community relations, and am currently engaged in a neighbourhood capacity-building strategy at Montreal’s Centre Bon Courage. My work at the Centre supports strategies to reach out to over 360 families in the surrounding apartment buildings, mostly of African, Asian, and Latino immigrants. These families share common space as they struggle to settle with difficult life conditions. The neighbourhood is unfortunately characterised by poverty, isolation, language dif culties, unemployment, and episodes of tension and delinquency. From a food bank to a day camp, and language courses to library and computer access, the Centre fosters community and increases neighbourhood participation. The Centre also proudly owns a web radio with a very large audience where men and women of all ages and nationalities share their stories. As many residents are also volunteers, it reflects cooperation, mutual assistance, and reciprocity. The Centre has been honored several times by the city of Montreal.

Bon Courage could be translated with different sense: wishing you well, hang in there, or good luck. In terms of marketing, this name is not a seller; yet it is significant because it was chosen by the residents. There is a strong message in residents stating that they are here to build a better life and seek solutions when times are hard. As people have the opportunity to meet, talk, play, and support each other, they learn to fight together to build better lives.

This description of Lucie Chagnon's work was prepared when Lucie Chagnon was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009 .

Introduction

Lucie Chagnon is harmonizing employee-employer relationships through the first online open market for the provision of life-work balance services. This system of services that she has created helps employers become more sensitive to critical employee issues like health problems, reduced quality time with family and less productivity at work.

L'idée nouvelle

Balancing work and family responsibilities is an increasingly difficult challenge for individuals to tackle, particularly when employers treat employees’ personal and family problems as obstacles to productive work. Lucie is working to resolve this issue by inviting employers to dedicate resources to help employees manage their personal responsibilities. In offering a wide range of ethical services that employees can access easily through the web, Lucie helps employers’ aid employees in addressing their own personal needs in a way that does not interfere with company performance, but rather harmonizes working relationships.

Within her program, Lucie works to link the most ethical and high standard service providers in a point-based system. The employees exchange the points their employers purchased and access a comprehensive range of services, including family support, home services, courier and brokerage services, transportation, health services, and food. For the most part, these services are provided by citizen organizations (COs) with social missions that agree to comply with a high ethical standards agreement. The use of these points reinforces the loyalty of employees and motivates the employers to become more compassionate and develop a real understanding of the employees’ daily life responsibilities.

To make this system accessible to all, Lucie has also developed an online market where employees can identify and select from a wide array of services those that will be best help them deal with their day-to-day responsibilities at home. Through her work, Lucie aims to help build healthier families, dedicated employers and, ultimately, a socially sustainable economy.

Le problème

Coping with the responsibilities of modern life, including work, children, spouses, parents, friends and community in general, is a growing challenge for many people. Often, the lack of a balance between life at work and outside of work has a negative impact on the employee as well as the employer. Ever growing professional and family demands are a source of stress that negatively impacts the mental and physical health of workers. Psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression plague roughly 20 percent of the population yearly, while stress itself is correlated with heart problems, infections and certain types of cancer. These demands can also impact other members of a family as well, as limited time that parents spend with their children is attributed to low self-esteem, high school dropout rates, drug problems, and even criminality. All in all, social cohesion within a family is very much weakened by this added burden.

Additionally, high employee turnover caused by the inability to reach a proper life-work balance has a negative impact on companies’ productivity. Absenteeism, as well as “presenteeism” (non-productive presence of employees), are two increasingly common problems in the Canadian economy for which few innovative strategies are being implemented. In order to alleviate this burden, some companies provide their employees with extra benefits, such as cafeterias that serve high quality food or relaxation rooms. In general, the problem continues to grow and can be clearly seen through the GDP paradox in Western countries, where increasing wealth has not resulted in a corresponding increase in life satisfaction since the 1950s.

La stratégie

After working as a community organizer for many years, Lucie has come to understand the tense sentiments that often exist between employers and employees. In fact, it was this heightened awareness that led her to establish a program to reverse this trend and harmonize relationships within one’s working environment. The point system she invented connects three parties: the employers, who through these points can increase their employee retention rate as well as their loyalty; the employees, who can solve their problems without affecting the company’s performance; and the service providers, who can increase their business by accessing a new market. In 2004, she implemented her idea through her not-for-profit organization.

Within her system, employers decide to purchase a certain number of points and then distribute them to employees who are free to contract the services of their choice. On average, employers will spend around $200-worth of points per employee, which can also be refunded or increased. As a result, the employees receive direct support to face important life issues and are grateful that their employers take their problems seriously. Employers, on the other hand, benefit from more motivated employees working in a friendlier environment.

The services offered fall into the following categories: family support services, health and well-being, home support services, transportation, personal assistance and administrative services. An employee is free to choose from a number of options in each category, and can thus benefit from occasional support, like the assistance of an event organizer, courier services, or pet sitting, or from professional and long-term support through mediation, psychotherapy, day care, or financial planning.

The program also acts as a broker, retaining a percentage of the value of its transactions, creating an economically sustainable model capable of growing without external funding. Rather, the revenues from the franchises’ sales and the brokerage services are invested in research and development, as well as in training for the participating COs. Currently, Lucie is also working to create a subsidy program that will be available to low-income individuals.

To allow for rapid expansion, Lucie created a franchise model that is available all over Quebec. Within this model, franchises have access to the online trade platform, which includes all the functionalities to add and remove services, to review users’ feedback, and to control prices. It also offers support to launch and develop the project in the respective region. The first social franchise was activated in 2008, and since then, 75 organizations have initiated the process of purchasing a franchise in Quebec.

By the end of 2009, 15,000 employees from a variety of firms, such as banks, insurance companies, school boards, and health care institutions, will be benefiting from the services Lucie provides. While a total of 70 firms and 400 service providers will be part of the program in 2009, those numbers are expected to grow quickly, as her organization is actively negotiating partnerships with employers across Canada as well as in Europe.

La personne

Lucie’s entrepreneurial skills and motivation to help others emerged when she was very young. At the age of 17 she co-founded an organization that offered after-school activities for children from poor neighborhoods, and later in her life, she founded a housing cooperative, a childcare center and a women’s center. As a result, she has extensive experience working as a community organizer.

Prior, Lucie founded and directed a consulting co-op, Interface, which supported roughly 100 COs annually through strategic planning, training and business planning. In 1996, while participating in a congress on social exclusion in France, she learned about the tax deductible ‘Ticket’ services offered to employees to purchase services. She immediately realized that she could adapt that model to solve the problem of life-work balance, and it was from this idea that her present project was born.

Lucie currently lives in Montreal with her family.