Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 6, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why University of Waterloo was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018) and Waterloo Area's Top Employers (2017):
- In keeping with its raison d'être, the University of Waterloo encourages ongoing employee development through its Organizational and Human Development Office, which offers a wide range of training programs on topics including business communications, leadership development, information systems and technology, and a unique 7-part inclusivity program
- University of Waterloo encourages employees to prepare for the future with contributions to a defined benefit pension plan, retirement planning assistance and health benefits that extend to retirees (with no age limit) -- additionally, the University maintains a retiree association to help retirees stay connected and represent retiree concerns related to pension and benefit matters, HR issues and university policy changes
- Employees who are new to University of Waterloo receive 3 weeks of starting vacation allowance, moving to 4 weeks after only 4 years of employment
At University of Waterloo, everybody has a voice
When it comes to organizational transformation at the University of Waterloo, Kathryn MacDonald is on the front lines. As Executive Officer of the Faculty of Arts, home to the university's most diverse range of programs in the humanities and social sciences, MacDonald's responsibilities are wide-ranging, from strategic planning to organizing campus tours to overseeing the 150 staff working in the faculty's departments.
So when new academic or administrative initiatives are presented at Waterloo, it's likely MacDonald will be involved in some capacity. At committee meetings, however, she finds herself taking an unusual role.
"I'm often the one who questions 'Why are we doing this?'" she says. It's not that MacDonald is against change -- in 2015 she left a senior management position in healthcare to work at the university because she sensed there would be opportunities to make a difference. But she wants to make sure that any new policies and procedures under consideration will, in fact, have a positive impact.
"This is a democratic institution and everybody has a voice," says MacDonald. "Because it's an academic environment where people routinely offer critiques, they're also expected to offer suggestions on how to make things better. In this context, change can't just come from the top down; everybody has to buy in."
Founded in 1957 with 74 students and a goal of better preparing graduates to build Canada's economy, Waterloo celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2017 with six faculties, 36,000 students and more than 195,000 alumni. It administers the world's leading post-secondary cooperative education program and is consistently ranked as Canada's most innovative university.
Waterloo is working on many fronts to be more effective and responsive. This includes implementing guidelines from Excellence Canada, an independent third party that offers measurable standards and objective validation. Excellence Canada's benchmarks are based on best practices and proven management strategies for advancing organizational performance from around the world.
Associate Provost, Human Resources Marilyn Thompson says the university is committed to achieving Excellence Canada's Gold certification by the end of 2019. The goal, Thompson says, is to be -- and be recognized as -- an employer of choice for the kind of top talent Waterloo wants to attract and retain. It's not only other universities competing to hire these people, she notes, but organizations throughout the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
"It's also important to know what your employees think of you," says Thompson. So the university recently sent a survey to its faculty and staff asking them to rank Waterloo in five key areas: leadership, planning, service to students, people engagement and process improvement.
The university followed up with multiple focus groups. "We knew we couldn't be effective and innovative by communicating from the top down, so we asked our employees to tell us what matters to them," says Thompson. "The only way people will trust you're listening to their concerns is to demonstrate you're willing to make changes."
It's all part of an ongoing process to continually improve the working environment. This includes everything from encouraging employees to develop their own wellness programs to overhauling the recruitment and appointment processes, reducing red tape wherever possible.
"We're looking at everything," says Thompson, warning that outdated or ineffective practices could be jettisoned. "We're not going to make a process faster if we shouldn't be doing it at all."