Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 8, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Canada was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2019) and Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2019) :
- In addition to the organization's regular health benefits plan, MSF Canada offers employees a generous health spending account (ranging from $2,500 up to $5,000) and maintains in-house wellness programming
- MSF Canada encourages ongoing employee development through tuition subsidies for courses related and indirectly related to an employees' current position, opportunities for formal mentoring and subsides for professional accreditation
- MSF Canada offers maternity leave top-up payments for both head office and field employees, ranging from 75% to 100% of salary for 14 to 18 weeks
If you want to save lives, MSF offers the chance
At Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Canada (MSF), people sign up for the humanitarian work, not for the money. Indeed, the international medical relief organization attracts people who are passionate about making a difference, not about earning top dollar. Says Human Resources Director Tiffany Moore: "Our workforce believes in what we do - saving lives, alleviating suffering and restoring dignity."
Take Maher Najari, who recently signed up as a Field Recruitment Officer after three MSF field contracts, in Iraq and Syria "I didn't come for the dollars, for sure," Najari says. "I joined because of MSF's values. It's an emotional commitment."
Another attraction for Najari, who has an HR background, was the professional development opportunities he says were less available with previous employers. "I value capacity building," he says. "There's great training and human support here. I have grown up in the organization. It has given me the tools and pushed me to succeed."
Adds Najari: "In the end, it creates a commitment to give back to the organization."
Professional development is even more critical, explains Moore, because MSF endeavours to grow senior people from inside the organization. "Through mentoring, learning opportunities and other programs, we invest in our people," she says. "It's a long learning journey for all of us."
Although MSF may not pay top dollar, its benefits are definitely first class. "We invest in a culture of health and well-being to be as good at taking care of each other as we are in helping others," says Moore, a veteran of five overseas postings.
The employee health plan has neither deductibles nor a waiting period. It covers 100 per cent of prescription drugs and flexible health spending accounts for dental and vision-related expenses. As well, there is an extensive wellness program including reimbursement for gym memberships, yoga classes and even running shoes.
As an independent humanitarian operation, MSF is frequently on the crisis frontline. Recognizing that its emergency care in these and other areas is typically stressful and challenging, MSF offers a robust mental health support program. Those who go abroad on assignment receive mental health consultations before they leave and can avail themselves of such assistance upon their return, even years later.
Annual leave is extremely generous. Everyone starts with at least four weeks holiday, rising to six weeks after just four years. In addition, employees have 12 sick days and can take extra days off for a variety of personal reasons. Field assignments can result in additional paid time off.
Another unique feature of the MSF workplace is the level of employee participation in a relatively flat organization. After a short period of time, employees can pay $25 to join the MSF Association. As an association member, they can bring forward suggestions that, if adopted by its General Assembly, become organizational policy. The association members, like shareholders, also vote for the board of directors that oversees executive direction.
Says Moore: "Through the association, our people hold our feet to the fire. They are constantly challenging MSF to do better, asking whether we are living up to our values, doing our best in the field and making the most efficient use of our donors' contributions."
She adds: "If you have a good idea and can persuade the General Assembly, you can make a difference. The debate is often passionate, and that's exactly what we want. At MSF, you can have a positive, life-saving impact as part of the world's largest medical humanitarian organization - and you can have a voice in framing what we do and how we do it."
MSF puts no borders on employee ideas
A striking conversation piece greets all visitors to the Toronto head offices of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Canada (MSF). In the reception area, guests are confronted with a dramatic nine-foot by six-foot multi-coloured world map that almost completely covers one wall. Countries appear in vivid shades of orange, green and blue. Pinned within and outside of these nations are passport-sized photos of some 150 physicians, nurses, logisticians and professional support staff who are helping save and restore lives in locations often plagued by war and other perils.
"The map creates a bond between those of us at head office and those working in the field," says Maher Najari, a Field Recruitment Officer who has served in Africa and the Middle East and, in his Toronto job, has signed up some of the fieldworkers whose pictures are on the wall. "Now, we are far away, but the map connects us with them and their work. It's a human touch, a simple gesture that reminds everyone, including visitors, of the vital assistance we provide."
He adds: "People see the map and always ask about our projects. It's a great way to introduce people to what we do."
The giant map is not the only visual reminder of the international medical relief organization's mission. Meeting rooms are named after the towns and regions where MSF has served, or is serving, and a description of the fieldwork is placed on the wall next to the room's entrance.
Staff helped determine the office visual design elements, layout and room names prior to moving into these new quarters last year. Indeed, responding to employee voices is a key MSF value. For example, fieldworkers and office staff can join the MSF Association and bring forward proposals that, if approved by fellow Association members, impacts official policy.
Says MSF Human Resources Director Tiffany Moore: "We attract people with high standards who are passionate about their beliefs. They are bold and outspoken - and we have vigorous debates that keep MSF dynamic."
Mentoring and professional development opportunities, both internal and external, are also vital to MSF's health and growth. "To retain our people, it's important to support them to take on new challenges and grow into new positions," Moore says.
As employees develop new skills and gain new experiences, they receive a high degree of autonomy. "Job descriptions can change based on the situation we are confronted with," says Moore. "Everyone needs to be adaptable, because the job can be very demanding."
A generous benefits package reinforces employee dedication. The drug plan, for one, covers the entire cost of prescriptions, up to $100,000 per year.
This year, MSF Canada invested in new formal diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure the organization continues to evolve in this regard. "Being a global organization, we're very diverse already when it comes to culture, gender, profession and age," says Najari, a member of MSF's new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. "It's a definite asset, but not taking this for granted and making sure we have inclusive policies and practices is one of our main objectives."
Adds Moore: "We need to keep challenging ourselves to ensure that everyone really does have the opportunity to be heard and feels engaged, included, treated fairly and valued for their unique qualities and contributions."
Overall, Moore says that MSF's positive global impact relies on its people - "passionate, dedicated, smart, engaged and humanitarians at heart" - at home and abroad. "We care deeply about them," she adds.
Maher agrees. "We are now in a new, modern office, two storeys above the street," he says, "but we still feel part of an organization that is making a difference on the ground. We belong to something bigger."