Caring for the caregiver: Quality of Work and Life Program at Sunnybrook

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Responding to life and death situations is part of the job description at Sunnybrook, Canada’s largest trauma centre.  Our staff look after some of the country’s most critically ill and injured patients, and we have learned that we must take care of the caregivers who take care of our patients and their families.

Our Quality of Work and Life Program “cares for the caregiver”, an approach that enables staff to come to work in the best possible mental and physical condition.

I’m often asked how we achieve this with over 10,000 staff, physicians and volunteers.  I believe that a dual focus is most powerful.  This means not just a high quality of life while working, but also making sure there are programs to assist in the personal lives of employees.

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Creating a family-friendly work environment and an onsite community is a major focus.  With onsite daycare, maternity leave top-up and the option of flexible work schedules, Sunnybrook understands the importance of helping our employees balance work and family commitments.  Parental top-up is also available for new fathers and adoptive parents, as well as a convenient daycare facility at our largest campus for those returning to work.

The Life Stages Program looks at supporting staff from being a student to parenthood to retirement.  Commonly requested areas include staff concerned about elderly parents, those financing their first home purchase or paying their children’s university tuition feeds.

We need our staff to remain safe, healthy and well.  A range of safety programs and annual wellness options, including two 24/7 fitness centres, help us to look after our staff so they, in turn, can look after our patients and their families when it matters most.

Just realizing that you can have fun at work is important.  Hospital basketball, soccer and hockey teams build spirit, as do staff barbeques and an annual golf tournament.  Our Restorative Lunch Break focuses on something entirely non-medical, like making chocolate, or gardening tips, with the goal of recharging your batteries.  Spiritual care is just as important for many employees, and Sunnybrook has a Muslim prayer room, a synagogue and a chapel.

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Retaining the country’s best employees is linked with encouraging each and every staff person to live and grow their career at the hospital.  The Sunnybrook Leadership Institute develops and supports emergent, experienced and expert leaders across the hospital.  Recognizing that learning is an ongoing process, our Continuing Education Support Fund offsets the cost of education.

Lastly, celebrating and recognizing excellence is key.  Award programs, like the Schulich Awards for Nursing and Clinical Excellence, or the Bertin Awards for service and clerical staff, recognize staff helping others above and beyond what is expected.  As well, daily Sunnybrook Moments certificates are presented to staff making a difference in the lives of patients and families.  Caring for our caregivers is part of our culture, it builds staff resiliency to work in this challenging but rewarding work environment.

Every day, I’m proud to come to work at Sunnybrook.  I tell people that I have the best job.  I have the privilege of supporting people who do amazing things to save lives.