How one hospital is recruiting and retaining top talent

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At Canadian hospitals, the pressure to control expenses while at the same time, recruit and retain the best talent is getting more and more difficult.  One solution that Windsor Regional Hospital has implemented is working very well.  It’s called “unlimited vacation”.

Yes, unlimited vacation!  No maximum limit!  All that employees need to do is receive prior approval, as they always did, from their direct supervisor.

Windsor Regional Hospital offered this concept to its 300 non-unionized staff over three years because it was faced with two large issues. First, employees with plenty of vacation time coming to them did not take all of their entitlement. Typically, an employee’s vacation entitlement is directly tied to years of service. As years of service increase, so does vacation.  This can be a problem since people need vacations to recharge and remain productive.  Often people did not take their full entitlement in order to have a reserve number of paid days off in case of an emergency. They did not want to get into a position where a family issue or a special vacation opportunity arose and their entitlement had run out.

The benefit you’re going to get from that employee coming back to the work environment makes it all worthwhile because, they’re going to give 110 per cent when they are back, as opposed to, “I missed it and I had to work.”

MORE: CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER: QUALITY OF WORK AND LIFE PROGRAM AT SUNNYBROOK

Second, and just as troubling, was when we tried to recruit new talent to our team.  We were stuck with having to offer them a bare minimum vacation entitlement. This generally was far less than they were receiving from their former employer. We could not offer them more because individuals who worked with us for years would not be pleased if a new member received more vacation than they received when they were hired.

Initially, our unlimited vacation policy evoked skepticism. Critics said it couldn’t be done at a hospital and that only “those progressive tech companies” could do it.  Some employees, those who like structure and rules, also had trouble grasping the concept.  They worried the new policy would be abused or that they would lose their vacation.  However, the majority of employees embraced it.  No one has been abusing the privilege.

Now, Windsor Regional Hospital has far greater teamwork than in the past where you used to have someone state, “I get four weeks, five weeks of paid vacation.  I’m taking it and I’m gone!”  Now, what we are seeing is far more employees, because it’s flexible, leaning on and supporting each other; the teamwork that it is creating is phenomenal..

Recruitment has been amazing. We lost a lot of strong talent in the past due to vacation entitlement. Fortunately, those days are over.

The most gratifying part of our unlimited vacation policy is a letter I received from an employee.  She told me her son had a track meet one afternoon.  In the past, she would not attend her son’s track meet because she did not want to use a vacation day or even a half day. This time, she asked for the day off and went to the meet. At the event, her son ran and won his race. She was there to embrace him and he told her the best part of the day was that she was there to witness the race.  For myself, this is priceless.