Recruiting from the Inside

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Volunteers are an integral part of the hospital staff team in providing the highest quality of service for patients. At Trillium Health Centre, the services offered by volunteers directly enhance the patients’ stay, providing them with additional comforts that busy staff cannot always provide.

Because the contribution volunteers make is so important to enhancing the patient experience, our Volunteer Resources department works to keep on top of trends in the volunteer management field to recruit new volunteers and retain current ones. Looking for fresh approaches to program delivery and volunteer participation ensures that we offer exciting opportunities to the over 900 members of our volunteer team.

Last fall, we identified the need to be more creative in utilizing the volunteers that were already active to fill gaps in services when volunteers were absent or we needed more volunteers on a shift.

Recruitment of volunteers can sometimes be compared to that of a revolving door; it is a never ending process of trying to find new people to replace the ones who inevitably drop out. One approach was to look at how we can use active volunteers who are already trained and familiar with the hospital more effectively – to keep them engaged and slow down the revolving door.

So how can active volunteers be utilized more efficiently – through the process of cross training. Similar to workplace trends like job sharing, cross training volunteers expands their involvement and knowledge base and deepens their commitment to Trillium while further supporting the important services they provide to patients.

A pilot project to cross train active volunteers began in early January 2010. Twelve volunteers stepped forward through a call to action from the following areas: Patient Transportation and Hospitality, Critical Care/Coronary Care Waiting Rooms and Post Operative Information Service. Once trained by volunteer leaders for their additional roles, volunteers began their shifts in their new areas in February. Depending on scheduling needs, they would complete shifts in two separate areas during the week or work in both areas during the same shift.

After two months of cross training in action, we invited them to join an open discussion to evaluate their experiences. They described their cross training experience as an enjoyable one. On a scale of one to five, all of the seven volunteers who were able to attend the meeting rated their experience as a five out of five – most enjoyable and satisfying.

“Cross training seems like such a natural fit,” says Barbara Netten, Hospitality Volunteer Service Leader. “The volunteers from Patient Transportation that I trained in Hospitality were very happy, they truly enjoyed the experience. Overall I would say it has been a positive reaction.”

The volunteers liked meeting new people in different areas and the leadership opportunities that cross training offers. They were able to draw from their peers’ experiences, transfer knowledge from different areas and communicate better with patients and visitors. Families who met the same volunteers in different areas appreciated the consistency of communication.

The open discussion findings were so compelling we used them as the basis of a presentation on the cross training pilot project by Trillium’s Volunteer Resources Consultant Support Specialists at the Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources (CAVR) annual conference in May.

“It was exciting to share Trillium’s findings with our peers in the volunteer management field. Recruitment and best use of resources is a constant struggle for most organizations,” says Lisete Figueiredo, Trillium’s manager of Volunteer Resources, Spiritual Care, Interpretation/Translation. «Finding new roles and challenges for our active volunteer base is an innovative way to recognize volunteers’ talents and breathe fresh life into our services.”

With the success of the pilot project, Volunteer Resources is identifying other service areas that might benefit from the cross training program. We will be seeking staff input from the departments involved to evaluate how the cross trained volunteers impact the workflow and patients in their units.

Sometimes the answer does lie within; looking at the active volunteer force for further support is a win–win situation for the volunteers and the departments they assist. Not only do the volunteers get to spread their wings, the patients in turn benefit from more knowledgeable and consistent support.

“A few people commented that it never occurred to them that they could volunteer for additional service areas, or they would have done it sooner,” adds Figueiredo.