Valuing Nova Scotia health-care workers

How hospitals in 'Canada's ocean playground' reward staff

At Capital Health in Halifax, the network of hospitals employing 8,500 people throughout Nova Scotia, the most significant cap on recognition is that exerted by the taxpayer.

“The issue for us is we’re non-profit and we’re publicly funded,” said Angela Harwood, Capital Health’s director of human resources. “It’s different from a company that makes money to give out recognition because they can take it from the profit margin. We don’t have the same ability.”

That means recipients of formal recognition programs are more likely to get a certificate instead of a gift. It’s only in the 25th and 30th year that service-award recipients get fancy items (a gold-and-silver watch for 25 years and Nova Scotia crystals for 30 years).

Still, the service award program is so popular, said Harwood, that when the HR department contemplated replacing it with something else, “employees said they would hate to lose that award.”

At Capital Health, unionized and non-unionized workers are equally eligible for recognition. “There’s nothing in our collective agreements to stop us from doing recognition. So we can certainly recognize people for their performance,” said Harwood.

One of those performance-based recognition programs in what’s called the Quality Award. For this, employees (and volunteers) can submit a presentation or a poster to showcase ways they’ve made an improvement at Capital Health, whether through a formal research project or a study on expanding patient service. Every year, a committee of four to six people reviews the submissions on the set of criteria used by the 3M Health Care Quality Team Awards, which recognize projects that can demonstrate improved programs or services for the community, increased efficiency within a department or unit, and attention to customer satisfaction.

The top three entries are submitted as entries at the 3M Health Care Quality Team Awards. Submissions are also put before the staff as a whole, who get to vote on them for the People’s Choice Quality Award.

In addition to these awards, the hospital network also has a Healthy Workplace Grants program, which disburses $75,000 a year to projects aimed at improving the health and wellness of the organization.

In one example, a group of staffers at the HR department requested money to promote healthy lifestyles by introducing people to yoga and other healthy options.

“We built a program around it, but it was the staff who built it, not an occupational health group. They have nominations that go out every month for people who we see are improving their lifestyle, whether losing weight or quitting smoking or being more active.”

In another example, a couple of departments wanted to do a decorating challenge, so they were given a few thousand dollars to decorate each others’ waiting rooms. “The result was a nicer place for our patients to sit, but the departments got to work together on it, and they were in total control over what happened.”

The grants range from $300 to $1,500, said Harwood, adding that she has little trouble securing a budget for the three-year-old program.

“The ideas come from the staff, and they’re thrilled to get the grants because not every submission gets a grant. They have fun doing it. There’s really no downside to the program.”

Harwood added that although recognition is part of the HR department’s mandate, “a lot of the programs come from other places within the organization. The Quality Awards come from the quality people. The Mentorship Awards comes from the nursing practice people. So it’s not like we own it and we didn’t come up with it. We’re just pleased to see it happen.”

And the most important component of recognition at Capital Health, stressed Harwood, is “the everyday recognition between employees and the people they report to. Other recognition programs are nice on top of that, but they won’t work without it.”

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