How to make your leave policies better

Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

As you read this, I will be taking a vacation day, specifically to attend a writing retreat. (It's not Hawaii, but rather a bunch of lady writers sitting around a fireplace tossing ideas and bad jokes around, so it's just as awesome.) I'm fortunate that our parent company, Haymarket Media, has a solid vacation package that includes, among other aspects, letting employees roll over five days from the previous calendar year and adding on days based on years of service.

While most businesses offer at least two weeks of vacation at a minimum, the topic of a recent article in Crain's caught my eye: Companies offering unlimited vacation.

The concept of unlimited vacation gained some traction in the tech industry a few years ago, even though, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, unlimited leave is still provided only by 5% of U.S. organizations. That includes vacation, sick, personal or family leave, and 4% of that group offer paid unlimited leave.

A positive of unlimited leave is that it allows employees to take big trips and manage family emergencies, and it sends a message that you trust them to be responsible with managing their workload. Of course, even if long-term care facilities wanted to offer unlimited leave, the logistics around healthcare organizations present specific challenges. Unlike other businesses, there's less ability to clear the decks of paperwork while you are away. Even if you catch up on everything you can before heading to the airport, new patients and residents will continue to move in and out of facilities. Even in excellent facilities, it is rare to find an administrator who doesn't want to add more employees or shifts to increase quality time with residents.

It's noteworthy that three healthcare companies were listed for having the best vacation and time-off policies by Glassdoor last year, as Becker's Hospital Review posted: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City was No. 2, Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA, was No. 13 and Humana in Louisville, KY, was No. 24. Most of the 25 companies on the list offered paid time off of two to four weeks with some offering the ability to earn more days off. Many offered sick or personal days as well as time off for volunteering.

No one is expecting a long-term care company to make the Glassdoor list anytime soon, but is it impossible? I've written before about the need to take vacation, but I acknowledge, as a commenter said on that column, that facilities must have “plans in place to keep the ship running smoothly.”

“We all need to feel secure enough in our jobs to be able to take time off,” he wrote.

Even if unlimited vacation is impossible, evaluating vacation and time-off policies is an underused strategy in long-term care. There is intense focus on an inability to raise wages, especially for clinical or hourly staff, but too often we don't dig into a comprehensive look at benefits around being away from work. This isn't only about personal days or vacation, but also paid parental leave, flexible scheduling and volunteer days.

The last, in particular, may be the lowest-hanging fruit in the way that it makes your company look good, allows potential employees to be intrigued and allows existing employees give back. While some companies such as Novo Nordisk offer up to 80 hours of volunteer time, long-term care facilities can start with allowing employees a day a year.

Here is my business case for why you should think about it: Other than the positive feeling that comes from helping others, it lets your employees make connections in the community. The activities director may meet someone looking for a nursing home for her mother while they clean up a stream, or a vice president may meet a nursing student while they spend a day tutoring children.

It's OK to realize that long-term care has special challenges when it comes to employees and vacation. But don't let perfect be the enemy of good: Commit to taking a hard look at what your organization is doing and whether it's on par with your competitors. Remember that as a leader, you are setting an example, whether it's by taking vacation, staying home while sick or volunteering.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.











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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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