Coffee with… Melissa Simas

Manager of human resources, Windsor Regional Hospital

Describe the hospital’s unlimited vacation policy.
The unlimited vacation entitlement is for our non-union employees [about 10% of the total staff, or 400 people]. It was implemented in 2012, and it truly is an unlimited vacation. We still track it so it allows us to differentiate between vacation and any other time off. There are basically two rules: it has to be pre-approved by your manager, and it’s not meant for work avoidance.Work still has to get done, so it’s very unlikely that a manager will approve a six-month vacation. Typically, for those who are abusing, there are going to be other issues, [such as] work performance issues. Most people are pretty self-regulated in the non-union group, so it’s just a matter of getting the approvals and the manager being on top of what needs to be done, and you having a backup.

To monitor and manage it, we run a report a couple of months before the end of the year. Anybody who hasn’t taken the minimum [time required by Ontario law] would get a note from me saying, ‘You need to schedule some vacation before the end of the year so we’re in compliance with [employment] standards.’

How did the idea originate?
There are a couple of other companies that do it. Our CEO had actually come upon some articles about it. He really liked the idea and called me one weekend and said, what do you think? Then we had to come up with some plans and a process to do the implementation piece.

Has this policy made people happier and more productive?
I absolutely do believe that. But you have to be able to monitor your own time and be flexible. I guess there are some who like to know that they have three weeks and that’s what they get. So it took some time to get people to understand that this is how it works. But it’s been two years now and people are buying into the idea and getting used to the process.

What would you say to other companies considering this strategy?
It’s an excellent policy from a recruitment perspective, and it really does empower employees to manage their own time.

One of the things you have to consider is what to do with existing vacation banks. If you’re on an accrual system, you have to determine what to do with that bank. You have to think about the legislative minimums for paid vacation and what to do in a termination situation. You have to make sure that you track time off that’s not vacation time. Sick time needs to be tracked separately so you can separate the two and establish any insurance entitlements. You also have to consider what to do for people on maternity leave, what their entitlements are.

Make sure that it really is driven by the management approval piece, and make sure that [employees] have coverage when [they] are off. You have to encourage people to see the benefits of taking that time away.

Where did you go on your last vacation?
I take a trip with my mom and my grandmother every year, and we go to Pittsburgh. We just enjoy one other and spend some time together. That was my last vacation. We get together with a group of Heinz retirees because my grandmother is a Heinz retiree, so we have a picnic on the Sunday that we go down. We’ve built some great relationships down there, so we spend some nights going out for dinner and getting updates on where everybody’s at for the year. And we shop, and we sometimes do some touristy things—the Hershey plant or the zoo.

Yaldaz Sadakova is associate editor of Benefits Canada.

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