© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the July 2005 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
People Power
A health centre ensures that it’s taking care of its staff—in the same way it looks after its patients.
By Caroline Cakebread

Sick and injured people who come through the doors of Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ont. rely on its staff to help them. But Trillium’s management is also committed to making sure its employees are given the tools and resources to handle the heavy demands of the job.

Caroline Brereton, vice-president of people support at Trillium says that while healthcare workers face many stresses, workload is certainly one of the biggest. “The demands are incessant,” she says. “You can’t control the flow of patients into the emergency department.”

For Brereton and Trillium staff, employee support starts with making sure there are enough people, resources and tools to do the job properly—and efficiently. With a series of award-winning programs under its belt and a Macleans ranking as one of the best places to work in Canada, Trillium promotes employee well-being across the organization through its processes and values.

While Brereton notes that Trillium offers many practical programs for stress reduction such as time management tools and fitness programs, she says the approach it uses goes much deeper. “All too often, stress management programs are about treating the stress once it’s happened,” she says.

While relaxation tools and EAP programs can help, Trillium comes at stress management from a broader perspective: ensuring that employees are engaged in the organization’s direction and how it’s run on a day-today basis. “People need to be engaged with where the organization is going,” Brereton says. “They are the ones who are going to be able to identify and achieve our success in the future. So we need to make sure they’re fully engaged, developed, supported and encouraged.”

Trillium’s value system operates on the fundamental belief that people are their most valuable assets. As such, the organization turns directly to people on the frontlines to help problem-solve and to provide direction for creating more balance in each of the different areas of the health centre. “It’s not about us telling workers when and where they can work—it’s about individuals having accountability when they’re out of balance and when the work environment is too challenging,” says Brereton. “And it’s about us being receptive to a dialogue about how to change it.”

For example, she says, management at Trillium recently asked staff to tell them how they could help deal with the heavy workload they face on a daily basis. The answer: create more efficient processes and make sure the right people are doing the right jobs.

To help, Trillium commissioned a staff-led task force to look at existing procedures and to identify areas of duplication and overlap: a chronic problem in healthcare services, according to Brereton. The task force allowed staff to tackle the issue from a grass roots level, identifying areas where time and resources weren’t being used efficiently. The task force, which was also given project management support, was successful: it led to a lot less duplication of effort and a more balanced work environment.

Trillium also offers employees opportunities to grow through its “distributed leadership model” which lets staff lead projects, receive training and learn in other areas of the organization. Because people are multidimensional, says Brereton, they bring their own personal leadership traits gleaned from their family and community life outside work. They also bring a passion to make a difference, she says: “We try to let people showcase those elements of themselves in the workplace.”

That approach is definitely working: Brereton says Trillium has one of the busiest human resources departments in the country. It also has few recruitment or retention issues and very low vacancy and sick rates compared to its peers. And with new and more innovative programs on the horizon, Trillium is set to remain one of the best employers in Canada for years to come.