Why Advocate Aurora is paying employees to take 'renewal days'

Advocate Aurora Health is paying nurses and other staff members to step away from their jobs for a day to participate in a "renewal day" focused on employee wellness and connection.  

The system's mission and spiritual care team launched the renewal day program for nurses at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., more than five years ago. It has since expanded across the 27-hospital system, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill. The original program entailed a three-day workshop in which nurses focused on building a meaningful career and skills to combat compassion fatigue, stress and burnout.  

During the pandemic, leaders recognized a need to help clinicians and other team members process their experiences on the COVID-19 frontlines. The mission and spiritual care team transformed the program into a one-day workshop that unites employees from across the system to talk about their experiences and find support in one another. 

Advocate Aurora held renewal days via Zoom earlier in the pandemic and resumed in-person sessions in spring 2021. The health system currently offers at least three renewal days a month: one in Wisconsin, one in Illinois and one online. 

The renewal days entail a mix of interactive and independent activities, including journaling and group discussions. The program is encouraged by leaders, but not mandatory, and staff members do not need to use paid time off to attend.

"It helps people care for themselves, feel supported and heard, and explore recovery practices that they can see themselves using," Janet MacLean, director of clinical pastoral education and chaplain education at Advocate Aurora, told Becker's. "Those are the three primary goals."

While renewal days are open to employees across the health system, nurses have been the single largest group to participate. As of late May, more than 1,200 staff members have attended a renewal day, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The renewal day was an opportunity to take time out of a busy schedule and focus on being present, taking time to slow down and build connections with people from all over the Advocate Aurora footprint," Sarah Pierce, MD, a physician at the system, said in an internal newsletter shared with Becker's

Of the participants who filled out a post-event survey after their renewal day, more than 90 percent said the program helped them feel more supported and heard. The program has also supported workforce retention efforts, according to Advocate Aurora's Chief Spiritual Officer Rev. Kathie Bender Schwich. 

"We've had some nurse managers say that I was thinking of quitting, and now I have a renewed focus on my work and a renewed sense of purpose, and so I'm going to stay," she said. 

Support and buy-in from leadership has been key to the program's success, especially since many staff members feel like it can be hard to take a day away from the job, according to Ms. MacLean. Many of the health system's nurse managers have gone through the program themselves, which has also helped with buy-in. 

"They are aware of the power that it has, and that taking one day away to make someone come back to work feeling more whole and more excited and invested in their work is well worth it," Rev. Bender Schwich said. 

Part of the program's success also lies in its zero-pressure approach that encourages employees to participate in the program in a way that makes the most sense to themselves. 

"When they come, we say some activities will make more sense to you than others. Some will be more meaningful than others. Take what you like, and leave what you don't," Ms. MacLean said. 

The program also refrains from sugar-coating — leaders acknowledge the renewal day will not do away with stress, but rather help employees find resilience and strategies to cope with stress in a healthier way.

This summer, Ms. MacLean said the system is focusing on helping nursing teams address scheduling complexities to free up time for more individuals to participate in renewal days. Despite spotlighting the program in various company communications for the last two years, Ms. MacLean said the system is still working to educate staff members about its existence, a task that can be difficult across such a large system. 

Still, Advocate Aurora has identified renewal days as a crucial part of its workplace wellness strategy and plans to maintain the program long after the pandemic ends. 

"Our healthcare workers are going through so much even aside from the pandemic," Rev. Bender Schwich said. "All we can do to support them and help them be joyful in their work, the more we're going to do that. It's something that we certainly plan to keep doing."

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