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When Everyone Else is Off for the Holidays

The holiday schedule can cause frustration and aggravation among nursing staff if it seems that everyone else is off, or that scheduling is unfair. In a perfect world, everyone would be home for the holidays. But as essential staff, nurses are usually required to work some holidays during their career. It’s not usually the most wonderful time of the year for the nurses working the holiday. Many nurses don’t consider the effect on their work and life balance when they’re in nursing school, nor do nurse leaders always realize the challenge of creating a fair schedule. This can result in decreased job satisfaction and negativity that can impact delivering quality patient care.

Patients will always need care on the holidays, and some nurses will always have to work, but addressing concerns about the holiday schedule before they become a crisis might make the holiday a little more joyful.

Nurses Aren’t Alone

Sometimes it might seem as if nurses are the only ones missing out on the holiday festivities, but that’s not the case. Other essential staff such as police, firemen, and EMS must also maintain adequate staffing. In addition, more and more businesses are remaining opening on the holidays such as ones in food service, casinos, department stores, and gas stations. Therefore, although it may seem like it, everyone else isn’t off work. In addition to working, some people are spending their holiday sick.

Patients probably had other holiday plans that didn’t include spending time in the hospital. If nurses present with a negative mood, it can cause patient dissatisfaction. Nursing is more than clinical skills and knowledge, it’s also being caring and understanding. The holidays are a time when nurses should strive to apply their empathetic attributes.

Increased Holiday Stress

It’s not just the holiday schedule that is stressful. The holidays are often a source of stress due to overextended budgets, overcommitted personal schedules, limited time, and unrealistic expectations.

Several studies concluded that people have a greater chance of dying on Christmas, the day after, or New Year’s Day, than any day of the year. A few things that might contribute to that risk include:

  • Poor food choices exacerbating diabetes, hypertension, and increasing cholesterol levels
  • A rise in depression
  • Increase in insomnia
  • Injuries, heart attacks and unpredictable emergencies that can change staffing needs

Holiday Suggestions for Nurse Leaders

The attitude and perception of nursing staff around the holidays can correspond with the workplace culture. Engaged staff are usually more committed to supporting the organization’s mission. Nurturing staff morale, and ensuring they feel valued and appreciated can assist in decreasing discord over holiday scheduling. Even organizations with the best morale can benefit from looking at holiday scheduling to validate that it’s fair, and to inject a little more enjoyment for the staff and the patients they’re caring for.

As with any change, seek input to gain staff acceptance rather than assume what’s the most accommodating. This can also display that leadership is empathetic to the challenges of maintaining a healthy work and life balance during the holidays.

Some suggestions include:

  • Consider different holiday staffing policies with staggered shifts
  • Offer self-scheduling to foster teamwork, and to remind staff that calling off leaves their peers to pick up the slack
  • Plan the holiday schedule in advance to avoid scheduling surprises
  • Rotate the holiday schedule, use seniority, allow switching shifts, or use a lottery
  • Offer incentives for holiday work which could be monetary, or rewards like free parking, a paid day off, or gift card drawings
  • Encourage fun and creativity at work with potluck lunches, a visit from Santa, or decoration challenges
  • Recognize staff who work on the holiday
  • Loosen the dress code with holiday-themed scrubs

The Reason for The Season

Sometimes despite efforts to incorporate fair scheduling and a festive atmosphere around the holidays, some staff may still be unhappy. Most healthcare staff face this scheduling dilemma at some time during the year, or their career. The holidays aren’t just about a certain day, but more about rituals and shared common bonds. Festive traditions can also be developed and applied to coworkers and patients on that special day, and the days leading up to the holiday.

Promote the potentially positive side of working the holiday such as:

  • Not having to cook, clean up, or host the event
  • Avoiding the crowds, and travelers
  • Opportunities to be Santa Claus to peers by volunteering to work
  • The extra appreciation from the patients who spend their entire holiday in the hospital and not just part of the day
  • Encourage staff to share their personal family traditions
  • Providing educational material about different cultural celebrations can increase cultural awareness and benefit patients hospitalized during the holiday season

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Most people want to be home with family and friends for the holidays. Ensure nursing staff know their value, and provide rewards throughout the year to encourage the willingness to accommodate others during the holiday season. Nurse leaders who show their gratitude for staff who work during the holiday season, and strive to make a schedule that’s fair and not punitive, will encourage nursing staff to act with kindness and grace.


Article Sources

3 Steps to Improve the Lives of Nurses Through the Holidays

Christmas and New Year as Risk Factors for Death

The Twelve Health Risks of Christmas (And How to Cope With Them)

Why Do More People Die at Christmas, New Years?

Why Do People Go Home for the Holidays

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