“The holidays are a time for everyone to find rest, relaxation, and fun with those they care about,” says Summer Bryant, RN, DNP, CMSRN, president-elect of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. But hospitals and senior living facilities can’t close for the holidays — continuous smooth and safe operations are essential regardless of seasonal festivities.
The challenge for healthcare human resources leaders is balancing having the right coverage for patients and residents with employees’ desires to have time off or at least be able to engage in some workplace holiday revelry. Thoughtful and fair holiday scheduling and policies are crucial.
Here are some considerations for making what could be a hectic holiday season run smoothly for your organization.
Thanks to the raft of patient and population health information now available, you can reasonably estimate the need for care, administrative, and janitorial/maintenance staff during those days and weeks when employees would like to use vacation time.
“There is not necessarily a higher demand for emergency or urgent care services during the holidays,” Bryant says. “However, when building a schedule, the skill mix of the staff must be taken into account to ensure the right caregiver is available to care for any need. This can be tricky because everyone also is allowed time off for the holidays.”
Be sure to have a good understanding of the resources you have. Some people actually like to work the holidays, so begin by asking for volunteers. Then determine what staff is available to float or be re-assigned from other areas.
Review Your Holiday Shift Policy
Now is a good time to review your holiday time-off policy, even if you don’t institute the updates until next calendar year.
“Several organizations will use seniority as a method for prioritizing requests for time off on holidays,” says Cody Millsap, vice president of franchise operations for Stratus Building Solutions, which provides cleaning and janitorial services to healthcare organizations. Additionally, some organizations’ policies say that a worker must work one holiday. “For example, if you take off Thanksgiving then you must work on Christmas.”
Remind managers to enforce the policy, following it closely to ensure fairness.
Communicate Holiday Work Policies to Employees
Outline holiday scheduling, gift giving, parties, and other related policies through communications in employee newsletters, emails, team meetings, and the intranet. “This will allow staff members to prepare ahead of time for working their shifts and making their holiday plans around the work schedule. This is particularly important for new employees who haven’t worked during the holidays for your organization,” says Millsap.
Enhance these communications by including a specific overview of policies related to the winter holidays during employee onboarding.
Create Opportunities for Inclusive Observances
Bryant recalls that during her time as a nurse manager, those working the holiday shifts celebrated together. “Having potlucks, decorating the unit, playing music, and dressing up when appropriate — these activities make the holidays more fun at work,” she says. “If a call light goes off during a potluck, someone [should] still answer it promptly, just like they would if a staff meeting or in-service was taking place. Staff rotate through the holiday activity so that all get to participate and there are always staff members on the unit caring for patients and covering those who may be at the party.”
Of course, keep the festivities inclusive for all your staff. Also, understand that the holidays can be very difficult for some employees so make arrangements to foster a healthy practice environment with self-care and support.
In addition to employees’ needs over the holiday season, they may need to take some additional considerations for the residents and patients they’re caring for as well.
Help Patients Observe Holidays Safely
“When nurses know about a certain custom or something individually important to a patient and their family members, they are almost always able to remove barriers to provide certain foods or find a way to accommodate many visitors,” Bryant says.
Coordinate with the dietary services team to anticipate special dietary requests related to winter holidays that comply with patients’ specific regimens.
Support for Patients with Cognitive Issues
Some of the people your organization cares for may not be able to communicate their holiday preferences, so it’s important to check with family members. “For example, it is possible holiday music may agitate a patient with dementia, so the nursing staff would avoid playing that kind of music near that patient,” says Bryant.
Add this information to the EHR and cover it at shift hand-offs.
Address Emotional Challenges
You’ll want to be sure managers are reviewing the symptoms and signs of depression and other emotional issues with care teams.
“It is widely recognized that being hospitalized this time of year is very difficult for patients,” Bryant says. Loneliness and depression can impact patients of any age during the winter months, especially older patients. “When possible, nurses can make time to sit and talk with patients, help them to video chat with their friends and family, or provide festive music.”
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