How to Wish Healthcare Workers a Happy Holidays

Advice from a few 3rd year nurses

We hail from 3 different health systems in the Rocky Mountain region. And each of us has already worked at two different health systems. We, therefore, are not experts, but we do have insights into ways the Holiday Scheduling at hospitals can be good, bad, and very bad.

For one of us, the holiday scheduling policy was so very bad that she changed to PRN status in order to spend Thanksgiving with her family next year. If a scheduling policy leads to new-hire turnover for one of the three of us, perhaps it’s worth examining.

Here’s our New Year’s wish: that we can contribute to a better future for healthcare workers through our little How To Schedule Holidays Guide for healthcare systems’ senior leadership.

It all starts with a survey of employees to reveal the holidays that are the most ‘In-Demand.’ They may not be the ones you think.

Surveys Reveal In-Demand Holidays

Holiday Scheduling that Leads to Un-Happy Holidays

Here is a short list of policies that actually exist, which no one likes. We recommend not doing the following:

  • POLICY ONE: Requiring all new hires to be available for every In-Demand Holiday during their first year, confirming assignments no more than two months in advance.
  • POLICY TWO: Assigning different numbers of holiday shifts as a sliding scale based on seniority, and providing first choice of each year’s assignments to the most senior group, followed by a selection from the mid-level group, and final pick from the least senior group.
  • POLICY THREE: Maintaining a black box process in which no one seems to know when or how or why, but all will be notified of each holiday assignment, 8-11 weeks in advance of the holiday.  
  • POLICY FOUR: Same as Policy Three, but with allowances for senior staff to select their holidays in private discussion with managers.
  • POLICY FIVE: Implementing a Hunger Games-like lottery in which the number of tickets conversely corresponds to seniority. Though statistically transparent, it’s quite possible to work every Thanksgiving of your career with this policy, we’ve met people with that type of luck.

These approaches create frustration and unhappiness.  When it comes to special holidays, we’d all like as much notice as possible.  We also like to think that our employer can keep track of our assignments and grant us a coveted holiday off every other year, regardless of seniority.

Seniority can mean a person has devoted a lifetime to the care of our patients, and caregivers with this level of commitment deserve respect and rewards. However, it makes for poor working relationships and bitter workplace culture when rewards are a zero sum game with less-senior workers always on the losing end.

Senior staff benefit from priority scheduling of all shifts. We are simply asking that holiday coverage be a responsibility shared by all unit staff, equally.

We may be younger or less experienced, but we share your desire to provide high quality care and work as a team.  

Holiday Scheduling that Leads to Happy Holidays

This is a simple, popular approach, one we highly recommend: 

  1. Use data to determine which 8-10 holidays are the most desirable for staff members.
  2. Assign all workers to a permanent group A or B, representing full day and night staffing. 
  3. Evenly divide assignment of the In-Demand Holidays to your A and B groups, switching off assignments every year.

Staff can trade and request assignments if they wish. If they call in sick on the holiday, they must speak with a manager, not a charge nurse. After all, accountability encourages integrity and no one enjoys working short-staffed on any day, much less a holiday. 

Why do we like this? Everyone has plenty of notice for the year ahead and can plan accordingly. And all are guaranteed the desirable holidays off every other year.

Let’s resolve to make 2020 a year of addressing and improving the health and well-being of all – be they caregiver or patient, senior surgeon or CNA. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.