Already stretched thin with staffing shortages and limited resources, many healthcare facilities are bracing for the holidays—a time when the personal priorities of frontline workers are poised to collide with COVID-19, flu season, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and a rush of year-end outpatient surgeries and elective procedures.

It’s a challenge that’s amplified by a lot of dissatisfaction among healthcare professionals, with nearly one in three (32%) considering a career change. What can you do to help keep facility staff over the holidays? 

Pay may not be as important as you think. A recent survey by Oliver Wyman found that, for most nurses and allied professionals, compensation matters—to a point. Once financial concerns are addressed, their biggest worries are their own well-being:

  • Mental health
  • Work-life balance
  • Physical health

Like counterparts in other industries, healthcare workers are considering big changes to get the lifestyle they want, from speeding up retirement plans to choosing gig work over the stability—and demands—of full-time employment.

You can’t fix the root of chronic understaffing by New Years Eve, but you can take steps to minimize holiday-driven burnout and keep more healthcare practitioners on hand when you need them. Here are ideas to help triage your scheduling strategy for the holidays.

1. Stick to the plan as much as possible

One way to offer support in a stressful work environment is to reduce ambiguity. Healthcare is unpredictable with many factors beyond your control, but you can offer some predictability by setting parameters for the decisions you make as you set the holiday schedule. 

For example:

  • Be transparent about scheduling. Create a flowchart that shows how decisions are made about paid time off (PTO). Ensure workers are aware of the healthcare facility’s vacation policy and how it applies to them.
  • Plan early. Give your team as much time as possible to adjust to the holiday schedule and make plans accordingly. Knowing they can still enjoy the holidays around work commitments can do a lot to help boost morale.
  • Offer split shifts. Giving workers the option of split shifts helps share the load more evenly, so individual staff won’t have to give up a full day during the holiday season.

2. Dialing numbers back is easier than ramping up

Flexibility is key over the holidays, particularly if census surges or sick-day call outs leave you dangerously short staffed. It’s easier to tell people they won’t be needed than to get them into work on short notice.

  • Think beyond nursing staff when making your calculations. With building employees, volunteers, and management at a minimum, extra tasks can shift to nurses because they happen to be on hand. These extra staff responsibilities can become overwhelming. Do what you can to ease the pressure, such as managing holiday visitations by encouraging visitors to go to designated common areas, thereby keeping the floors more peaceful for staff and other patients.
  • Lock in per diem nurses and allied professionals. Competition for healthcare workers is still intense and your options for PRN coverage can be slim. If there are pros who work particularly well with your team, offer them holiday shifts before they make other commitments.
  • Review the aggregate level of qualified staff available. Plan your float pool and PRN (“pro re nata”) professionals with their capabilities in mind to help avoid unexpected gaps.

3. Acknowledge what your team is giving up

Healthcare providers know how critical patient safety is over the holidays but they still feel what they’re giving up to be on shift. This can prompt feelings of resentment from those who are “trapped” at work while family and friends celebrate without them. Recognize the trade-off by finding ways to bring the festivities to the workplace:

  • Have holiday festivities. You can’t close a unit for a party but add some perks for those working holiday shifts such as decorations, food and refreshments, or small gifts.
  • Return the favor when people change their schedules. Despite your best efforts, you may still have to ask people to come in at the last minute. Be appreciative when these situations happen and, if possible, do what you can to make it a fair exchange by giving the employee time back on another occasion.
  • Pay your team generously. Pay isn’t necessarily a top priority—but it still matters, especially at a time when many people are busy caring for patients while trying to cover the extra expenses of celebrations they’re missing. Whether you call it a bonus or a thank you gift, extra pay helps let workers know that because they’ve gone above and beyond, you will, too.

4. Be ready to show up and make the same sacrifices

Medical facilities ask a lot of nurses and allied professionals who do their best to deliver top-notch care every day of the year—already a heavy lift due to staffing shortages. 

While facility managers are feeling the strain, too, show frontline workers that quality patient care is everyone’s priority by having at least one member of the management team at work. Jump in when things get busy; bridge gaps left by others who are on vacation; connect with families when nurses are otherwise swamped.

Try something new to address holiday staffing shortages

By showing consideration, transparency and respect to the healthcare professionals at your facility, you can create a more collaborative environment that will help keep your staff during the holidays and into the New Year. How can Medely help your organization manage the demands of the coming season? Let’s talk about how Medely can help your organization build a reliable and flexible staffing strategy.