With the festive period around the corner, nurses and healthcare assistants gear up to face increased workloads and even higher stress levels than usual. For nurses and healthcare assistants, striking a reasonable work-life balance and enjoying Christmas with friends and families will be challenging this year as they face additional pressures. This article addresses measures you can take to support nurses and healthcare assistants this festive season.
What additional pressures are nurses and healthcare assistants facing this winter?
While Christmas has always been a busy time for hospitals with increased rates of respiratory illnesses, food preparation injuries and alcohol-related accidents, this year, the situation is expected to be worse. The reasons for this trend are suggested below:
- Transmission rates and impacts of flu are expected to be higher as social distancing has led to weaker immune systems in the general public and more susceptibility to illness.
- The Covid 19 virus and its variants continue to have serious consequences for more vulnerable people in our communities.
- The cost of living crisis has left some people unable to afford to warm their homes which poses greater risks to people suffering from heart conditions, lung diseases and diabetes.
- As food bills rise, people have less money to buy healthy, nourishing food and have to buy cheaper food within their budget. This increases the risk of malnutrition, especially among children and older people.
- Anxiety levels about rising inflation rates, meeting basic living costs and paying rent and mortgage costs have led to higher incidences of mental health issues.
- Nurses and healthcare assistants are taking on additional shifts to boost their salaries and help pay bills which are leaving them exhausted.
- Rising fuel costs mean driving to work has become a huge drain on finances.
- Nurses’ strike dates scheduled for December in Northern Ireland and Great Britain has become another source of anxiety for nurses and healthcare assistants and lowered morale in the profession.
- Higher bills have meant some private nursing homes have been forced to close and some older patients have nowhere to go on discharge from the hospital.
What measures can employers implement to support nurses and healthcare assistants during the Christmas holidays?
The good news is that measures can be implemented to ease the burden on nurses and healthcare assistants during the festive season. Consider taking some of the 12 steps below to make a difference this Christmas.
The 12 steps to supporting nurses and healthcare assistants this Christmas
- Schedule holidays well in advance. Ensure that periods of leave are organised well before the holiday season so that nurses can plan their holidays and enjoy quality time with family. Allocate holiday leave fairly and keep a record of who gets the most popular days off work during the holidays every year to keep it fair. Offer staff the chance to work during peak periods as some of them may appreciate the higher pay rate at Christmas.
- Be aware of how difficult it can be to make ends meet for healthcare workers so scrap unnecessary expenses like Secret Santa gifting. Suggest anonymous donations to charity instead and leave out a giving box. The Christmas night out can be expensive, especially when staff need to get taxis home. If the workplace can subsidise the evening or organise taxis home, it can be a huge help. Workplaces can organise a monthly saving system for nights out and celebrating special occasions to ease the pressure in the run-up to Christmas.
- Hardship grants and funds are available for frontline workers feeling the pinch. Research what financial support is there for your staff and let them know about additional help they may be entitled to. Make sure everyone is aware of initiatives organised by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to secure subsidised housing for nurses and better pay deals. Knowing that measures are being taken will boost morale in the profession.
- Stress management training. Ensure that some members of the senior management team are trained in mental health first aid and can detect signs that staff are struggling and intervene. Let everyone know about courses in stress management and mindfulness. If possible, organise weekly yoga and meditation sessions onsite. If this is impractical set aside a budget for beneficial courses that staff can do in their own time.
- Lead by example. Be mindful of your mental health. It’s difficult to manage effectively when you’re under pressure. If nurses and healthcare assistants see management teams working excessively long hours and struggling to manage their stress levels, they might feel compelled to overdo it too. Be kind to yourself.
- Cultivate a positive ethos. In a demanding environment with workers feeling exhausted and under pressure, take steps to ensure that all staff members speak to each other with respect and are treated fairly. Make sure someone is available that staff can confide in when they feel overwhelmed. Check-in with staff regularly and let them know you care about their well-being.
- Have policies in place for stressful situations. Unpredictable situations arise in hospitals especially when admissions involve alcohol consumption. Ensure your staff know how to protect themselves and what to do in a threatening situation. Set clear guidelines on how to document incidents.
- There are excellent digital programmes like Zevo that create customised wellness programmes and offer tips to help deal with stress in the workplace. Find out about them and take advantage of systems that might be helpful to support nurses and healthcare assistants in your workplace.
- Make sure staff have access to fresh water in different locations. Patients and families love to show their appreciation for nurses by giving sweets and biscuits during festive periods. Try and provide healthy snacks and fruit as well.
- Ensure staff take their breaks. Regardless of how busy the workplace is, ensure all team members get breaks during their shifts. Working long hours without any relief is unsustainable.
- Organise or even advertise charity runs or walks in the community. Exercise is a key factor in staying healthy and walking or running in a group is a great mood booster.
- Make the staffroom as comfortable and inviting as possible with good ventilation and comfortable seating areas.
While staff can take responsibility for practising good self-care and protecting their health, their employer should implement procedures to support nurses and healthcare workers and help make their lives easier.
For more information, feel free to get in touch.