Nurses working the Holiday Season, Here’s How to Prepare!

Many of us look forward to the Christmas season, as it’s a time with family and friends, tradition, love, cheerfulness, and building long life memories. But for others, particularly healthcare workers working during these times, it might be difficult to view the public holidays with the same joy. Nursing is a job that never stops, not even for the public holidays. While not every nurse wants to work on a public holiday, nurses can be inevitably assigned to work throughout the year or take on extra hours due to staff shortages. No matter what public holiday you celebrate, nurses are use to not being able to join in the festivities at home, and instead caring for patients. ‘It’s not always easy to work on a public holiday, especially on Christmas day when most people get to enjoy the day off at home with family and friends. But you don’t go into nursing thinking you’ll have every public holiday off”  RN Daniel 

Australia has a number of public holidays throughout the year and in NSW, our Public Holidays are New Year’s Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Queen’s Birthday, Labour Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. In the hospitality industry, nurses are needed to work on public holidays as hospitals and aged care facilities operate 24 hours, 7 days a week. For nurses, there is a very high chance that you will be required to work a public holiday in your nursing career. During the festive holiday seasons, hospitals do their best to get patients discharged and get nurses home to spend time with their families and loved ones. While some nurses can’t avoid a public holiday shift altogether, there can be a lot of positives and benefits from working a public holiday including; public holiday rates, a day off in lieu, work recognition, personal satisfaction, leadership, shorter work day or even getting the next public holiday day off.  The workload on a public holiday tends to feel lighter and its a a more relaxed atmosphere, plus you will get to enjoy a shorter commute home and avoiding Sydney’s notorious workday traffic.

While the downsides of working during the holiday season are obvious, there are plenty of nurses who don’t mind heading into work on a public holiday. Here are a few tips to help nurses while they are away from their loved ones and caring for the patients during the holiday season.

Plan Ahead – Start planning your public holiday shifts way ahead of time. Let your loved ones know your public holiday work schedule as far in advance as possible. Speak with your manager about the best way to ensure you are there to cover your shift, but that you also have time built in for those public holiday days off that are important to you. Also, some facilities may have specific policies for swapping shifts or requesting public holidays off such as submitting requests in writing or talking to a manager about a shift swap. Refresh yourself on your facility’s policies early, so that you can plan accordingly.

No one likes that co-worker who tries to swap a public holiday shift only days in advance, so don’t be that person! If you really want a particular public holiday off, look into your facility’s shift-swapping protocol and reach out to your co-workers well in advance. For example: if you typically celebrate Christmas Eve, another nurse may be happy to trade that shift for Christmas morning. It’s a big ask to request that someone else works on a public holiday, so you might have to be willing to work a different public holiday.

Celebrate the Occasion, Wear Something Merry – spread holiday cheer in your workplace, celebrate with your colleagues and include your patients too. Put on something festive to feel the holiday, as simple as a Santa hat or elf t-shirt or holiday theme socks (of course within dress code of the facility), decorate your workstation (in conjunction with infection control policy), listen to festive music (if allowed) or bring in special holiday foods or treats to share with your colleagues and patients. Spreading holiday cheer on the job will definitely lift your spirits, and brighten everyone’s mood. With everyone feeling festive happiness, everyone is bound to benefit.

Invest in Self Care – self care is important at any time of year, but during the holiday season you need to be extra vigilant and don’t overburden yourself. If you wind up taking on back-to-back 12 hour shifts to get time off, make sure you’re not overloading yourself. Only sign up for what you can manage, as taking on too much can lead to burnout. Take time for yourself and stay healthy, maximise your sleep time, meditate, listen to music, or exercise. Remember, you’re taking care of others, so it’s critical to take care of yourself too.

Be Prepared that your Family might Not Understand. Let’s face it, a lot of people do not understand the life of nursing, especially those who work a regular 9-to-5 job and get public holidays off. It isn’t easy to think that your family and friends are celebrating without you, but nurses learn to cope with the situation. Although nursing during the holiday season can be challenging for families, just focus on the incentives and remember that in the grand scheme of things, you’re helping people in the process. “My family had trouble wrapping their heads about me working on Christmas day. Now my kids understand, it’s just part of what we nurses do” RN Victoria

Be Prepared to Work. Remember, that you’re not the only one missing out on holiday celebrations, as your patients are in the same boat, and on top, struggling with health conditions. As Christmas is a time of year that is filled with happiness, patients spending this time in the hospital separated from family and friends can be devastating. As a nurse, there are some simple things you can do to help your patients beat the holiday blues with little gestures of putting on a happy face, giving a little extra time and attention, have a little chit chat, listening, find something sincere to compliment, and being a little extra patience.

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year for many, but it can be the most dreaded for some. Although the holidays fill the air with happiness and cheer, yet they can also carry stress and sadness for many people, especially those who deal with an underlying mental health condition. Pay extra attention to patients suffering from depression and mental health.

Limit your Intake of Sugar and Holiday Treats. While holidays are a time of indulgence and celebration, practice mindfulness while you eat to avoid sugar crashes half way through your shift. It is very easy to become fatigued and experience burnout on the job, so it’s very important to eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated. If you really can’t resist, put a few treats aside for the end of your day.

Take Full Advantage of your Days Off –  Since you may find yourself away from your family and friends during some of the public holiday time, spend your days off surrounded by those you’ll miss the most. There is nothing wrong with celebrating festive celebrations early or late on a day you have off rather than missing out altogether.

Stay Connected with the Family – In the aged of today’s technology, schedule a video call FaceTime or Zoom during your break, so you can see everyone and they too can enjoy having you part of the celebrations. Utilise available technology to stay as connected as possible.

Know Your Limits – Remember, self-care is important, so don’t overburden yourself. If you wind up taking on back-to-back shifts to get time off for another public holiday, make sure you’re not overloading yourself. Only sign up for what you can manage.

Disconnect Mentally when you Clock Out – If you have had a particularly challenging day, although easier said than done “just let it go”. Listen to their favourite music on the commute home, take a shower when you get home, and just leave everything at the door when you leave the facility. Not everybody wants to work on public holidays, however, it’s part of the nursing profession to provide great care to patients and carry out your nursing responsibilities with a smile.

Remember: You’re Not Alone – As we know it, most nurses would prefer to be with family and friends celebrating. However, when the going gets tough, and life seems unfair, try to remember that you’re not in this alone. All around hospitals and aged care facilities, there are other nurses and healthcare workers assigned to work public holidays too.

The tips mentioned above should not only help you to get through it, but spread the holiday spirit to your patients too. We truly appreciate the sacrifices nurses are making and the dedication you have, caring for others especially on public holidays.

Just a quick note: With Covid-19 ‘Omicron’ surging, it’s important to celebrate safely to reduce the spread of this Covid-19 variant of concern that is spreading quickly in the community. Although Australia is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world against Covid-19, our government and health system leaders are still urging us to celebrate responsibly, to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 and keep our family, friends and community safe.


« Back to Blog