The holidays are upon us. At home, families and friends may be decorating their homes, virtually shopping, wrapping presents, planning quiet celebrations, and trying to get into a new routine for a second winter in the pandemic. At work, pandemic restrictions may still be causing varying levels of isolation.

Home care, home health, and hospice workers may be assisting patients and families in processing their new normal at home. Administrators are also affected by the season as they attempt to care for their employees, wrap up metrics for the year, and bring annual projects to a close.

Recognizing the Signs of Stressed Staff

Despite the festive atmosphere, many are feeling the seasonal strain right now. The American Psychological Association reported that 38% of Americans feel that their stress increases during the holidays. For those with a preexisting mental health condition, that number jumps to 64%. Signs of stress may include:

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Loss of appetite/not eating enough

  • Increase in appetite/eating too much

  • Other digestive issues

  • Muscle aches, chronic pain

  • Irritability or negativity

  • Loss if interest in formerly appealing activities

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Poor work performance

Your employees may be taking on additional stress as they again watch the people that they take care of suffer isolation and other added emotional hardships during the holidays. Think of the sad patient who mourns a wife every holiday season and shares stories with staff, or the resident at the assisted living facility who is still restricted from visitors and shares his sadness for his lack of family during this season yet again. Staff may be internalizing these stressors, whether they mean to or not, simply by the nature of their jobs.

Heading Off the Holiday Blues

Think of your staff. Are they exhibiting any of these signs? Is there anything you do to stop increased holiday stress for them before it starts? Here are some tips to help your agency and employees have a more relaxed holiday season:

Be Realistic – Avoid setting excessive goals or end-of-year projects if you know your staff will be unlikely to complete them. Always set reasonable and attainable goals and celebrate with your staff when they are accomplished.

Utilize Shared Decision-Making – If you do have a great deal of projects to plan, involve your employees in the decision-making process. Show your staff that you have confidence in their skills to help you prioritize initiatives and are ready to listen to their ideas on agency improvement.

Give Constructive Feedback – Make sure you’re recognizing when things are going well, as well as catching problems early. Regularly monitor staff performance, give feedback that is constructive and educational, and give positive recognition to staff members who are succeeding. Build stronger, more confident employees with every type of feedback that you give.

Promote Basic Self-Care – Ensure staff are taking their breaks and giving themselves a chance to breathe. Make a point to check in on particularly stressed employees during the day to ask if they are okay or need any help.

Recognize the Stress – Despite your best efforts, your employees may still struggle. If you see signs of excessive stress in your employees, help them get any help they may need. Encourage them to use your agency’s resources to return to a happier, more balanced work life.

Getting in the Spirit Together

In addition to recognizing and preventing stress, you can proactively bring some seasonal cheer to your staff. Try the following team-building activities to bring an added level of positivity to your agency:

Plan a modern holiday party. If you are still isolating due to pandemic restrictions, try a virtual party. Gift exchanges can be set up for each employee to open on video and share enjoyment from afar. Make it funny and informal. Sometimes receiving a gag gift like a stuffed teddy bear holding a candy cane is just as heart-warming as a gift card for coffee.

Shake up how you celebrate. Keep in mind that there are many different types of celebrations during the holiday months, faith based or not. Keep it neutral and plan a party where every employee is encouraged to bring a special “I-O-U”. Each card is a favor that the employee is willing to do for a peer, such as “Mary will bring you a cup of your favorite coffee on a Friday morning of your choosing,” or “Chris will help you organize your office bookshelf,” or “Sam will play an hour of the music of your choosing in the office on a Thursday afternoon.” These are fun, specific to your staff, and cost nothing but a few laughs!

Encourage mutual appreciation. Instead of gifts or cards for a holiday exchange, have each employee come up with 3 positive words to describe a randomly assigned coworker. This is sure to build confidence and bring some joy, and it costs nothing. At the end of the year, reflection and thankfulness for peers is the perfect way to increase the holiday spirit. This can also be done virtually, and it may foster a whole new level of team spirit.

Share memories. If you have a daily staff call, a weekly staff meeting, or similar event, set aside a few minutes for staff members to share their favorite holiday memory. This also costs nothing while allowing time for reflection. Sharing a memory of a favorite patient from the previous year can also be cathartic for staff and bring up fond memories. Consider building this time into team meetings not only during the holiday season but all year round.

Pick a project. Choose a family in the community in need, such as a particular patient family who is struggling. A hospice agency I managed chose a local family with 4 children whose parents were out of work during the pandemic and donated an entire holiday meal kit. It included a frozen turkey, gas station gift cards, and enough clothing and gifts for the entire family. The immense outpouring of support was overwhelming. The family was so thankful, the ended up paying it forward by donating portion of the items to fellow families of similar circumstances. Working together as a team unit to improve the holidays for another family can greatly improve solidarity, no matter how big or small the effort may be.

Care for Those Who Care for Others

Keep your staff top of mind during the holiday season, and work thoughtfully to de-stress their lives. Taking care of those who care for others is rewarding in itself. Be unique, lighthearted, and show them the respect they deserve. Remember that the staff of your agency has a calling to care for others, but they may need just as much caring themselves during the holiday season.

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