It's a conversation you probably dread all year. The holidays have arrived and, like it or not, some of your team members will need to work those dreaded holiday shifts, either staying late on Christmas or New Year's Eve, or even working on the holiday itself. You feel bad about asking people to do this. How can you make working at holiday time more palatable?
We found some great answers among the comments nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers made about working through the holidays, in response to a survey by Figure 1, a free app used by more than half a million physicians and healthcare workers to exchange case notes, images, and other data for information sharing and education.
Though most of the respondents would have liked to be home with their loved ones, they talked about enjoying the conviviality of the holidays with their colleagues, the extra appreciation they got from customers (or patients) and the sense that they were doing something important. Some even said they worked holiday shifts by choice, had been doing so for decades, and wouldn't miss it for the world.
If you must ask employees to work long hours over the holidays because of increased demand, year-end deadlines, the need to keep the business open, or for other reasons, consider the following tips. They can help make working through the holidays much less of a burden:
1. Have a meal.
Several of the respondents talked about having a potluck on Christmas morning or sometime during the day when everyone working can celebrate and toast the season together, even if only with sparkling apple juice. A potluck, a catered meal, or even the delivery of a few pizzas and sandwiches can make working through the holidays seem less depressing and more like a chance to celebrate the season and connect with co-workers.
2. Offer plenty of snacks.
Many of the respondents mentioned the many homemade goodies that appear at the workplace on holidays. Since not everyone may be able to stop and eat when a meal is offered, you should also have plenty of snacks and beverages on hand for employees to indulge in if they can only take a quick break. Make sure to balance what may be an oversupply of sugary treats with healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, and some savory options as well.
3. Encourage silliness.
"One year I dressed up as a reindeer and pulled my co-worker around as Santa Claus," recalls one nurse. Holiday time brings out the child in all of us, so as long as needed work gets done, it's a great time to let employees cut loose and bring a little comic or party atmosphere into the workplace.
4. Give people mini-breaks.
One respondent reported how the people in her workplace combined their usual short breaks into one long break allowing each team member to leave for an hour or two. Even if your employees don't work on an hourly basis, look for ways to give people working on holidays the opportunity to take an hour or two away so they can make a brief appearance at family gatherings.
5. Let friends work together.
Many respondents talked about the pleasure of spending the holidays with their "second families" at work. Most of us spend enough time working that we've come to feel close to at least some of our team members, so you can take some of the sting out of working through the holidays by letting people who get along well work together at the same time. You may be tempted to give holiday duty exclusively to your newest hires, and while that is certainly a logical approach, there's something to be said for encouraging camaraderie during holiday work times. And also for having at least some experienced employees around to handle unexpected problems.
6. Forget rank.
In the strict hierarchy of a hospital, one nurse particularly liked the way doctors, nurses, and everyone else all shared a meal on Christmas as equals. Even if your company isn't quite so rigidly structured, the holidays are a great time to shed those distinctions and have everyone working together. If you drop your boss persona and pitch in to the work at hand alongside rank and file employees, you'll make an impression that may well last till the following Christmas.
7. Explain why it's important.
For doctors and nurses in the Figure 1 survey, there was no question that working during the holidays fulfilled an important and necessary purpose. If your employees' jobs don't involve saving people's lives, then it's up to you to help them understand why having them there on the holiday makes an important contribution to your organization and its greater purpose. If only so they can explain it to their families who likely aren't thrilled about their work schedule.
8. Say thank you.
For many survey respondents, the gratitude they felt from both patients and colleagues made it all worthwhile. Employees who work on the holidays should of course be rewarded with overtime or bonus pay and compensatory time off. Beyond that, a personal expression of appreciation in the form of a small gift or a handwritten note can go a long way. Those employees are making a sacrifice to be there on major holidays. It's important to let them know you know that.