How to Create a Fair Holiday Scheduling Policy

By Arena Analytics

Dec 1, 2021

We spoke with experienced nurses in the Rocky Mountain region to understand their perspective on holiday scheduling at hospitals.

For one nurse, the holiday scheduling policy was so very bad that she changed to PRN status in order to spend Thanksgiving with her family next year. If a scheduling policy leads to new-hire turnover, perhaps it’s worth hospitals examining.

It all starts with a survey of employees to reveal the holidays that are the most ‘In-Demand.’ They may not be the ones you think.

Holiday Scheduling that Leads to Un-Happy Holidays

Here is a short list of policies that actually exist, which no one likes. It is recommended hospitals STOP doing the following:

  • Requiring all new hires to be available for every In-Demand Holiday during their first year, confirming assignments no more than two months in advance.

  • Assigning different numbers of holiday shifts as a sliding scale based on seniority, and providing first choice of each year’s assignments to the most senior group, followed by a selection from the mid-level group, and final pick from the least senior group.

  • Maintaining a black box process in which no one seems to know when or how or why, but all will be notified of each holiday assignment, 8-11 weeks in advance of the holiday.  

  • Same as above, but with allowances for senior staff to select their holidays in private discussion with managers.

  • POLICY FIVE: Implementing a lottery in which the number of tickets conversely corresponds to seniority. Though statistically transparent, it’s quite possible to work every Thanksgiving of your career with this policy.

These approaches create frustration and unhappiness for nurses. When it comes to special holidays, employees appreciate much notice as possible. Employees also expect their employers to keep track of past assignments and grant a coveted holiday off every other year, regardless of seniority.

Seniority can mean a person has devoted a lifetime to the care of our patients, and caregivers with this level of commitment deserve respect and rewards. However, it makes for poor working relationships and bitter workplace culture when rewards are a zero sum game with less-senior workers always on the losing end.

Senior staff benefit from priority scheduling of all shifts. Nurses simply ask that holiday coverage be a responsibility shared by all unit staff, equally.

Despite age or years of experience, all nurses share the desire to provide high quality care and work as a team.  

Holiday Scheduling that Leads to Happy Holidays

This is a simple, popular approach, which comes highly recommend from nurses: 

  1. Use data to determine which 8-10 holidays are the most desirable for staff members.

  2. Assign all workers to a permanent group A or B, representing full day and night staffing. 

  3. Evenly divide assignment of the In-Demand Holidays to your A and B groups, switching off assignments every year.

Staff can trade and request assignments if they wish. If they call in sick on the holiday, they must speak with a manager, not a charge nurse. After all, accountability encourages integrity and no one enjoys working short-staffed on any day, much less a holiday. 

With this plan, everyone has plenty of notice for the year ahead and can plan accordingly. And all are guaranteed the desirable holidays off every other year.

Let’s resolve to make 2022 a year of addressing and improving the health and wellbeing of all – be they caregiver or patient, senior surgeon or CNA.

Arena Analytics

Staff Writer