November 15, 2019

How to Protect Your Caregivers from Burnout During Holiday Season


As we navigate the malls during the holiday season and spend time with our family and friends, we often forget that for many, the end of the year isn’t so cheery. This is especially true for patients in nursing homes and palliative care, as this is the time of the year when they often feel more sensitive and detached from their families. 

But the holiday season is also overwhelming for caregivers who need to balance the emotional burden of their jobs, their busy work schedules and their personal responsibilities. Whether they choose this role as their profession, or they just care for a loved one, being a caregiver takes a toll on whoever decides to do it. 

Who are caregivers

A caregiver is a general term that refers to anyone who provides care for a person who needs additional help. Usually, we hear about family caregivers—family members who take care of the disabled or elderly parents, siblings, or cousins. In this article, though, we’ll examine  professional (paid) caregivers, nurses, Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), aides, and companions who provide support for the patients who need it the most.

What is exceptional about  professional caregivers is their level of engagement. Hardly do they just clock in and out of work each day: more often than not, caregivers develop relationships with those in their care. They need to walk a thin line between being helpful and nurturing and becoming too involved with the patient. This is draining for both their mental and emotional capacities.

Aside from the heavy emotional burden, professional caregivers also need to work around staffing issues, which are one of the most common sources of frustration and dissatisfaction in long-term care facilities. There is a growing demand for caregivers—in 2018, there were 153,050 new positions filled for home health and personal care aides, three times higher than the number of job openings for registered nurses. However, the turnover rate in is also exceptionally high—in nursing homes, it reaches 74% annually

As overworked caregivers struggle to provide quality care for every resident, their personal lives and health are at risk from burnout. From the organizational point of view, burnout and work stress are associated with caregivers’ turnover, absences from work, and leave management, resulting in understaffed shifts and a less than optimal patient care. 

Family caregivers and professional caregivers: similarities and differences

Compared to family caregivers, who continue to carry the weight of constant worrying on their shoulders even after they leave the nursing home or the assisted living facility, professional caregivers can go home after a long shift and try to leave their work behind.

But each professional caregiver has a unique way of coping with caregiver stress. Just like family caregivers, each professional caregiver has their talents and flaws that can help or hinder their ability to handle daily stress. 

Professional caregivers work long shifts, but they still get a chance to go home and try to pause their work until the next shift. These professional assistants have worked on the skills that can help them stay in bounds while caring for patients.  

caregiver burnout

Managing professional caregivers during holiday season

The end of the year is not just an emotional time for caregivers and their patients, but it’s also a very hectic period as they have to find a way to spend holidays with their families and work the long shift at the nursing facilities. 

For the facilities, holidays are especially aggravating as they have to field multiple requests for time off while trying to keep all patients’ needs accommodated. One small mistake can destroy the employer brand and company culture, not to mention the lack of available caregivers in case they weren’t scheduled properly. 

To prevent similar problems this year, here are several ways to manage caregivers and their stress during this holiday season.

Plan caregiver schedules in advance

While some businesses have their holiday schedules planned at least several months ahead, it doesn’t mean your organization must do the same. After all, scheduling work at nursing facilities is more complex as it requires constant coverage.

Your scheduler’s priority should be that all shifts are covered and each caregiver gets enough time to rest. Of course, there will always be emergencies, but keeping the employee schedule as stable and predictable as possible will help the team do their best work. This is where employee scheduling software can help. 

With Humanity, holiday staffing and ensuring 24/7 coverage is simple, as all scheduling data are hosted in a cloud. Changes and updates can be made and communicated seamlessly and in real-time, so neither the managers no caregivers miss a bit. Moreover, Humanity provides a clear overview of employees’ availability, allowing managers to prevent overlapping time off requests, which is particularly critical during the holidays. 

CareMinders Home Care from Lake Mary, Florida stated that Humanity helped reduce scheduling conflicts by 99%, as well as decreased time spent on scheduling by 60%, from 8 hours a day to 3 hours per week.

Caregiver counseling options

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), almost half of the women (44 percent) and a third of men (31 percent) report an increase in stress around the holidays. In the case of professional and family caregivers, this time of the year is even more challenging, considering the nature of the job. 

For family caregivers, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that caregivers find someone they can talk to without judgment. This is especially important as The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that nearly 20% of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression.

Professional caregivers also need to learn how to understand and address these strong emotions. They should also be encouraged to seek  emotional support from professional therapists, online and in-person support groups, as well as one-on-one discussions with friends and family. 

Skilled therapists are able to help caregivers process their feelings during this or any other part of the year; therapists can also teach caregivers how to set boundaries and improve communication with the patients. Just like hospice providers often offer specialized grief counseling to physicians, so can nursing facilities organize counseling for their staff during the holiday season.

Celebrating with your work family

Organizations should try to promote positive employee morale in the workplace. Besides employee engagement and retention, keeping morale high also helps the shifts go by faster. Special holiday foods and treats are a good way to share holiday joy, even in difficult emotional circumstances that are common at long-term care facilities. 

Also, think about incentivizing your staff during the holidays. Besides thanking caregivers who work on holidays, hospital leadership can offer different incentive systems as a way to assure proper staffing during this time of the year.

Finally, it’s important to stay adaptable around holidays and stay focused on your mission, which is helping those in need. Remember that caregivers and nurses play a vital role in creating a comforting atmosphere, not just for the patients at your facility, but also for their families.