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Showing Staff Appreciation During the Holidays

Believe it or not, the holiday season is upon us once again. It’s time for holiday traditions such as baking, caroling, and decorating. (For inquiring minds, yes, my Christmas tree went up in early November!) Another important tradition that facility leaders should incorporate is staff appreciation. Although it is important to show staff appreciation on a consistent basis, the holidays call for greater emphasis on building up your team, especially now. Negativity has abounded during 2021, a year that included COVID-19, staffing shortages, revenue cuts, vaccine mandates, and increased scrutiny of skilled nursing facilities. Through it all, staff have been resilient and stayed the course, providing quality care to the residents who need it. This article will share with nurse leaders a list (that they can check twice!) of ways to show staff appreciation, which can help to aid in retention and combat burnout during the holiday season.

Appreciation for All

It can be difficult to promote an employee-first culture in a facility when the number one priority must be resident safety. However, it is important that employees know they matter and feel they are heard. This can be a daunting task. One key is not to have multiple appreciation plans that are poorly managed. Rather, select a plan and manage it well. Some ideas for all staff appreciation during the holidays include:

  • Breakroom upgrade – When staff take breaks, they want a pleasant area to recharge their batteries. Refurbishing a staff-only space would be a nice gift that can be enjoyed year-round. Such an upgrade can be as simple as a new paint job or can also include amenities like comfortable seating, a television, a microwave, or other items that promote relaxation.
  • Gifts – Large gifts such as turkeys or hams may not be available this year, but something small like gift bags with holiday masks, healthy snacks, and other small gifts can convey appreciation.
  • Thank you board – This is a great way for leaders, residents, their families, and peers to recognize staff and thank them. It can also be a way for staff to state what they are thankful for and reflect on gratitude.
  • Holiday meal – Provide staff members a full holiday meal at the facility that is served by facility leaders and volunteers, such as family members who wish to show their appreciation. Gather staff input regarding what foods they would like included, and be sure to accommodate any allergies or special diets that some staff members may have so they don’t feel excluded.
  • Donate to a charity – Have the staff pick a charity to which the facility can donate money, time, or items such as children’s gifts. This can also become a team building exercise if multiple staff members wish to donate their time to a charity like a food pantry or clothing drive.
  • The Internet – Websites and social media are powerful tools when used correctly. If the facility has a website or a social media page, post thank-you notes to staff throughout the holiday season. Or, make a video with residents and families thanking staff for their caring services and share electronically.

Low Cost/No Cost Appreciation

Many facilities have suffered financial setbacks this year due to loss of census or increased costs due to COVID-19; they may not be able to spend money to show appreciation to their staff. Fear not! There are ways to show appreciation that don’t cost a lot of money.

  • Give staff a thank you or holiday card with a personal message – The messaging in the cards shouldn’t be general or vague. Instead, say something very specific about the employee and what the nurse leader appreciates about him or her and express wishes for a joyous holiday. If someone does not celebrate the holidays, the card can be a general appreciation card.
  • Provide an extra day off – Everyone loves a day off, and what could be better than an extra one! Allow staff to choose when to use this day throughout the year. Although this does cost the company money, it is not all at once and may be easier to handle financially.
  • Be one of Santa’s elves – Add staff names to a hat and pick a name from that hat each shift. Offer services to that staff member for 30 minutes to an hour and lend a hand in any way they need. This not only shows support but also gives the nurse leader a chance to see how processes are working first-hand.
  • Share snacks – Everyone loves good food! Provide staff with holiday-themed snacks. Be sure to bring them for all shifts and be mindful of any food allergies or special diets, such as gluten-free.

Combatting Burnout During the Holidays

While 2021 has been stressful, the holidays may add to the stress that is already in abundance. Increased visitation and activities for the residents are compounded by staffing issues, inclement weather, and decisions staff must make in their personal lives related to the holidays. Staff who have remained strong throughout the year may start to feel overwhelmed and show signs of burnout. The nurse leader can help counteract this and show support by offering:

  • Dress up days – Designate certain days staff can dress up in holiday attire, such as ugly sweater day or holiday pin day. This gives them a reprieve from the norm and shifts the focus to something fun.
  • Holiday time-out room – Some staff may not celebrate the holidays or may be feeling overwhelmed by the extra demands that come with the season. Create a space that is seasonal-decoration-free for staff who want to take a short break from the holidays. Look for an unused room or closet and try to make it serene. A comfortable place to sit, soft lighting, some plants, and a tabletop fountain can help to recharge staff members who may need a few moments of quiet. Providing a space for staff members to meditate, pray, or reflect—which can boost mental health—may prove beneficial year-round.
  • Holiday room – Convert an unused room or closet into a room filled with holiday items that appeal to the senses where staff can take short breaks to recharge. Items could include such things as holiday-scented oils like peppermint, cinnamon, and pine. Supply the room with holiday snacks such as cookies, hot chocolate, or seasonal blend coffee. Lastly, provide some soothing music.
  • Check-ins – Make rounds checking in to see how your staff are coping. Give them a break if they are feeling overwhelmed. Even a five-minute break to walk outside or go to the breakroom can be enough to reset feelings of being overloaded, allowing staff to return to the floor and resume care.
  • Provide support to staff – If the organization has an employee assistance program available, promote this! The facility may want to organize peer groups for staff to discuss fears and other worries, as people who have strong connections at work are more resistant to stress (Mind Tools, 2020). Staff struggling with a lack of funds may also need other assistance, such as food, household items, gifts for children, or even extra PTO time.

Encouraging Staff Wellness

Keeping staff healthy is crucial, not only for their well-being, but also for the health of the residents. Sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are keys to overall well-being. Below are some ideas nurse leaders may wish to use to support staff wellness.

  • “Wellness Wednesday” – The facility focuses on health and wellness and provides staff with tips to improve both mental and physical health. For ideas on wellness, visit AAPACN’s Wellness webpage
  • Fitness classes – Have an instructor come to the facility and teach fitness classes. Or, if that’s not feasible, offer a discount for staff members to attend off-site classes.
  • Massages – Have a massage therapist come to the facility to offer short five- to 10-minute “mini massages” to staff members.
  • Training opportunities – Offer staff members training opportunities such as certification classes or attendance at a long-term care conference to improve their knowledge and further their career.
  • Support groups – Caring for people is stressful, and it often helps for staff to be able to vocalize that stress and receive support. A peer support group that meets on a consistent basis is a great way to team-build while also bolstering staff wellness.

The benefits of staff recognition include increased engagement, improved satisfaction for both staff and residents, decreased turnover, and improved staff health. Overall, it helps to create a more positive culture for the facility. Adding a little holiday flare can give an extra boost of positivity while keeping engagement efforts current.


MindTools. (2020). Developing resilience. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/resilience.htm

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