7 employee wellness ideas for the holidays (and beyond)

Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

After a staff training on reducing burnout in long-term care last week, a look through the evaluation forms was illuminating. A significant number of attendees — mostly nursing aides, nurses, and environmental workers — wrote that the most valuable point they got from the training was how important it was to take time for themselves, even if it was for just a few minutes. 

Apparently the 10-minute meditation we practiced using an app on my smartphone made a big impression on them. What struck me was how novel that experience was for them.

With frequent callouts and turnover rates troublingly high (50% for nurses and 51.5% for aides, according to a 2012 AHCA report), working short-staffed seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It means workers are being stretched ever thinner and being pulled in many directions by the needs of their residents.

With the holidays upon us, staff members have extra duties at home — gifts to purchase, parties to plan and attend, and special foods to cook.

By this time in December, your workers are probably maxed out.

This is a great opportunity to show that you're thinking of them and that you recognize how stressful the holidays can be. It's also a good way to prevent the staff burnout that leads to callouts, resignations and injuries.

I often think of the experienced aide I observed years ago who rushed down the hallway muttering “this job is going to give me a damn heart attack” — and was out for months after she had a heart attack the following week. Let's not go there.

Instead, let's show our staff members that they're essential to the organization. Let's provide them with the tools they need for self-care. Let's give them a moment — or even 10 moments – to recharge.

Here are some wellness ideas to get started:

1.  Set up a device with a free meditation app in the break rooms. (I used Calm.com — there's even a setting for a remarkably soothing two-minute meditation.)

2.  Offer meditation or deep relaxation sessions throughout the holiday season. (Warning: They may be so popular the staff will want them all year long.)

3.  Hire a masseuse to give 10-minute shoulder massages.

4.    At the staff holiday party, give presents that feature self-care — goodie baskets with pampering items, high-tech activity trackers such as the Fitbit, gift certificates to a sporting goods store or for massages, manicures, pedicures, spa visits, or gym memberships.

5.  Encourage workers to refresh themselves during breaks with outside walks or time on the patio. (Smokers shouldn't be the only ones getting some air.) A thermos of hot tea or cool fruit-infused water can be a sign of administrative approval of outdoor time.

6.  Offer stretch classes before and after shifts. (An athletic and interested coworker might take the lead in exchange for a parking spot perk.)

7.  Consider starting an employee wellness program in the new year. These programs typically offer health screenings, smoking cessation programs, Weight Watchers-type support groups, wellness lunches, and other health-focused benefits.

Taking care of employees can go beyond a holiday gift. Not only is it a sign of how much we value our staff and how fully we accept our role as healthcare providers, but it can also reduce the cost of doing business.

While the financial rewards of such programs might not be immediate, studies show significant decreases in the number of lost workdays, reduced worker's comp insurance premiums, reduced medical claims, lower staff turnover and other improvements.

For more on the finances and practical implementation of employee wellness programs, see this great Harvard Business Review report: What's the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? 

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the 2014 American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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