How to Handle Working a Holiday Shift

How to Handle Working a Holiday Shift

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are holidays to take time off and enjoy with our loved ones, but for some nurses, the holidays can mean another shift to take over— one that can be more stressful during a time it feels like others are opening presents.

However, nurses still celebrate just like other workers who take time off. Instead, they take nontraditional, creative ways of marking the holiday.

If it’s your first year as a nurse, or you’re looking for ideas for better managing your holiday shift, here are some tips, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the holiday celebrations.

Find Ways to Communicate with Your Loved Ones as Much as You Can

Bryana , BSN, RN, an ICU nurse, social media influencer, and nursing mentor who manages her own informational nursing resource, Coffee With Confidence, recommends communicating with friends or family during the free minutes throughout your shift and your rest breaks.

Being unable to see your family face to face on Christmas shouldn’t mean that you can’t text or call them during your breaks to see how their celebration is going. For Bryana, when she works 13-hour shifts during Christmas, a FaceTime call helps her connect with family and friends away from her town.

“If I have the energy to do so after my shift, I still try to see or celebrate somehow. With my experience, I’m also realizing that it’s okay to not celebrate it the day of. I usually now celebrate the holiday the day before or the day after,” she says. 

If You Can’t Celebrate with Your Family, Celebrate with Your Coworkers

Since nurses spend most of their holiday time with their fellow nurses and supervisors, participating in a holiday party at work is a great way to enjoy typical traditions with family and friends.

If you work at a larger workplace, such as a hospital, you may have the opportunity to participate in a communal potluck or exchange gifts. This year, Bryana will participate in a bake-off with the nurses in her work unit, where they’ll each bring their best-baked goods to win a prize.

Nurses benefit from spending leisure time together, as it brings a greater sense of community to a busy, sometimes chaotic field, according to a 2022 study.

If your workplace doesn’t have one, consider starting one with the help of your supervisor. Talk with your nurses at your unit to see what holiday festivities you can start at your workplaces, such as a toy drive, an in-house giving tree or a holiday roast to promote community and celebrate teamwork.

Leave Work at Work, Not at Home

Although holiday shifts can be festive, working a shift during the holidays can leave nurses anxious after their shift is over. To protect their mental health, Bryana recommends nurses leave their stress at work.

“I think many people, especially new nurses, struggle to stop thinking about work… but every shift is a new day. You just worked 13 hours working for somebody else. So the least you can do is let yourself have four hours before you go to bed and get some good sleep,” she says.

One of Bryana’s methods of letting go of workplace stress is calling her partner or friend while driving home. That way, once she enters her home, she’s no longer thinking about the negative emotions and feelings she experienced during her shift.

Nurses can also destress from work by engaging in relaxing hobbies they enjoy. For Bryana, that includes watching her favorite TV show and drinking tea, but for you, that might be taking a nap, listening to music, or anything that makes you feel relaxed.

Studies show that participating in after-work leisure activities lowers heart rates, reduces stress, and creates more interest in hobbies, which can benefit nurses as a way to unwind from their shifts.

Working during a holiday may seem daunting for some nurses, but it’s also a way to spread holiday cheer to patients who are having a difficult time. Staying connected with loved ones and fellow nurses can still provide the same holiday spirit, even if it’s not where you would expect.

Making the Holidays Fun for Nurses

Making the Holidays Fun for Nurses

Managers and any other health care staff who are supervising nurses—whether it’s in a hospital/medical center, an urgent care, or even at a private physician’s office—should know that holidays can be tough for your employees.

Anytime your staff is working on or around a holiday, that’s time they’re not spending with friends/family. That can be hard on them, no doubt.

But there are a lot of things you can do to make the holidays fun. When your nurses are happy, your patients can be happier. Their families can be happy. And being in the hospital or just being sick becomes easier to deal with.

Kelly Jo Wilson, MSN (Ed), RN , a Quality Nurse Coordinator—Transplant at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, contributed a lot of ideas for how you can make this happen.

Remember, though—the most important aspect to remember is that you have to become involved to make the holidays fun as well.


Wilson suggests that you hold a holiday party for your staff. Most staff won’t mind pitching in with money or food, she says. But you have to head this up. It will mean more if you organize it all yourself, as opposed to dumping it on a staff member.

“Health care staff work hard all year, and a little incentive goes a long way,” she says. “Raise some funds, cook some food, and give the staff a good time!”

Food—and lots of it!

During the holiday season, treat your staff to some surprises. Have a catered lunch or dinner or even organize a potluck.

Cookie Exchange

Most people love cookies—and those who bake like to share their wares. Wilson says, “Cookie Exchanges are wonderful ways to let those staff members who love to cook and share their love of food with everyone else. Then you can exchange the different types of cookies. This is also a team-building exercise.”

Gift Cards

Even giving your nurses a $5 gift card for coffee will make a huge difference. It will give them a boost. Wilson stresses to be sure not to forget anyone or it could backfire.


Wilson suggests that you hone in on everyone’s competitive side and have some fun contests. Some ideas are: ugliest sweater, best cookie, best-decorated med car, or best holiday scrubs. “It’s a fun way to engage staff during the holidays,” she says.

One thing to keep in mind: “The manager has to be supportive and really the key person to organize. Even if they delegate to a party council or groups within the unit, they must engage in some way to truly show their appreciation and support,” says Wilson.

Various Faiths

Wilson says that if staff are of various faiths, encourage them to bring in a traditional dish that they make when celebrating with their family or friends. But there’s more: “Using a menorah or other decorative items according to their tradition is a great way to include everyone as well,” she says. Acknowledging everyone and their personal traditions is a great way to be inclusive.

“Give back to your nurses/health care staff who work so hard,” says Wilson.