Service efficiency
Dec 14, 2023

How to successfully navigate the holiday season in social care

Mark Topps shares tips on how to ensure staff stay prepared to best support service users over the holiday season and continue progressing with their goals.

Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager

Table of contents

The countdown to the Christmas holiday season has begun.

But we know that that the social care sector doesn’t stop for Christmas. In some ways, it can be busiest and most stressful time of the year. There are a number of things that you and your team will need to do to ensure your organisation is running smoothly over the holiday period.

In this post, I’ll explore some of the factors you’ll need to consider over the Christmas break and share some tips to help you navigate the holiday season successfully.

Ensure all your staff rotas are covered

First things first - make sure that all of your rotas are adequately covered over the festive period.

Managing Christmas rotas can be tricky, especially when you’re trying to juggle staff’s holiday requests with ensuring your service is sufficiently staffed during the holidays.

I’ve always just asked my team whether they would prefer to work over Christmas or New Year. Rather than reorganising everything, I’ve often found it’s much simpler to run a normal rota, and allow my staff to submit swap requests if they want to.

What are the plans for the people you support?

Homecare providers

Do the people you support want the same number of visits over the festive period? Make provision to contact them or their next of kin to check. This can help schedule staff over the festive period.

Care home providers

Will people you support be going home with family/friends? Will they be expecting visits over the Christmas period?

Think about supporting with presents and cards. Have you checked if people you support need any help with purchasing and wrapping presents, or posting Christmas presents and cards?

And there are Christmas meals. Not everyone will want Christmas dinner. Be sure to check people have the food they want to eat over the festive period.

Prepare contingencies for sickness and absence

The cold winter weather means we have already seen some spikes in COVID/flu. It’s likely we will see an increased rate of sickness absence over the festive period.

It is important to have contingency plans to ensure any sickness absence is covered quickly and easily. Consider having staff on call/on standby, who are paid a retainer.

Of course, any contingency plans you have in place need to take into account more than staffing. Your contingency plans should also cover:

  • Adverse weather
  • Building issues, such as lifts, laundry, catering etc.
  • Equipment failure
  • Finances
  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Fuel shortages
  • IT and electrical failure
  • Quality issues
  • Staff absences and self-isolation
  • Supplier failure
  • Terrorist incidents
  • Utility failures, such as boilers, heating, water etc.

This list is not exhaustive but a good place to start. It is advisable to stock up on plenty of food and drinks, especially as we will see many services closed over the bank holiday periods. I would also advise that you stress test your contingency planning, to check everything is in place.

Create that festive experience

I am sure that many of you will have already have decorations and plans in place for creating that festive experience for the people you support, but just in case…

Speak to the people you support about the decorations they would (and wouldn’t) like to have up. Where necessary, check if they need support to put up their decorations/tree. Find out what music people would like to hear, and how you can ensure Christmas is truly a special time for them.

Have you thought about activities over the festive period? If not, I wrote an article last year about activities for care homes to guide you through this.

Understand the significance of Christmas

One thing I loved to do as a Registered Manager was to sit with each person I was supporting and find out what significance the Christmas period held for them.

It made Christmas extra special for me to listen to everyone’s feedback, to understand what made the festive period meaningful for them, and to do everything I could to incorporate it into my team’s plans for the holiday season.

For some people this may be visiting a family member or old friend they have not seen, for others it is about the lights and decorations and for others it will be about that glass of sherry!

It is important that we remember that Christmas is not for everyone and you may have people that do not celebrate it, or want to celebrate it in a different way. Make sure you know what they would rather do and put provisions in place for this.

Be ready to offer emotional support

Christmas comes with many happy memories, but for some it may bring up memories of loved ones who are no longer with us, or guilt or worry that they could not financially afford gifts.

It’s good to have plans to offer emotional support in place, whether it’s something as simple as drawing up an activity schedule or facilitating connections with family and friends.

Watch out for sensory overload

Christmas is full of lights, laughter, food and joy, but remember for some people, this can cause a huge sensory overload.

Be sure to understand the needs of the people you support and ensure measures are in place to prevent any sensory overload they may experience

It may be that you need to offer adjustable lighting systems, noise cancelling headphones or quiet rooms for respite to ensure that everyone can enjoy the Christmas period in a way that’s right for them.

Understanding and addressing sensory overloads should be captured as it demonstrates your commitment to personalised care and wellbeing.

Look for opportunities for community involvement

Have you checked out what is on in the local community? Are there any activities or events that people you support would like to attend? Examples could include

  • Christmas carols
  • Midnight mass
  • A pantomime
  • Enjoying the Christmas lights/decorations in your local area.

Reflect on the year

Christmas is so fast paced, and we rarely stop and look back. Use the festive period to reflect on the year gone by. What has gone really well that you would want to do again? What hasn’t gone so well and you could do differently?

Say thank you to your team

It is important to recognise the dedication of your staff during the holiday season. It may be that you do not have a budget to be able to buy everyone a gift, and that is okay. A simple Christmas card with a personalised message of thanks will go much further. You could also think about other initiatives such as secret Santa.

I find Christmas in social care is a real blink and you’ll miss it moment, but actually when we hit pause, sit down and spend time with others, you really find out that the true essence of Christmas is not about all the decorations and trimmings, but the relationships that we forge.

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