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Being a Nurse Manager: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Summer Madness, Vacation Challenge

Published July 21, 2016 8:28 AM by Samantha Therrien
Summer is here! Living in New England, our summers tend to be short, but so is staffing.  For most of us, summer is a time of fun, relaxation and beach days. Many employees already have summer and vacation on their minds; after all, it's been a long winter and the staff is ready to get away from it all and get some much needed R&R. Research has shown that taking time off is critically important to avoid long-term burnout, builds resilience and increases staff's morale.

Vacation time is the most challenging and hardest time for managers to staff the unit. As managers, we are still responsible for keeping the unit running smoothly while allowing the employees downtime they need. The first challenge is vacation requests: who gets what week? And how to be fair?

In the past, it was always first come, first serve-and don't forget seniority. This strategy can work, but it can end up not being fair. Creating a strategy ahead of time and outlining how approval is determined will ensure that your staff's productivity does not take a vacation.  Have a plan in place so your staff knows what to expect and so you aren't seen as playing favorites.

Here are some of the tips that managers use for staffing summer vacation and holidays:

  1. Announcing that any summer vacation time requests should be submitted in a timely manner, preferably 3 to 5 months before summer starts. This will help to determine if you will be able to grant incoming vacation requests and still have enough coverage, or whether you will need to change some of them.
  2. You can ask staff to submit their first and second choice of weeks off for time away. And, if you can, try to make sure that everyone gets at least one of those weeks off that they requested either as their first or second choice. Keeping a copy of previous years of vacation taken off by staff can help with having a rotation were the same staff is not taking the same weeks every year.
  3. A great way to minimize stress of absent staff is cross training throughout the year with other departments. On my unit, preoperative and PACU nurses are crossed trained in these two units. The benefit? A maintained, steady productivity while they are gone.
  4. Explain to your staff the circumstances. If you are not able to get enough coverage, you might need to deny some requests, but you will do your best to avoid that from happening. Keeping staff informed is crucial; saying nothing means the risk of upsetting your staff who never heard "no" before. This will also help in preventing resentment from staff, and they can plan accordingly and ask for their recommendations.
  5. Be apologetic about it and openly appreciate that people are willing to pitch in to make it work. That does not mean that your staff will be thrilled about it but seeming insensitive and unconcerned will make it go over worse. Do what you can to make being at work during vacation season more pleasant for staff. I bring in food (my nurses love chocolate). Find other ways to show appreciation. And always say "Thank You" at the end of a shift.

Remember, as a manager, there are no small gestures.  Make sure you schedule your own summer vacation, along with everyone else. I'm looking forward for the dog days of summer when the temperature rises, and I can actually kick back and relax.


Great insight into the needs of staff.  An operating room is like a factory.  The "products" are a safe effective procedure on patients who trust us to do our very best.  It takes a team to accomplish this outcome.  Everyone in the production line is important and has a vital role in insuring a successful result.  Crosstraining not only allows for a smooth flow of care, but it also allows all the team members to be sensitive to the roles of others as well as expand their knowledge base.

Don Clukies, plastic surgery - surgeon, SDSC July 30, 2016 6:24 PM
Fall River MA

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