Healthy Workforce

10 Tips for a Brighter Holiday Season

Simple ways to keep the festive spirit vibrant in your workplace this year

A nurse in scrubs smiling while holding out a coffee with a bow on it

The holidays aren’t always such a joyous season for nurses. Health emergencies don’t take time off for holidays, critically ill patients still need round-the-clock care, and let’s not even mention the pandemic. Nurses who have to work on a holiday can become quite irritable, especially if they’re anxious to get home to visiting family.

That negativity can make the season feel like another burden. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 simple tips for keeping the festive spirit alive and well in your workplace this year:


Positive emotions such as enthusiasm, excitement and joy are more contagious than negative ones. Projecting an upbeat attitude is an easy way to make the people around you feel better — including patients as well as coworkers.


While Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day are national holidays, remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Unless yours is a faith-based institution, you should probably avoid religious displays in the workplace — best to stick with secular decorations and traditions. Just be sure to include everyone in all seasonal activities while making it clear that participation is voluntary.


Everyone knows how hard the holidays can be on everyone’s finances, but something small and inexpensive (like a sock exchange where everyone gifts silly socks and wears them on a specific day) are easy and fun. Think beyond the usual Secret Santa game by having your gift gathering take place on an unusual day, like Winter Solstice (Tuesday, Dec. 21).

If your employer allows it, organize a tree-trimming party, complete with warm apple cider and cookies. Or, decorate the windows of patient rooms with paper snowflakes or hang a string of lights around the nurses’ station. Be creative, but be sure to stay within your organization’s policies.


Show me a nurse who doesn’t like coffee and I’ll show you a nurse who can’t be trusted! I’m kidding, of course, but it’s no secret that most of us have an enthusiastic relationship with caffeine. Simply grabbing a premium coffee gift card and putting it together with a cute mug tied with a ribbon is an inexpensive way to brighten the season for your favorite coworker — while keeping them caffeinated!

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Most units have a holiday schedule, so you may know a year in advance which holidays you will be working. Talk to coworkers who’ll also be working that day and plan a potluck. Don’t settle for chips and salsa either — break out the slow cookers and favorite family recipes. If you have to work on Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Christmas, you should at least eat some yummy traditional food.

If your coworkers aren’t up to organizing a full meal, bake a batch of snickerdoodles or some healthy banana bread, or stop by the local bakery to pick up something decadent, like a chocolate lava cake or cheesecake. Add a sweet little printable card, and voila, you have a nice, thoughtful way to say thanks.


Kindness is contagious! Let your coworkers know how great they are by writing encouraging messages on sticky notes. Leave the notes on each person’s desk, put them on people’s lockers or hang them around the workstation. It’s a fun and uplifting way to say, “I’m thankful for you!”

Start a “kindness revolution” in your organization to encourage EVERYONE to be caring. Speak nicely about others and stand up on their behalf if someone is criticizing them. When in doubt, always, always choose to be kind.


When you have a couple of extra minutes, offer to help your coworkers do their jobs. Ask if you can watch a colleague’s patients while they take a break, or see if there’s anything you can do to support your boss. Don’t limit this to fellow nurses: Ask the physical therapist if they need an extra hand getting a patient out of bed, and imagine how grateful a nursing assistant would feel if you offered to help bathe a patient for a change — especially if that patient wasn’t yours!

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If you don’t have visiting family and one of your coworkers does, or if one of your colleagues is scheduled to work on a holiday they celebrate and you don’t, think about offering to fill in for them. They will most likely return the favor when you need it.

For example, if you don’t have small children, offer to work 7-11 a.m. on Christmas Day so a young mom or dad can watch their children open presents from Santa. They will never forget it, and may be there for you on New Year’s Eve so you can celebrate. Thoughtfulness is a wonderful gift.


Everyone on the healthcare team has a job to do, but it’s nice when someone affirms you for “just doing your job.” Thank the nursing assistant for bathing your patient. Thank the physical therapist for walking your patient or for getting them out of bed. Be specific with your gratitude, and be sincere.

Also, be grateful for the fact that even if you do have to work on a holiday, you get to go home at the end of your shift — unlike your patients, who don’t have that option.


Did you know that feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine are released when we laugh? Not only is laughter good for the individual, it can also benefit the entire workplace.

According to Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of the book Emotional Intelligence, workplace jokes and laughter improve communications and trust. You can get a lot more done with people you feel comfortable communicating with and whom you trust than ones you don’t. Find every opportunity to laugh this holiday season!

Honoring Your Work “Family”

The people you work with can become like a second family: You spend a lot of time with them, sharing unique experiences and developing your own lexicon of private jokes and fond memories. Spending the holidays with those coworkers might not be your first choice, but it doesn’t have to be a hardship.

Take the opportunity to celebrate the awesome people in your professional life and make those holidays a little brighter for everyone.

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, CMSRN, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute. As a speaker, author and consultant, her goal is to eradicate nurse bullying and incivility.


JASMIN MORA is a Los Angeles-based illustrator. Reach her at

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