Looking after your staff at Christmas

Care home catering staff may be working longer shifts than usual over the festive period, with many on duty on Christmas Day, separated from families and friends. With Covid-19 restrictions, care caterers may be doing more for residents than usual, especially if residents are unable to see loved ones. The added pressure can take its toll on staff, who may feel drained and overwhelmed both physically and emotionally, so it’s important to ensure they are supported during this busy period.

Planning and communication is key when it comes to supporting staff over Christmas. As Sue Cawthray, National Chair, National Association of Care Catering (NACC) advises “Start planning for Christmas in plenty of time so everyone knows what’s going on and they can plan for their own personal Christmas around their working patterns.”

Getting the team involved in the planning process alongside residents, from the ideas meetings and generation through to the big day is important “as staff will be fully invested in the proceedings, which will heighten their enjoyment,” says Sue.  

Sue also suggests getting the staff out of the kitchen (if Covid-19 guidelines allow) and encouraging them to have fun with arts and crafts activities such as table decorations. “Make sure staff and residents sit together to enjoy their Christmas meals,” she adds.

One of the most difficult aspects for staff while working over Christmas is being away from loved ones. Tim Etherington-Judge, founder of Healthy Hospo, says “This is why allowing your staff time to call family and friends at Christmas will mean a lot to them. Encourage them to do so if they wish and allow them enough time to do this.”

As hospitality work is physically and mentally demanding, it’s crucial that staff have sufficient time to rest. Tim says “Ensure that your team has a substantial amount of time away from work to mentally de-stress. Physically getting away from the work environment should be encouraged. This means not eating lunch in the corner of the kitchen. During this time, it’s important staff aren’t disturbed or asked to leave their break early. This is their time and it should be respected.”

At Care UK, which operates 125 homes, a flexible approach is taken to rotas so in most cases personal preferences can be accommodated. Andrew Mussett, senior chef at Care UK, says “We are a multi-cultural organisation and embrace a wide variety of faiths and cultures. By taking into account one team member’s requirements, often another’s may be accommodated further down the line. For example, a team member who requests time off for Diwali would then be able to cover for another who would prefer not to work on Christmas Day.”

Although the festive period entails extra work for the catering teams, Andrew points out “It is a real joy to see residents and their loved ones enjoying the Christmas meals and goodies prepared by my colleagues. This appreciation from our audience and the satisfaction they get from the fruit of our labours is what makes it all worthwhile.”

At Harrogate Neighbours, work shifts are shared so that those with younger children are at home on Christmas morning. Stephen Wilkins, Hospitality Manager, says “We don’t expect staff to work on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day unless they want to so we co-ordinate the shifts to make it fair for everyone. We host a Christmas party for residents with entertainment and all staff members are invited to attend. Free Christmas meals are provided for staff over the period.”