A small, belated Christmas tale on how not to manage an emergency department. But first a few preliminary points of information.
First: in Ontario, front line nurses are generally forbidden from taking vacation over the Christmas holidays, usually from some point from the first or second week of December to the first or second week of January. There are a couple of reasons for this: first, there are always staffing issues over Christmas. Secondly, if vacation time is granted by seniority, and if it werepermitted during the Christmas break, the most senior nurses would always get Christmas and New Year’s off, making merry while leaving their more junior colleagues to toil through the happiest time of the year. Hardly fair, and scarcely a morale booster.
Most hospitals in Ontario will arrange scheduling in this way: nurses work either Christmas or New Year’s (either we pick or alternate each year) but we get five or six days off in a row over the holidays. Like any compromise, it inconveniences some people, but most seem happy about this arrangement.
Second: most Emergency departments over the holidays look like a merger of Bedlam and a random circle of hell from Dante’s Inferno. High acuity and high volume. I might add this holiday season war zone ambience is as predictable as, well, Christmas falling on the 25th of December. We just gird our loins and sally forth. Nevertheless, even halfway through January, we’re all a little crusty and stressed out.
So what would you say to a manager who takes vacation — and not a short one either — over the Christmas holidays? One of my minions has informed me that an ED manager at one Toronto-area hospital took vacation from roughly the middle of December to the middle of January. Needless to say, given all of the above, her staff are not impressed. They are angry. They felt abandoned at a time when leadership was needed. They resent the double standard, the flaunting of the no-vacation-over-Christmas rule. Some of them, I’m told, are so disgusted by this behaviour that they are actively seeking positions elsewhere.
I understand that managers deserve and are entitled to their vacations, and that from a staff nurse’s point of view of there may be no good time for a manager to take time off. Even so, taking vacation when staff cannot, and over time period when volumes and acuity are notoriously high indicates a certain amount of — what? — cluelessness?
Management does have its privileges, but also has responsibilities. To me responsibility means sticking it out and providing leadership to your staff, even when it’s personally inconvenient. It might mean delaying a vacation for a month. It means not bailing out when you know things are going to be awful. This is good nursing leadership. Or am I completely off base about this?
UPDATE (22/01/12): Minor edit of mispelling. I need an editor, but can’t afford one.