Organising staff’s Christmas rota. Giles Gardner reports from Devon Council

Merry Christmas. But is everybody having fun? Many staff have to work through the holiday period. Here, operations manager Giles Gardner explains what he is up against

It’s that time of year again, and while workers in the City are thinking of their Christmas bonuses and staff across the country are preparing for their work’s party, managers and workers in local authorities are preparing to keep the show on the road during one of the busiest times of the year.

I suspect that for most local authorities, Christmas is a game of three halves: the build up; Christmas itself; and the post Christmas situation.

During the run-up to Christmas, staff are often thinking of taking a well-deserved break to be spent with loved ones and friends, putting work behind them for a short while. Their managers, however, are thinking about how to maintain a service when both workers and providers are on vacation.

In late October-early November we draw up a Christmas working rota that allows staff to take leave but also ensures there are enough bums on seats to serve the needs of the public. This is especially difficult as, for example, this year we are “open” for three days (27-29 December) immediately after the Monday and Tuesday bank holidays.

I’m pleased to say that our front-line staff are always ready to step up to the mark and we always have sufficient volunteers to ensure the office remains open with enough personnel. As a reward, the council offers extra pay or leave. Unsurprisingly, most staff opt for extra leave.

We also prepare to make sure vulnerable service users are not forgotten. For example, our day care managers get in touch with locality offices to ensure service users, who may have hot meals while attending day-centres, have an alternative arrangement organised. So the plans are in place…

On 27 December, the staff on duty arrive for the Christmas shifts, provided that the third helping of Christmas pudding hasn’t done for them. The fax machine is approached with trepidation and business begins.

Having worked through Christmas many times in the past and again this year, it is difficult to predict how busy or, indeed, quiet the days might be. At times staff have been run ragged and at other times it’s peaceful. I think, on balance, goodwill to all prevails and families unite and support each other, neighbours reach out and offer support, and before you know it Christmas is behind us and we enter perhaps the most difficult period… 

Not to be confused with Christmas post – which is generally late. For us, “post Christmas” always arrives and this is a difficult time of the year for several reasons.

Hospitals that were full or filled over Christmas will now begin the rapid discharge of patients. And as this period is like the summer for us, when staff have extended periods of leave, it can be very demanding.

Also, January must surely count as the worst month of the year because we are all paid a week earlier than normal in December, so the end of January can’t come soon enough.

And to make matters worse, any managers responsible for budgets will find the next three months of the financial year very challenging as budget pressures bite hard. For my colleagues in Devon, Christmas is going to be particularly difficult this year.

Over the past three years we have been undergoing a job evaluation exercise, the results of which are due to be announced this month. The exercise could well see adjustments to the salaries and benefits of some professionals, in management and at the front line.

We are also about to enter the digital age and my locality goes live first with electronic social care records in January. This entails the gradual elimination of paperheld records, which is generally welcomed, but some fear that it could see a decline in user and carer contact. And, of course, the thought of floundering around trying to get to grips with an entirely new system is not something many would look forward to.

However, my experience of managing a locality in Devon is that my colleagues will rise to the many challenges with the dedication and commitment that ensures they turn up for work everyday, Christmas or not. Cheers to them.

● Plan early.
● Prepare and plan for bad weather.
● Provide adequate management and staff cover.
● Cook the turkey breast side down.

● Assume Christmas will be quiet this year.
● Leave planning till the last minute.
● Fill the office with staff.
● Put crosses on the bottom of brussels sprouts.

This article appeared in the 7 December issue under the headline “So here it is….”

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