CNA Survival Guide: Top Tips for Working Short-Staffed

Melissa Mills
May 24, 2022
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You arrived to work on time and energized. However, when you reach the unit, you hear someone say “short-staffed” and “call-off.” You immediately feel stress move up your body. Everything gets tense, and a little voice inside your head says, “Worst day ever!” Stop and take a deep breath before you get too far into the moment! 

While working short-staffed is an unfortunate reality of being a CNA, how you handle it will make or break your day. Check out these tips for surviving a short shift. 

Divide and Conquer

Being assigned more than the typical number of residents can feel overwhelming. However, if you work as a team with another CNA and split the workload, it will feel less stressful. You should also check with the charge to nurse to see if there are any extra nurses or support staff who can help by passing ice and water, restocking linens, or delivering meal trays to independent residents. These little things add up and can make the shift run much smoother. 

Prioritize Your Tasks 

We know - you feel like you’re always prioritizing! But, when your list of tasks to complete is longer than usual, you need to be organized. 

First, write out all of the work you need to do and rank each task as high, medium, or low priority. Then, as new tasks get assigned, add them to the list and rank them too. It’s also a good idea to chat with the charge nurse and decide if there are any tasks that you can remove from the list altogether. For example, night shift staff are often given the job of stocking the supply closet. But, if you are working short-staffed, the closet might have to wait. 

Be Nice to Others

Stress can bring out the worst in anyone. Try taking a few breaths before answering questions or moving on to the next task. Think about what words you want to use before talking. You should also think about your facial expressions and body language because they can be telling the world just how stressed you are without ever opening your mouth! 

Oh, and if someone helps - be sure to offer a big thank you! Those two words can go a long way in letting someone know you appreciate them and their work.

Leave Work at Work

This tip is easier said than done. You must be intentional about leaving work stress on the job. Here are a few things you can do once you get home to unwind:

  • Practicing yoga -even a short 15-minute practice can do wonders for your body and mind
  • Taking a hot bath - play relaxing music, light some candles, and relax 
  • Laughing - Nothing lifts your spirits quite like laughter, so try watching a rom-com or comedy to feel better 
  • Writing in your journal - writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you disconnect from the stress 

Survive the Shift

Getting through shifts where they aren’t enough CNAs can be rough. However, planning out how to work as a team, being nice to each other, and prioritizing your work can turn just surviving into thriving. Then, it will be much easier to leave work when it belongs.

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