Finding joy in work

12 October 2022

Joy in work is about being connected with what you do and why you do it. It's the feeling of success and fulfillment that comes from doing work that matters. It connects us with colleagues and patients through a sense of shared purpose.

Being passionate about what we do and enjoying our work makes the difference between being competent and being excellent. It also reduces the likelihood of developing burnout. Healthcare continues to experience under resourcing, particularly shortages of healthcare workers, and this places pressure on the system and everyone working in it. While healthcare workers need to have adequate rest and maximise self-care strategies, it is also important to focus on our values and why we chose to work in healthcare. We need to identify what aspects of our work bring us joy and determine how we can amplify this to provide the energy and motivation we need to increase our wellbeing and avoid burnout.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has published a white paper detailing a framework for improving joy in work. A description of some key features follow.

Fairness and equity are key contributors to joy at work and they support engagement. When everyone is engaged in an equitable and diverse environment, they feel as though they can listen to what matters to patients and colleagues; comfortably ask questions, request help, or challenge what’s happening; and use teamwork to successfully solve challenges. All of these contribute to a positive work experience and enable the entire team to experience joy in work. An engaged workforce has better teamwork and is more productive. Enhanced teamwork provides superior patient care with better outcomes and improved patient safety with less errors.

Other features of the framework include:

Making a workplace joyful is the job of leaders, but there is a shared responsibility which requires contribution from everyone. Leaders need to ask their team “what matters?”.

Some questions could be:

Then it is important to ask what gets in the way of a good day or what makes for a bad day. Discussion must be open and frank. These conversations must be ongoing.

After looking at impediments to joy or as described in the white paper, “the pebbles in their shoes”, the next step is to set priorities and then work together to address these impediments. It is essential to offer everyone a chance to give input on which impediments to address, build camaraderie by working together to remove impediments, and practice equity in respecting all voices. While making a workplace joyful is the job of leaders there must be commitment at all levels to take responsibility for creating a joyful workplace through a systematic approach.

The other key step to implementing the change necessary for a joyful workplace is to measure the outcomes. Over time, outcomes such as improved patient safety may become evident; in the short-term, measuring team engagement can be achieved by, for example, looking at frequency of team huddles and asking staff to report on their sense of being a productive team member. It is a good idea to start with small changes which are easily measured and then move on to more complex problems.

Improving joy in work is an opportunity for creating environments where people find meaning and purpose while improving patient experience, outcomes, and safety, as well as organisational effectiveness and productivity.

Kay Dunkley
AMA Victoria doctor wellbeing and mentoring


References, resources and further reading

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