Just a few years ago, the idea of finding or needing “joy” in the workplace was commonly met with a heavy sigh. Not the silent eye-roll of the administration trying to keep feelings under wraps, but an overt display of the feeling that a job is just that, a job. And it's not your god-given right to love it. Work is work and if you don’t like it, well...find another job. According to Institute for Healthcare Improvement columnist Virginia Patania, in her article In Defense of the Word “Joy”, “joy is a word that is open to interpretation. Depending upon how you understand it, the word can elicit a variety of responses, including irritation, cynicism, and even guilt.”
But over the last five years there has been a dramatic shift in the way employees and, most notably, employers, look at workplace satisfaction, or “joy in work”. The problem is that, as is typical in healthcare, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In an effort to understand what employees want out of work, to meet their needs and reduce the increasingly high rates and costs of employee turnover and burnout, employers have taken the idea of finding joy in the workplace to the extreme. It’s no longer acceptable to have employees who are simply doing their jobs well, or *gasp* happy in their work, now they must be JOYFUL. It's practically a demand.
“joy is a word that is open to interpretation. Depending upon how you understand it, the word can elicit a variety of responses, including irritation, cynicism, and even guilt.”
From mini-fridges in offices and beer in the breakroom, chef-curated lunches and every happy hour bar game known to man occupying space in the lobby, employers all over the world have been throwing their best distractions at current and potential employees as a way to set themselves apart from the competition. But what is it all for? Happy employees are definitely key to a better workforce. They are the key to better sales, better buzz, they’re better caregivers, better advocates, better employees. But what does it mean to really inspire joy at work?
Through innovative surveying techniques such as “What Matters?”, healthcare staff and care providers overwhelmingly cite work silos, communication barriers, toxic and top-down management as the biggest impediments to thriving at work. The separation between patient-facing employees and administration makes the chasm between those on the front lines and those behind the desks seem even wider. Improvement initiatives seem to come from above with no thought to how those on the ground will be affected. Many organizations take great pains to make sure that their public image is a vision of employee wellness, operational fitness, imagination, and inclusivity. But what lies beneath the surface is often a workforce exhausted by institutional politics, bad managers and poor communication. The result is an organization with a mission that people love, but a culture that employees despise.
When it comes to finding joy at work, happiness trickles down from the top. And the resulting positive work environment that springs up around that positive runoff will benefit patients, employees, and administrators alike.
Ultimately, the way to a happier workforce is by learning what matters to employees and addressing areas where organizational shortcomings exist. Often employers pay lip service to breaking down silos and the need for optimized communication, but in reality, it's the leadership who is the worst at practicing what they preach. According to Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard, a leader in Global Network Analysis, leadership teams are often the worst at collaborating and present a major barrier to the success of cultural change. In order for employees to find happiness at work and invest themselves fully, they need to see their leadership teams lead by example. “If we want to bust silos, we need the leadership teams to quit talking about what their employees are failing at connecting around, and instead start to lead by example by busting their own silos.”
Research shows that in healthcare, happy employees mean happy patients. Allowing staff to find meaning in their work and thrive in an environment that makes them feel valued has to come from the top. Leadership needs to understand what matters to their employees and take the steps to address those effectively. Truly, when it comes to finding joy at work, happiness trickles down from the top. And the resulting positive work environment that springs up around that positive runoff will benefit patients, employees, and administrators alike.
For more information on how to get started asking employees What Matters?, visit our free resources or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.