1. Bartol, Tom APRN

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Joy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about work. After all, it is called "work," which is not always thought of as joyful. But joy in the workplace makes a difference, not only in how we feel about our work, but how we work. Happy employees are not just the responsibility of a supervisor or administrator. They are not dependent on the conditions around us. Each of us can find and create joy in our workplace.

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About 20 years ago, I moved to Maine and started a job at a community health center. Within a few years, I felt some dissatisfaction with my job. I felt like the demands of work increased and there was less appreciation for what I did. I found another job advertised that appeared better for me, one that seemed to have all I wanted. I applied, interviewed, and shortly thereafter, the position was given to someone else.


Disappointed, I continued in my current position, working through staff struggles, management issues, and supervisor challenges while feeling little joy at work. I liked the work I was doing but was not feeling happiness or joy. It did not seem like the right place for me. Things began to change when I realized that one of the people responsible for joy in my workplace was me. I began to look within, not to where everyone else needed to change, but to where I could change, grow, and create joy in my workplace. It was not the job but my attitude toward it that needed to change.


Who is responsible?

I now intentionally try to find and create joy in what I do. This has changed my attitude about my work from being a job to a vocation. I enjoy going to work, I enjoy the work I do, and I enjoy the people I work with. No longer do I see happiness at work as the responsibility of someone else; it is something I can influence in my day-to-day work and interactions.


Administrators have reason to be interested in workplace happiness. Happy employees are 31% more productive and have three times the creativity of the average worker.1 Happy employees also miss fewer days of work, are sick less frequently, and work more efficiently.2 Despite the benefits of happy workers, workplace administrators often do not actively put resources into workplace happiness; their focus is more often on productivity and performance measures. But as with most things in life, we will only find joy when we actively seek and create it.


Our attitudes and emotions have more to do with how each of us respond to the people and situations in our lives than a particular situation or person. It is easy to say we are not happy because of the actions of others or the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But no matter what is happening, we have a choice in how we respond. For example, when criticized, it is common to respond by justifying, rationalizing, blaming, defending, or comparing. These responses only create more conflict, discord, and unhappiness. Eliminating these five responses in interactions will help you focus on the issues rather than skirt around them, helping you hear the other person's perspective. When we can hear and acknowledge the reality of another's experiences, and if we do not agree with it, the other person feels understood and valued.


As an alternative to justifying, rationalizing, blaming, defending, or comparing, acknowledge what is said and let the person know that you heard what was said. Recognize merits in the other person's words and ask questions to better understand his or her perspective. Try to find some common ground. Then, share some of your ideas and suggestions about the issue. The key is to find a balance between inquiry and advocacy. Seek out more information to better understand what is said while promoting your own ideas. Criticism usually leads to a defensive response, whereas inquiring and sharing lead to dialogue and growth.


Making time for joy

Our joy at work has become challenged by the complexity and fragmentation of our jobs in the healthcare system. Work can seem automated, like an assembly line with tasks to complete, widgets to produce, and processes to follow. This is not why many of us chose to be in healthcare. We all have a choice to make what we do meaningful and important. We can choose to do something that makes a difference for our patients. Find that purpose in your work, the thing that brought you to this profession, and live it out in your work. Focus on what you can do, not on what you have to do. We have an opportunity to build connections and relationships with both coworkers and patients-which is what brings meaning to our work.


Building connections is something that often gets left by the wayside. When entering an exam room, it is easy to focus on numbers, diseases, or medications. When arriving at work in the morning, it is easy to get right down to work, making requests of our staff and coworkers without connecting with them. Staff meetings can become all business, with little or no inquiry as to how people are doing. Consider taking a moment to make a connection, to briefly socialize or chat with coworkers before starting work. Greet everyone in the office each day, and take a moment to inquire about their lives, family, or activities. Establishing connections before delving into work leads to deeper working relationships while developing camaraderie. These few minutes each day will change the way you work together and increase the joy you feel in your work.


Being kind to others brings joy to those who give it as well. It does not take much to be kind. An affirming word or supportive e-mail to a coworker can lift his or her spirits. Seek opportunities to show appreciation to the people around you. Reach out to someone in need, or ask about a challenge someone may have been experiencing. Celebrate each other as a team on birthdays, employment anniversaries, and other important events. Point out the successes and achievements of your coworkers. Kindness is contagious and costs nothing.


Team building

Team-building exercises can bring a group together, strengthening relationships while helping members better understand how each other works. Consider beginning staff meetings with team members briefly sharing the best things that have happened to them since the previous meeting. This exercise incorporates connection before content as well as helping team members get to know each other better. It brings a positive start to the meeting and, knowing they will be sharing this "best thing" at each meeting, helps employees to look for positive things to share between meetings.


Take a few minutes at each team meeting to have members share something they appreciate about one particular team member. Do this for a different team member each month or meeting; it may be done on an individual's work anniversary or during the staff meeting the month of their birth. The affirmations are an opportunity to build relationships while helping team members feel more connected and valued.


At my office, we have an annual half-day team-building retreat where we get away from the clinic to do team-building activities together. This provides an opportunity for people who may not usually work together or who have hierarchical differences to collaborate as equals and work toward a common goal. A retreat is a small investment in time and can help the team work together more efficiently, feel purpose in their work, and find more joy in the workplace.


Joy at work is good for all parties. The biggest obstacles to finding joy are the negative attitudes and judgments we make about our work and coworkers. We can create joy by finding the good in every person on the team and expressing gratitude for what we have. Joy in the workplace is the responsibility of each of us. Joy and work can and should coexist. Try creating joy at your work!




1. Lyubomirsky S, King L, Diener E. The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success. Psychol Bull. 2005;131(6):803-855. [Context Link]


2. Achor S. Positive intelligence. Harvard Business Review. 2012. [Context Link]