Leaders need to see themselves as facilitators of joy say @helenbevan and others in a new blog for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The blog encourages us to go beyond the older idea of looking for ‘joy in work’, to get to a point where joy IS work. They are writing about a health context, in which intense funding pressures and rising patient numbers must make joy quite elusive, so it is good to see their chirpy optimism and top tips for joy (put down your smart phone and talk to people being one).
In local government where the cuts are even deeper and the existential crisis more intense, joy feels a long way away. Nor is there much of it within universities, where anxieties about performance management intensify as the next research assessment process gathers momentum. At a system level, we know that the strains across public services are intense.
And yet on an individual level many of us experience aspects of work that make us joyful: a thank you card from a student/patient/resident/boss; a buzzy session of sharing ideas with colleagues; a long term problem that we finally work out how to crack; a mentoring session with a new employee.
Could it be possible that joy can go from being an incidental side effect to being part of the system design as Helen Bevan and co-authors suggest? Could we recruit for joy? I don’t know what an environmental health office based on joy would feel like (a five star hygiene certificate for every fast food outlet?). But fostering a university research culture based on joy is a challenge I would like to get stuck into. A study of what makes an effective research culture highlighted a lot of attributes that feel a lot like joy; those research settings are places for curiosity, entrepreneurship, egalitarianism, nurture, cooperation. Maybe as leaders we need to know more about what joy feels like for colleagues and how to stop designing systems that squeeze joy to the edges.