July 26, 2010

“So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing” 

Abba*

Founders of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
Founders of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream

Can you imagine a group of busy health care professionals coming together for a week to discuss joy in and at work and its relationship to the quality of that work?  

For the past five or six years, I’ve attended an annual conference that the participants call “Summer Camp.”  Its real title is “Building Knowledge for the Leadership of Improvement of Health Care” and was started 17 years ago by Paul Batalden, a professor and pediatrician at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Each year, the group of about 70 health care administrators, physicians, and nurses (about one-third each and most of whom hold academic appointments) explores a different theme related to the quality and safety of health care. It’s a fairly consistent group and it has become a supportive and generative community. The group uses various modes of teaching and learning: theory ‘bursts’, individual and group exercises and discussion, poetry, film, food, physical activity, and simply rich conversation.

This year, it felt a bit frivolous to tackle joy in work when so many people feel overwhelmed with long work hours, multiple demands and roles, and connectivity that never ends—except in the learning sessions at camp where blackberries and pagers are off limits. But joy should not be confused with frivolity. The literature attests to the connection between joy at work and creativity and excellence  in an organization. Wouldn’t we all want to work for organizations that care as much about the engagement and joy of its employees as they do about the bottom line? Joy in work by employees may be essential to that bottom line. TCAB, or Transforming Care At the Bedside, is an initiative that includes team vitaility as an aim and has been able to reduce the turnover of nurses.

By the last day, I saw new ways to actualize what I’ve long believed—that we’re each responsible for creating and maintaining a supportive, joyous work environment and that joy at work can lead to better work.

How long will this feeling of certainty and commitment last? We’ll see, but I’m already working on the ways I can up the joy quotient in my work and at my work. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream has even formalized the importance of joy in the mission and organization—this company has a different CEO, a chief euphoria officer. Go Ben and Jerry’s!

(*Thanks to Leslie Kelton Walker at the Dartmouth Institute for her daily poems, including the one by Abba from “Thank You for the Music.”)

Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN

Co-director, CHMP; Rudin Professor of Nursing