Reconnecting to Joy in Work

Our Purpose Here: Reconnecting to Joy in Work in December and Every Day of the Year 

Post by Madge Kaplan, Director of Communications, IHIHost and Producer, WIHI 

You don’t have to look far to find media coverage of physician burnout. With growing evidence of burnout among nurses, too, reporters, health care leaders, mental health experts, health care educators, professional associations, and more are paying constant attention to the worrying trends. The recently released National Academy of Medicine report, Taking Action Against Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being is the latest attempt to compile what’s known about the causes and extent of burnout among especially clinicians. The message of the report is clear: an epidemic that’s approaching nearly one out of every two physicians deserves an ‘all hands-on deck’ response and serious exploration and piloting of possible remedies. 

In the best-case scenario, awareness raising of this prominent sort plus other research and activity on the ground will galvanize systems-level initiatives across the country and start to build the evidence for what’s most effective. This includes building on what we know helps.  Gatherings such as IHI’s National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care  (now in its 31st year), where I’m headed  in a few days, remain an embodiment of optimism and renewal. It’s hard NOT to feel uplifted when you’re surrounded by several thousand colleagues well-versed in quality improvement, deeply into their projects and initiatives, proud of their results to improve patient care, keen to share and network, and eager to return home to apply new ideas to do even better. But, returning home full of big ideas and hopes of change has gotten harder. And, for many doctors and nurses, it’s gotten harder still to stay connected to the passion that led them to their chosen professions. Because of increasing administrative demands, there’s less time spent in direct patient care, and because of impediments, like poorly-designed EHRs, there are daily frustrations and a relentless sense of not enough hours in the day to get the work done. 

To reignite what we know can be a deep connection to the joy of helping and healing patients and to reduce the burnout plaguing the industry, IHI is developing new strategies to support and address the concerns of clinicians, nurses, and others. Known as Joy in Work, it’s a framework of new habits, behaviors and changes organizations can test, adopt, and use routinely. It starts with senior leaders’ willingness to create time and space to ask staff “what matters to you” and “what’s eroding your sense of purpose and accomplishment?” Careful listening is paramount, leading to staff and leadership working together to remove identified impediments on the job and barriers to getting desired work accomplished. Joy in Work can’t solve everything. But it’s been shown to restore a sense of agency and empowerment among teams engaging in the process. There’s plenty about Joy in Work in the resources below and several great sessions to tap into at the Forum.  

In this same spirit, IHI has invited #hcldr co-founder and moderator Colin Hung to the National Forum this year. #hcldr has become a popular online gathering place to talk about the US health care system as seen through the eyes of patients and people who work in it.

Those of you who head to #hcldr every Tuesday evening at 8:30pm ET swear by its value and the sense of community it fosters. #hcldr breaks through the isolation too many who work in health care experience. Sounds a lot like Joy in Work, which is why Colin is teaming up with IHI’s Jessica Perlo @jperlo8 to co-host the Tuesday evening Twitter Chat from the National Forum, on December 10 at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here). We hope you’ll join the discussion with Colin and Jess on Twitter. They’ll be together at the Forum along with a few #hcldr regulars from the greater Orlando, Florida area, discussing the following topics:

  • T1 What does “joy in work” mean to you and what makes for a good day?
  • T2 What is getting in the way of your experiencing more good days at work (i.e. what are the “pebbles in your shoes”)?
  • T3 What suggestions do you have for starting a conversation with colleagues about the issues that impact joy in your organization? 
  • T4 What suggestions do you have for engaging senior leaders in the issues that impact joy in your organization? 

If you are able to join us in person at #IHIForum in Orlando – please come to the St. Louis room, in the Hall of Cities at the Marriott World Center at 8:00pm ET. Please let me know you are coming via DM @colin_hung so that we can get you on the guest list.

About the Authors

Madge Kaplan

Madge Kaplan is IHI’s Director of Communications since 2004 and the host and producer of IHI’s online ‘audio talk show’ and podcast, WIHI, since 2009.



Jessica Perlo, MPH

Jess Perlo is a Director for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). As lead for IHI’s joy in work portfolio, she teaches and coaches around the world, building individual and organizational capability for improvement and joy.



Institute for Healthcare Improvement, “Framework for Improving Joy in Work,” 2017,, accessed 22 November 2019

Institute for Healthcare Improvement, “In Defense of the Word Joy,” 15 October 2019,, accessed 22 November 2019

NEJM Catalyst, “Applying Community Organizing Principles to Restore Joy in Work,” 31 May 2018,, accessed 22 November 2019

Journal of Healthcare Management, “Why Focusing on Professional Burnout Is Not Enough,” March-April 2018,, accessed 22 November 2019

US National Library of Medicine, “Burnout and medical errors among American surgeons,” June 2010, accessed 22 November 2019

RAND Corporation, “Factors Affecting Physician Professional Satisfaction and Their Implications for Patient Care, Health Systems, and Health Policy,” 2013 accessed 22 November 2019

US National Library of Medicine, “Physician resilience: what it means, why it matters, and how to promote it,” March 2013 accessed 22 November 2019

Image Credit

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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