The Joy of Work

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“I love working here, and I love what I do. I love to clean. Cleaning is in my blood!” one of the environmental services attendants animatedly told me the other night while I was rounding in the hospital. Wow. I’ve said one of my goals is for people here to have joy at work, and here I was seeing it in full bloom. Now, I can’t honestly say everyone who works here would claim to be joyful – far from it. We do have a pretty engaged staff, and one of the things that first attracted me to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the deep sense of purpose and commitment to providing kids with the best and safest care that I saw in virtually everyone who works here. At the same time, this can be a stressful environment. We operate 24/7/365, we deal with emotionally difficult situations, the pressure of dealing with sick children can be intense, and as a not-for-profit organization we don’t always have all of the staff and other resources we’d like to have. So acknowledging room for improvement, all in all I think people here are pretty content.

But talking with that enthusiastic member of the cleaning staff reminded me that contentment isn’t quite the same as joy. I don’t want to be satisfied with my job, I want to love my job. I want it to be meaningful and fulfilling. What does it take to go from satisfaction to joy at work? Paul O’Neill, former Alcoa CEO and Treasury Secretary, and a member of the Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation, identifies three key factors:

  1. Am I treated with dignity and respect by everyone?
  2. Do I have what I need so I can make a contribution that gives meaning to my life?
  3. Am I recognized and thanked for what I do?

What strikes me about this is the fact that much of what determines whether we derive joy and meaning from our work is not about the organization itself, but about colleagues and co-workers. While having sufficient resources to get the job done is important, it’s at least as much about how we treat each other, in a spirit of collaboration and integrity.

So as I pore over the results of our latest employee engagement survey, I’ll be thinking about what I can learn so that more people will be as joyful about their work here as that EVS attendant I met the other night.


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