The Case for Joy In Work

By 19th January 2020Uncategorised

We’ve been banging on about Joy in Work for nearly three years as a social movement. Joy in Work is at the forefront of the Institute of HealthCare Improvement’s strategy, and the focus of the British Medical Journal’s Christmas Campaign (check out day 13..).

But what do we mean by Joy?

Each winter, my dad would bring his sailing dinghy into the front room to paint it with barnacle paint (this is one of a string of events which, in adult life, I have come to understand is NOT usual practice in most households.). Barnacles are sticky little creatures with a hard shell who attach themselves to pretty much anything in sea water. They slow the boat down in the water, damage the paint and are pretty much impossible to remove.

Does this sound much like frustration to you? Cause drag, take the sheen off life, tricky to shift once there? Encrusting your life? Barnacle paint stops the barnacles form sticking to the boat.  Joy works in the same way. A coating of joy each day reduces frustration, helps the day run more smoothly.  Joy is not an insurance policy against bad times, but like barnacle paint, or varnish – or even an umbrella;  Joy is a way of getting through the wind, rain and natural inconveniences which we pass through in life.


Joy is a well from which others can drink, be refreshed.

But unlike a well, it will never run dry – It is not diminished by but increases with each person with whom joy is shared

Joy can be a flash of light in the gloom, or the whole backdrop against which our lives play out.

Humans mirror what is created around them. If you as a leader appear overloaded, dispassionate, always ready to see the worst, then that is what your followers will feel too.

And you as followers, your leaders can only grow others using the soil they find themselves in – if you are wallowing in self pity, negativity and learned helplessness, then producing a flourishing, fruitful harvest is a challenge


If not joy, then what?

Suffering and joy are flip sides of a coin. But unlike a random coin flip, its like a game of othello. The more counters you turn over to joy, the quicker it spreads across the board.  The same happens with bitterness, helplessness, fear.  Which side are you choosing to play for?

How can you send out a message of joy with every contact, how can you recognise, refresh, remind, signpost, explain, redirect, or any of thousands of small 15 second acts to reduce frustration and increase joy for someone?

If you practice compassion, you will be repaid with Joy.

Dabbers at the Ready…we’re going to play Busy Bingo

One of the blights of the current age is busyness. In the past we used being busy as a marker for productivity, for being wanted, for making a difference.

Now it used as less as a badge of honour and more as a burden to carry. How often this week have you been asked “How are you?”  And your reply has been “Oh you know…busy!”

Busyness is what stops us doing what we want, making progress, feeling fulfilled.  When we enter into busy bingo, we are in a perverse competition which we cannot win: either we are less busy than the other person – we feel as though we should be working harder to feel of worth – or we are more busy – leaving us feeling resentful – which is surely is no better!

Joy offers a shift in perspective – to examine in what ways we have helped someone; offered support; enjoyed our day.

The business case for Joy

 “Too much self centred thinking is the source of suffering.  A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness”

The Book of Joy

If there is no joy or happiness  – too much worry, frustration, fear – then even physical comforts and pleasure- a bar of chocolate, a hug from a child, a small gift – will not release the mental discomfort.  Lack of Joy in Work links with staff sickness, poor staff retention and turnover, lower engagement and poor patient safety and outcomes.

There are going to be frustrations in life.  The question is not “how do we avoid them” but “how can I used this as something positive?”

The answer? Kindness for others brings joy for you.

Unlike so many other things in the NHS, there is no waiting list for joy.  There are no criteria to be met, no preassessments or maximum daily doses. In practice, the opposite occurs: the more we seek out and create joy, the more opportunities will present themselves.  Its like a nuclear reactor of positivity.  Kindness to ourselves and others causes us to flourish and grow: shutting ourselves away causes us to wilt – like a plant in the darkness.

Formality causes barriers.  Paperwork. Targets. Meetings. Permission. Joy in Work flourishes when there are no rules. No sign offs. Spontaneous, immediate and with no expectation – that’s how a 15s30m Mission can start off a ripple effect of joy across an organisation.

So how do we maximise this drive for joy? Is it everyman for himself? Well certainly its possible to travel along the river in your one-man canoe…but it much more efficient in a long boat with each sharing the load of rowing.  The bigger your boat, the faster you’ll go.  So what are you waiting for?

And don’t forget your barnacle paint..


Want to know more about our social movement to reduce frustration and increase joy in work?

Quality Improvement for those who think Quality Improvement isn’t for them.


Rachel Pilling and Dan Wadsworth are the winners of the 2017 NHS Improvement Sir Peter Carr Award.

We’d love to hear from you…follow them on twitter @miss_pilling  or @danwods or get in touch using email above.