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Happiness at work in the healthcare profession


In Britain, we work the longest hours in the EU, averaging 42 hours a week, nearly two hours more than the EU average – equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year (based on 2018 figures).[1]

Most of us who have worked in the healthcare caring profession have experienced the pressures long hours can cause, which those outside the caring profession may not fully appreciate.

As staff, we often turn to black humour which often works as a valve on a pressure cooker, allowing us to relieve stress. But how can we create an environment in the long term which enables trust between colleagues, thereby allowing the sharing of the good, and not so good times?

I recall that for myself, that often the more emotionally challenging the work environment, the more laughter we shared. The hospital refectory was always the place where my colleagues and I would meet for a quick drink after a particularly tough shift, to debrief and share a laugh.

In today’s world why should we put effort into something as fragile as happiness? Research suggests that happy employees, in comparison to their least happy colleagues:[2]

  • take one tenth of the sick leave
  • are six times more energised
  • intend to stay twice as long in their organisations
  • are twice as productive

We can begin to see that happiness at work benefits both employee and employer.

In addition, we know from the evidence that being happy at work is not just good for the employee but in healthcare it would also benefit the patient. Although not proving causation,  research from Lancaster University and The Work Foundation found there are convincing pieces of evidence suggesting an association with improved employee engagement and better clinical patient outcomes.[3]

The benefits of humour and laughter are even referenced in the bible, Book of Proverbs 17:22 (New International Version), where it states:

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
(Book of Proverbs 17:22)

An unusual reference perhaps, but indicating that even in the 10th century people understood that a joyful spirit has positive therapeutic effects, while the absence of joy may make you ill.[4]

Creating this space where people can flourish and be happy needs constant attention and skill. How can we make small changes in our own working environment to support happiness at work?

I decided very early in my career that I would always try as a manager to develop a team esprit de corps which made my colleagues enjoy coming to work and perhaps in a selfish way, made my life as a manager easier!

We spent a lot of time creating a respiratory nursing team which was well respected for our enthusiasm and achievements. This was done by everyone feeling respected and supported, and by taking small steps.

This included:

  • Taking breaks together when we could. We were always the noisiest table at lunch, and this time was viewed as a chance to regroup, and recharge our batteries for what the afternoon would hold.
  • Creating a ‘happy book’, where we noted down the funny things that happened on our shifts. On a gloomy day we would bring it out and share some of our moments of mirth.
  • Celebrating the little things: we made sure we celebrated everything we could. Birthdays were a staple, but anything that a colleague achieved, we cracked out the food and drink.

Of course, we certainly cannot be happy all the time at work. I believe if steps are taken by ourselves as managers and leaders, we can make small changes where both staff and patients will see the rewards.

Remember: “a cheerful heart is good medicine”. (Book of Proverbs 17:22)

Any advice given and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the view of Chiesi Limited (Chiesi).  All content in this article is for informational and educational purposes only.  Although Chiesi strives to always provide accurate information, it is not responsible for and does not verify for accuracy any of the information contained within.

[1] TUC 2019. British workers putting in longest hours in the EU, TUC analysis finds. Available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/british-workers-putting-longest-hours-eu-tuc-analysis-finds Accessed June 2021

[2] iOpener Institute. Why happiness at work? Available at https://www.iopenerinstitute.com/happiness-at-work Accessed June 2021

[3] The Work Foundation and Lancaster University. 2018. Solving the Employee Engagement Puzzle in the NHS: making a better case for action. Available at: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/lums/work-foundation/reports/FINAL-Making-the-case-for-Employee-Engagement-in-the-NHS-overall_-1.pdf Accessed June 2021.

[4] Savage B, Lujan H, Thipparthi R et al. Advances in Physiology Education. 2017; 41:3: 341-347

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UK-RES-2101322 July 2021