After a demanding shift rife with unexpected stress and complications, the last word healthcare workers may use to describe their job is “joyful.”

Nevertheless, researchers who study healthcare work culture say such an emotional state is possible. The joy that comes from meaningful, important work is a tonic to burnout and compassion fatigue.

“In healthcare, the joy derived from our work is the ‘compassion satisfaction,’” says Lesly A. Kelly, RN, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University in Phoenix. “This is familiar to a lot of us. The altruism — the reason that we go into healthcare is to help others. We get a lot of joy out the things we do, and that balances out compassion fatigue.”

Kelly recommends employee health professionals take a look at a white paper recently issued by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).1

“It’s a free white paper you can download and it has a framework on how to improve joy in your workforce,” she says. “It is very directly aimed at strategies for increasing joy at work, which is a good synonym for compassion satisfaction.”

The IHI recommendations to improve workplace joy come with the caveat that some of the most meaningful recognition goes beyond monetary compensation.

“The organization demonstrates that it values health and wellness of all employees,” the IHI recommends. “This goes beyond workplace safety to cultivating personal resilience and stress management; utilizing practices to amplify feelings of gratitude; understanding and appreciation for work/life balance, the whole person and their family; and providing mental health support.”

Some key steps in this process include asking workers questions, carefully listening, and giving full consideration before answering. The IHI questions include:

• What matters to you in daily work?

• What helps make a good day?

• When we are at our best, what does that look like?

• What gets in the way of a good day?

Healthcare workers should feel they are fully engaged in this process and their voices are being heard.

“Making a workplace joyful is the job of leaders,” the IHI report notes. “Nevertheless, everyone from senior executive leaders to clinical and administrative staff has a role to play. From creating effective systems to building teams to bolstering one’s own resilience and supporting a positive culture, each person contributes.”


1. Perlo J, Balik B, Swensen S, et al. IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work. IHI White Paper. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; 2017. Available at: