An epidemic of burnout in healthcare workers has been widely reported — but, these researchers suggest, perhaps the glass is half full.

Researchers at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement suggest shifting the focus from “burnout” to “joy in work.”

“The difference is not merely semantic,” they argued.1 “Just as health is more than the absence of disease, so too is joy more than the absence of burnout.”

What does this joy look like? It’s an intellectual and emotional commitment to meaningful and satisfying work, they noted.

“Ample evidence indicates that management practices that are concentrated on producing a joyful, engaged workforce result in lower burnout, fewer medical errors, and a better patient experience,” they concluded.

The researchers identified four steps leaders can take to develop a more healthful workplace:

• Ask staff what matters to them. “This first step is about asking the right questions and really listening for the answers to identify what contributes to — or detracts from — joy in work.”

• Identify impediments. Identify the processes, issues, or circumstances that impede professional, social, and psychological well-being.

• Make joy in work a shared responsibility. “From creating effective systems to building teams to bolstering one’s own resilience and supporting a positive culture, everyone contributes.”

• Test approaches. “By using principles of improvement science, organizations can determine if the changes they test are leading to improvement, are effective in different environments, are sustainable, and can be spread.”


1. Perlo J, Feeley D. Why Focusing on Professional Burnout Is Not Enough. Journal of Healthcare Management 2018;63:85–89.