The Joy of Work | Learning & Development | Primeast

The Joy of Work

Author: Dr Matt Walsh

Date: 13/07/2021

There are times when it might seem a bit of a stretch, but don't forget, as Henry Ford once said "There is joy in work"

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have work as the world recovers from the latest iteration of the pandemic and the challenges it continues to set in our path, might simply want to keep our heads down, mourn our losses, count our blessings and carry on. Others may be struggling with the feeling of overwhelm at the relentlessness of the last eighteen months. And yet we continue to hear talk of recovery, of building back, but better than before. Is it even possible?

Looking back over a career which has seen me work as a family doctor, a trainer and teacher of doctors, and latterly, a leader of organisations operating in health and care , and a coach and mentor to folk who find themselves treading the same wonderful and risky path which I have trodden, I realise that I have been curious for a while about how, together, we can create the conditions in the workplace which enable those people who want to, to bring the whole of their passions and energy to life in the pursuit of a shared purpose.

It is evident, not just in the many words of others and research conducted, but from my own personal experience of supporting leaders, that the context has changed so utterly over the past eighteen months, and so indeed has the world of work.

You're not human if you haven't experienced on some scale, stress, anxiety, doubts and uncertainty. Many have undergone a re-evaluation of personal beliefs and values, a refreshing of our own purpose in life, our expectations and desires. All of which has had an impact on how we view our 'work'.

The notion of 'workplace' for many has become confused and boundaries which once existed between work and life have blurred and become uncertain.

'Joy' might seem an unusual concept to entertain in the face of such uncertainty and if it was a difficult thing to feel when we were all together, how much more difficult might it be, when separated by distance? And after all, what is joy? And can we truly expect to experience joy at work?

Joy is a feeling and a knowing. When I imagine joy, I think of those moments of bliss, when the world is aligned and everything feels perfect. It's that moment in the film 'Billy Elliot' when the lead character springs to life on stage, as he takes the role of the White Swan. He is a young boy from a coal mining community, breaking free of expectation, and finding his destiny - it is a moment of beauty, power and purpose.

The moment is a reminder for us all about the importance of knowing who we are and why we do what we do.

In 2017 the Institute for Healthcare Improvement published 'A Framework for Improving Joy at Work'. It resonated with me at the time and has never been more relevant in today's world. As a leader preparing for my annual appraisal, I invited everyone in the organisation to respond to the following three questions: What should I do more of? What should I do less of? and How am I when I am at my best?. The responses were always enlightening - talk with us more, create more places where we can have conversations, listen to us, we have some really great ideas, keep reminding us about the difference we are making.

We should always remember that organisations which regard the creation of an environment in which joy at work is possible, not only recruit and retain their workforce more readily but they also enjoy higher levels of productivity and, in a health and care setting, deliver better experience of care and better outcomes of care.

The job now for any leader is this simple; creating and holding the time and the space together, into which we can listen to each other, learn together and remind ourselves of our common purpose.

Let's not assume that we all know our common purpose. And let's not assume that the purpose which we agreed last year, or five years ago, is the right purpose for now. Or that the values that we held on to dearly before are the right ones for now. The world has changed. The world needs to change more. This pandemic has reminded us of much that we knew before, but which we had not attended to properly. We need to spend time together, reminding ourselves about what we have learned, establishing new clarity in our purpose and values so that we can respond to what the world now needs us to do.

If you'd like to understand more about what your own purpose is, you can complete this free tutorial - 'Understanding your Purpose' recorded by Sarah Cave, Primeast.

One of the tools we employ when working with leaders and organisations to create leader alignment and in designing programmes to support purposeful alignment in organisations is the PrimeFocus™ framework. You can complete the PrimeFocus™ self-assessment which will help you understand how your organisation is faring with regards to having a clear vision and purpose and the related conditions needed to achieve your organisation's purpose. It will help you to surface some of the challenges and thinking so that you can begin conversations about purpose with leaders and colleagues in your organisation.

About the Author


Dr Matthew Walsh

Matthew has worked in the NHS for 33 years, was Chief Executive at NHS Calderdale CCG for 7 years and prior to that was deputy CEO, Acting CEO and held various Executive Director roles in the sector. He is a clinician, a doctor and a reflective practitioner.

As a coach and mentor his approach is to empower coachees through challenge and support, providing the time, space to support to find the answers they need to take action.

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