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How you can foster joy in work

Battling clinical burnout through happiness in the workplace.

When you step onto 4 East Surgical Unit at Lakeridge Health’s Ajax Pickering Hospital in Durham Region, you will sense it. Then, when you meet Susan Bradbury, a veteran Registered Practical Nurse, you will know that she embodies “it”: Joy in work.

“First of all, we’re not just co-workers on 4 East,” Bradbury says. “We’re family here. I have confidence in the people I work with and we can always count on everyone pulling together to help each other, especially when the unit is really busy. I’m privileged to work with some of the most compassionate and reliable team members who start with heart!”

Bradbury is an incredibly passionate and dedicated health care professional.

For starters, she practiced as a personal support worker for 10 years before heading back to nursing school to complete her licence as an RPN. At the time, she was raising five kids and attended school during the day and worked until midnight as a PSW.

“I’m proof that if you want it badly enough, you’ll make it work,” says Bradbury.

Thirteen years later, Susan Bradbury’s growth mindset and optimism enables her to not only continuously improve her practice, but also provide high quality, patient-centred care.


“Every day is a new day,” Bradbury says. “I come in, still passionate about what I do because I know I’m making a difference, if only it is for one person.”


How do Bradbury and her fellow team members on Ajax Pickering Hospital’s 4 East Surgical Unit foster a positive work environment – a safe and humane space where people find meaning, connection and purpose? A space where team members enable compassionate, yet safe and high-quality patient care and provide a great patient experience?

It may sound a bit “fluffy,” but 4 East’s secret sauce is a commitment to creating joy in work.

“We start a focus on a positive environment at orientation for each new team member,” Bradbury says. “I was embraced from Day One. We teach new grads this same philosophy.”

According to the Institute for Health-care Improvement (IHI), an organization whose mission is to improve health and health care worldwide, health care professionals are increasingly experiencing burnout at higher rates.

As you may be aware, across Ontario, clinical burnout – or that sense of physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress – is on the rise. And that is not surprising given increased demands on time, resources and energy in today’s dynamically shifting health care landscape.

IHI suggests that joy in work is more than “just the absence of burnout or an issue of individual wellness.” In fact, the organization concludes joy in work is a “system property”; while burnout leads to decreased staff engagement, patient experience, productivity and ultimately reduced patient safety.

More critically, the evidence shows that clinical burnout also negatively impacts a health care provider’s empathy – the cornerstone of person-centred care. This is so crucial in today’s health care environment that IHI suggests this dearth of joy at work is an epidemic.

Susan Bradbury and her team on 4 East recognize the importance of cultivating joy in the workplace.

“It’s not just about looking at this philosophy for patient experience and safety; it’s also about ensuring our team is healthy and resilient as well,” says Bradbury.

So, what can you do to foster a more joyful environment at your work?

The following are adapted from IHI’s Joy in Work program:

  1. Communicate often and ask your team members, “What matters to you?

  2. Identify barriers to joy in your unit or department.

  3. As a unit, commit to a system approach in making joy in work a shared responsibility.

  4. Use improvement science to test approaches, looking for opportunities and any proactive learning that can arise from defeats and successes.


Everyone plays a role in creating an environment where professionals feel connected to why they became health providers in the first place. For Susan Bradbury, this positive environment has a snowball effect for her team members and for herself.

“It brings me joy knowing that my children have entered health care careers because they have seen the impact that nursing has had on me,” she says. “I will continue doing this until I no longer love what I do.”

You just need to get that snowball rolling, too.

For more information, visit IHI’s Joy in Work page here

About Sharon Navarro

Sharon Navarro, MHSc, CHE, is a Manager at Lakeridge Health.