What began as an exploration of new course content and the desire to apply learned knowledge to our own practice in an all-virtual academic environment, blossomed into a rich and joyful faculty team culture.
It all started at a curriculum vision meeting where joy in the workplace was identified as essential to nurses to experience professional contentment and subsequently decrease burnout and turnover. Our team realized we needed to sow the seeds of joy—learn it, live it, and ultimately teach it better—so we purposefully focused on nurturing our own joy and the joy of others.
Guided by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI’s) Framework for Improving Joy in the Workplace and later fueled by President Ricciardi’s Call to Action, Infuse Joy, our team intentionally assessed and maximized use of existing university resources and pledged to prioritize joy as a necessary component of our work culture. We would not settle for less! We committed to fostering trust and transparency and adopted evidence-based practices that cultivated a safe space to grow and “weed out” the roadblocks to joy.
Collegial relationships blossomed personally and professionally. The growth of trust and transparency allowed us to develop authentic relationships in which we could disclose vulnerabilities. Meetings became an oasis for healthy discourse. Professional concerns and academic principles could be explored fully through candid conversations, and we soon realized we had nurtured a diverse garden of personalities and ideas. Differences became valued, new perspectives on old problems could be explored and were welcomed, and confidence in our individual contributions to the teams’ vision of excellence grew. Our next step was to find ways to sustain and maintain the variety, respect, openness, robust dialogue, and team bonds. Now that we had experienced being in a joyful state at work, we were committed to embedding joy into our team in a purposeful way.
Our newfound team culture led us to identify and apply ways to embrace a joyful approach into self and work. Steps focused on the components of the IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work:
1. Real time measurement: Nature and nurture
Our team members adopted an online professional e-portfolio for monitoring personal performance data. We found that self-reflection on data, including course completion outcomes, student performance measures, peer-to-peer assessment of student instruction, and student feedback fosters autonomous accountability for professional growth. Time is set aside each week to review this data with the manager and to openly discuss strategies for personal and professional improvement. Also, during this one-on-one meeting, we routinely review annual goals with emphasis on what is needed to meet those goals, and most importantly, what is needed to maintain the joy in our professional work.
2. Wellness and resilience: Walking the talk and sharing the joy
Our university adopted an employee recognition program to foster public praise of fellow team members. Leveraging this tool created greater team engagement because we all feel more appreciated for the work we do, and now we look for ways to share our appreciation for the work of others. Every garden needs sunshine and water!
In addition to organizational strategies, our team also enjoys a “Sunshine Update” to start each weekly team meeting where we celebrate personal and professional milestones. We also found that, as documented in the literature, we needed “space” comparable to a traditional break room for informal time together. Shown to foster the most creative ideas, our virtual version of the “water cooler chat” created a warm sense of community and allowed joy to blossom in our workplace.
The wellness of our university family is a high priority, and all members are encouraged to engage in holistic health promotion programs provided by the university. Intentional focused efforts to optimize team engagement in these programs fosters a culture of care for self and others. We have flexibility in our work schedules and are encouraged to craft hours that accommodate our personal needs as well as student learning needs. This flexibility creates a balance and contentment that energizes team members and results in richer student engagement and colleague interactions. We found this to be especially important over the past year with the challenges of COVID-19 disrupting not only our academic routine but also personal life obligations. However, in our culture of joy, the camaraderie and mutual support enabled us to confidently step away when needed and trust that our students’ needs would be met by the team.
3. Daily improvement: Cultivating joy
The team has collectively embraced an attitude of daily improvement by challenging each other to exceptional performance. The trust and transparency established in our culture of joy, combined with our commitment to bringing out the best in each other, allows us to always assume good intentions and serendipitously results in individual and team growth. Joy can’t be forced, but it can be cultivated. Our conscious, individual, and collective decision to work on our individual joy and its expression within our team has been uncomfortable at times, but by this we know that we are growing. Ultimately, we reap what we sow, and we’ve cultivated a team culture in which joy is an organic part of our team.
Audrey Hepburn, a true friend of Sigma, so beautifully stated “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Our today is a blossoming garden of unique flowers that we cultivate daily. Individually and as a team, we embrace the call to action to Infuse Joy. We believe that by sowing and nurturing the seeds of joy, our nursing faculty team learned to live, teach, and co-create a brighter vision of tomorrow.
Carole Liske, PhD, MSN, RN, is the Graduate Nursing Program Manager at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is a member of the Sigma International Board of Directors as the Regional Chapter Coordinating Committee Chair, president of Sigma’s Psi Upsilon Chapter at Western Governors University, and past president of the Phi Gamma Virtual Chapter.
Heidi Johnson-Anderson, MSN, RN, EdD, is a course instructor at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is a member of Sigma’s Psi Upsilon Chapter.
Naomi Tutticci, PhD, RN, is a clinical lecturer at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane Australia. She is a member of Sigma’s Phi Delta at-Large Chapter.