The last two years of crawling through a pandemic has been serious work. The healthcare industry has dealt with all kinds of unknowns. Healthcare workers got more exhausted, overworked, and underpaid, all at the same time. This professional state of affairs went on and on without abatement. On the personal side, many of us lost loved ones, and many of those who were saved had to deal with long Covid symptoms. Although we are a bit worse for the wear and tear, we all evolved in order to survive - and so did our patients.
During this time, our patient population changed dramatically too. During nearly two years of waiting, isolation, and fear, they have become more frustrated, more scared, more demanding, more self-absorbed - and some of them have become down right mean! As leaders in the healthcare industry, we must consider ways to help our patients and our staff process everything that has happened, so we can all return to a good place.
When used appropriately, humor in the workplace provides many benefits. It can reduce stress, ignite creative thinking, humanize us, build trust, develop a sense of team, and enhance interpersonal communication - and it can also increase morale. Obviously, these benefits lift the entire organization. When employees are happy, when they trust one another, and when the team has stronger relationships with one another, productivity is enhanced, and collaboration makes us all happier. We perform better.
Humor can make leaders more approachable. There are many different ways to create humor in the workplace, but as most things, it starts with leadership. Sharing mistakes, failures, or a few funny stories can demonstrate that leaders are just as human as the next person. Stories create valuable opportunities to communicate information. They can break down walls and give us a platform to pass along what has been learned over time, rapidly creating shared knowledge for the team. Telling stories and using humor to convey information can also make us better leaders by creating an opening for employees to share back. Humor is a relatively safe way for us to be vulnerable and build trust. It also results in connections between colleague, patients, and others the more we see each other as human beings.
I like to create humor in the workplace by starting meetings off with a fun activity or ice breaker. This allows us to get to know something new about the people on the team and enhance our professional bond to a more personal level. Games are great for this as well, and it can be surprising to learn just how competitive the most unassuming people can become.
There are many different ways of creating humor and they produce a variety of positive benefits. First, humor fosters creativity. Laughter is often a byproduct of humor, which triggers the production of endorphins that enhance creative thinking, boost energy, and create a sense of wellbeing and happiness. When creativity is applied to challenges, it can result in innovative ideas being born and good ideas becoming great. Humor also builds tighter, stronger teams. Being vulnerable with one another and even sharing slightly embarrassing moments builds a trust foundation and provides an opportunity for a team to gel. Highly engaged and collaborative teams can produce amazing results – and it helps with employee retention too.
Since we have all been so serious and so stressed for a prolonged time, it is important to trigger positive change, and the introduction of a bit of appropriate humor in the healthcare industry is a great way to start. The pandemic has underscored that life is way too short and if one group of people know that to be true, it is healthcare providers. So, make the most of it. Laugh, connect, and bring smiles to the team and to patients.