Intense work environments. Packed schedules. Logistical distractions from providing care to patients. Sound familiar?

These issues don’t just drive burnout. They do something else pernicious: They diminish joy—within individuals and in work environments.

Headshot of Kim Hutchison, MD
Kim Hutchison, MD

Neurologist Kim Hutchison has developed a way for individuals and groups to push back against this problem. She calls it Joy Rounds. She spoke about it as part of a panel on “Being a Resilient Leader” at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

The exercise she describes is simple. Everyone in a group briefly answers the question, “What has brought you joy today?” …And that’s it. It doesn’t require equipment, or setup, or scheduling another meeting. It usually takes between 30 seconds and three minutes. Yet she has found that the quick exercise boosts resilience, cultivates positivity and increases connection among a group.

Dr. Hutchison was thinking about the negative correlation between burnout and resilience when she developed the exercise. She piloted it at the beginning and end of rounds at an academic medical center. The group included interns, residents, medical students and attending physicians. Their joys ranged from “a baby smiled at me on the elevator” to “I watched the sun rise with patient X” to “I found out all my brothers will be coming home for Thanksgiving this year.”

Often, says Dr. Hutchison, the joys that people identified involved some type of connection with others. “To me, that was eye-opening, how many of the things that bring us joy as humans involve the connectedness that we share.”

And sharing their joys actually increased the connectedness among this somewhat disparate group. During the exercise, “hierarchy fell to the wayside,” she says. No matter their positions, group members connected, at least briefly, on a human level.

At the end of each day’s regularly scheduled rounds, Dr. Hutchison asked something slightly different of the group. She asked group members to contribute something positive they had experienced or seen at the hospital that day. As the routine became established, the team members were aware all day that end-of-day Joy Rounds were coming. They were alert throughout the workday for positive events or praiseworthy actions by the people around them.

In other words, people were looking for the good in the day and in their coworkers. “That’s one of the primary benefits of the practice,” says Dr. Hutchison: “an increase in the awareness of joy in your life.”

The practice doesn’t have to be used at rounds, of course. It can be used as an icebreaker in a one-time meeting, or in a daily staff huddle before the office opens or the schedule gets busy.

My husband started it with his team at a homeless medicine clinic,” says Dr. Hutchison. “The team included a pharmacist; a social worker; a nurse; an MA… the group really latched on to it. People started coming by in the morning and looking around, ‘Is it time for Joy Rounds?’ They finally started having to write it on the whiteboard: ‘7:45, meet here for Joy Rounds.’ And then other people, people peripheral to my husband’s group, saw it and got interested, and they started coming too. He doesn’t even work there any more but they’re still doing Joy Rounds.”

The initial challenge of implementing Joy Rounds, says Dr. Hutchison, is presenting the idea and getting buy-in. Initially, people might resist the idea just because it’s new. Or they might not realize how brief the activity is, or how much control they have over how much they want to share. (Deep psychological insights most definitely not required.)

She explains that, as a leader, “you just have to say, ‘This is something that we’re gonna try!'” The next hurdle is to maintain consistency, especially at the beginning. After that, she says, the group gets into it and it rolls on its own. Perhaps one day next month, your joy will be that you implemented Joy Rounds.