Thriving in the Workplace

We don’t read many news stories these days about employees thriving in the workplace. The buzzword is burnout—a term so highly circulated it has become trite. And yet it’s the word of resort when describing professionals who have grown weary and cynical in the face of enervating workplace challenges like angry, rude clientele, staffing shortages, and workflow inefficiencies.

Dr. Megan Call, Clinical Psychiatrist at the University of Utah’s Resiliency Center, spoke to Roseman University pharmacy faculty on March 7, 2022, on the topic of Workplace Wellbeing, which she characterized as a continuum ranging from thriving, at one end, to full-on mental illness at the other. She explained that professional wellbeing is influenced by many factors, which we can cluster into personal, workplace culture, and system design factors.

Personal Factors

Dr. Call taught that personal factors account for perhaps only 20% of a person’s workplace wellbeing but are the easiest to change. She explained that even though stressors come and go, their psychological effects can linger if we don’t develop stress management habits. These habits include physical activity, laughter (or crying), breathing exercises, and positive social interactions. Developing self-awareness, a realistic, accepting outlook on life, and appropriate work/life boundaries are part of a healthy, long-term strategy for managing stress.

Workplace Culture

Workplace cultural factors, coupled with system design factors, account for about 80% of workplace wellbeing. Workplace cultural factors exist between team members and supervisors. They include a sense of connection and mutual support, and the provision of adequate resources, including coaching or mentorship. A thriving workplace culture is one in which colleagues can debrief one another about their workplace experiences in an acknowledging environment and where obstacles are identified and surmounted. To illustrate the role of connection, Dr. Call had participants break into small groups and share with their group something that went well and something that was challenging over the past several weeks. Participants reported this exercise “humanized” their colleagues and revealed how different people can have different emotional reactions to the same workplace event. As part of developing a culture of support, Dr. Call recommended colleagues and supervisors use simple, conversational questions to regularly check in on one another’s well-being.

System Design

System design factors encompass an organization’s policies, procedures, and administrative structures. These factors are often the most refractory to change, but Dr. Call encouraged team members to make suggestions to improve the systems in which they operate. She also recommended that leaders consider Swensen’s Listen-Sort-Empower approach. In this approach, policy makers listen to their team to find out what works well and where improvements could be made. They sort the feedback according to what is most feasible and most impactful and establish priorities accordingly. They then empower team members to implement solutions.

Overall, Dr. Call’s presentation stimulated reflection on stress-management habits and ways each of us can influence workplace culture and systems. Perhaps incorporating the ideas from this presentation could have the effect of changing someone’s trajectory from one that leads to burnout to one that leads to thriving.

Additional online resources recommended in the presentation were the University of Utah’s Accelerate Learning Community, for weekly inspiration on equity, self-improvement, leadership, and resilience, and the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience.

If you would like to contribute to the Faculty Development Blog, please contact Tyler Rose at trose@roseman.edu.

Tyler Rose, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy