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How the fun theory can improve staff well-being

Wellness events such as games and creative activities can ease strains and help prevent burnout
 Image shows silhouette of a male meditating in lotus position against abstract background.  Wellness events such as games or creative activities ease strains and help prevent burnout.

Wellness events such as games and creative activities can ease strains and help prevent burnout

Are our jobs making us sick? The evidence certainly seems to point that way. The modern emergency nurse has a 30-50% chance of burnout, poor sleep, higher risk of depression and mental illness.

However, we dont need to read the evidence. Its the zeitgeist, or spirit of the age what we talk about, hear on the news and read on social media. I became passionate about staff wellness following a challenging winter in the emergency department (ED).

The strain was obvious among all colleagues medical, nursing and administration staff.

...

Wellness events such as games and creative activities can ease strains and help prevent burnout

 Image shows silhouette of a male meditating in lotus position against abstract background.  Wellness events such as games or creative activities ease strains and help prevent burnout.
Picture: iStock

Are our jobs making us sick? The evidence certainly seems to point that way. The modern emergency nurse has a 30-50% chance of burnout, poor sleep, higher risk of depression and mental illness.

However, we don’t need to read the evidence. It’s the zeitgeist, or spirit of the age – what we talk about, hear on the news and read on social media. I became passionate about staff wellness following a challenging winter in the emergency department (ED).

The strain was obvious among all colleagues – medical, nursing and administration staff.

I work in a supportive environment and along with two colleagues, Heidi Edmundson, an ED consultant, and Nicola Stephenson, our general manager, formed a wellness steering group.

We all felt strongly that we wanted to be able to give the message to staff that their wellness matters to us.

We were keen to do this using fun and creativity, which can aid concentration and connecting with others. Mindfulness is frequently recommended as a method of dealing with stress at work.

Ten-minute pop-up wellness events

We were inspired by the ‘fun theory’ advertising campaign of carmaker Volkswagen, which carries the message that individuals are more likely to change their behaviour if fun is involved.

Initially, we ran ten-minute pop-up wellness events for all available staff, which involved playing games or a creative activity such as painting, drawing or origami.

Actors use this type of exercise to warm up their bodies and minds and help individuals to work together as an ensemble cast, which is also beneficial to our staff. We were able to expand these sessions.

People sometimes say that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist, but it’s hard to measure wellness.

We used feedback forms to gauge the effect of the sessions, and staff responses have been positive. Nursing staff retention has also improved.

The joyful atmosphere in the room, particularly in the longer sessions, was testament to this. Just giving staff the time and space to be together was uplifting for all involved.

Staff connect with each other in a different and more positive way

Staff reported being appreciative and said they had connected with each other in a different and more positive way. There was also a lot of laughter.

During these events I was struck by how much talent and energy we have in our team.

Seeing and acknowledging the whole person, their personality and talents is a valuable way to appreciate our staff.

Within the discourse around staff wellness there is an argument that ultimately it’s the system that needs to be fixed, and staff-centred wellness programmes are a waste of time.

However, system change takes a long time and is often beyond the scope of individuals.

While we wait for this to happen it is important for us to find ways of creating a positive and supportive environment. And maybe have a little fun along the way.


At the time of writing, Joanne Poulter, joanne.poulter@nhs.net, was emergency department practice development nurse at Whittington Health NHS Trust. She is now senior clinical practice facilitator in the emergency department at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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