humor hope gratitude
How Humor, Hope, and Gratitude Can Make You More Resilient
Resilient teams are safer teams. Duke University psychiatrist and patient safety researcher Bryan Sexton shares practical tips for cultivating resiliency both personally and with your teams, courtesy of our own Christian Sherwood.

urnout is a team sport. Building resiliency is, too. Bryan Sexton, from Duke’s Patient Safety Center, cited social contagion research to suggest that our environment (specifically the people around us) impacts whether we experience burnout or resiliency.

Consider Sexton’s metaphor: Let’s say we are all on a big health care cruise ship. Yay! One of our colleagues tumbles off the side into the deep blue and yells for help. Another one of us leans over and says, “You should take swimming lessons!”

While well intentioned, it’s a silly response. And yet when someone at work has a burnout-related incident, we often hear (or even say) comments such as, “she should take up yoga,” or “meditation really can help,” or even “he should get off gluten.” These strategies may apply when someone is “still on the boat,” but they are as unhelpful as offering swimming lessons to someone who has fallen overboard.

Burnout is often defined as emotional exhaustion, a disillusioned sense of accomplishment, and disconnection to the point of depersonalization. Sexton narrowed the definition to the impaired ability to experience positive emotions.

“Burnout is the impaired ability to experience positive emotions.”

Stop and consider that: the impaired ability to experience positive emotions. That means even if you have a good experience, burnout prevents you from feeling its positive emotions.

Cultivating resiliency is something to do before falling off the cruise ship. To cultivate means to nurture, grow, and encourage resilient behaviors. It takes daily focus.

Three of Sexton’s recommendations and tools:

  1. Cultivate humor — Finding the humor in benign violations of social norms decreases stress. (Find his humor tool here.)
  2. Cultivate hope — The opposite of burnout is not happiness—it is hope. (Find his hope tool here.)
  3. Cultivate gratitude — Gratitude, even for the seemingly mundane, helps us connect to and feel positivity. (Find his gratitude tool here.)

How Will You Cultivate Resiliency?

After attending Dr. Sexton's presentation this spring, we asked over 500 administrative and physician leaders from U of U Health how they plan to cultivate resiliency with their teams. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

  • “I will remember that both burnout and hope are contagious.”
  • “I want to help people approach their work with a more positive attitude.”
  • “I will continue to connect with my employees. This presentation showed how important it is to make connections with your coworkers.”
  • “Base my decisions off of positive emotions.”
  • “I will not feel guilty when I take a vacation.”
  • “Lead by example to decrease burnout. Provide hope on challenging days.”
  • “Talk to the staff about resiliency and what the U offers.”
  • “I'm overdue for some self-reflection on my effectiveness as a leader. I will also seek feedback from my team. I know that I need to offer more meaningful and timely feedback to my staff.”


You Don't Have To Do It Alone

The University of Utah Health Resiliency Center has people and programs available to combat burnout and cultivate resiliency for all staff members. Take a look at the services available to you and your team.

This article originally posted March 15, 2019, after Dr. Bryan Sexton spoke at the U of U Health Leader Development Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah.



Christian Sherwood

Director, Communication and Recognition, Human Resources; Deputy Editor, Accelerate, University of Utah Health