Liam Butler interviews leading occupational therapist Dr Elizabeth Pritchard.

Liam Butler: Dr Elizabeth Pritchard you have practiced as an occupational therapist, worked as a researcher and have mentored over 100 managers and clinicians. How can health leaders ensure that long term sustainable outcomes are not overshadowed by the need to adhere to budgets that focus on short term outputs?

Elizabeth Pritchard: This is a difficult conundrum for any health leader as the demand for high outputs within constantly increasing budget constraints is a very real challenge. Many work places tend to emphasise identifying and developing people’s weakness. This occurs through the processes around performance reviews, professional development agendas, and ‘feedback’ from supervisors. Recent research into flow, productivity and the science of happiness, has identified that one of the most important things in leadership is to identify the strengths within each individual in your team, (rather than focusing on limitations) with specific processes for supporting and enhancing these. Flow is when you are totally absorbed in what you do as it is fully engaging, at the right level of complexity and you have the right skills level and challenge for you – those  ‘time just seems to fly’ moments. Engaging in flow and focussing on strengths has been shown to increase productivity, reduce turnover of staff, increase motivation and happiness, and create a more fun, loyal and productive workforce.

The second element to building sustainable workplaces and environments is that each leader needs to be aware of your own strengths, how to show up every day at work and use them, how to balance the ones that are being overused with the ones that inspire and rejuvenate you, and how to be your ‘authentic self’ in everything you do. This includes emotional intelligence– awareness of your emotions and reactions and how they are affecting others, self-awareness of what makes you vulnerable and the ability to share this with people when appropriate in order to build high levels of trust amongst your team and colleagues

The third element that is important for sustainability of self and work teams, includes a high degree of ‘happiness’ within the environment.  The science of happiness is not about feeling moments of pleasure or saying “I’m so positive and everything is fine”.  The hard facts are that life happens; full of its difficulties, trauma, challenges, excitement, and positives.  We are not able to control or change these events, however we can CHOOSE our reaction to them.  Happiness is about choosing one’s reactions to EVERY situation and focus on the upside and not the negative, blaming, or justifying sides.  This is very relevant to personal attitudes as well as responses to events that occur within the work day. An example of this; being stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work and late for a meeting. We can choose our response of getting uptight, angry, tooting the horn and abusing the other drivers – or we can choose to acknowledge the truth of the situation and then respond in a different way. I am stuck in traffic, it is beyond my control – no alternative route to take, too far to park and walk to work, therefore I will call ahead and let them know I am going to be late and I will choose to stay calm and get there when I am able.

Heroic leaders are a valuable commodity.  We are more highly engaged, more productive and less likely to look for work elsewhere when we are fortunate to work with people that develop our strengths, determine work loading on energising tasks (where possible), and build a happy and productive work environment. This will reduce the costs of recruiting and create a more sustainable and highly productive workplace which attracts high calibre individuals and teams.

Elizabeth Pritchard,, is an occupational therapist, researcher, educator, international presenter and business woman. She recently completed her Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD – Health Sciences) from Monash University. She has experience in strategic development and leadership within a not-for profit organisation as Past President of the Occupational Therapy NZ-Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa (2007-2010).


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