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Putting fun in the practice: Hire for attitude, train for skills


Health care could use some hiring tips from Southwest Airlines.

fun doctor | © spoialabrothers -

© spoialabrothers -

“Fun is taken seriously at Southwest Airlines. Life is too short and too hard and too serious not to be humorous about it,” Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines

Healthcare is a stressful profession. Most doctors and healthcare employees must work smarter, harder, and faster than ever. It is not surprising that burnout exceeds 50% of healthcare workers. As the pace and intensity of healthcare have increased, we have often lost touch with the lighter side of life and even questioned why we went into the profession in the first place. Many medical practices have become very serious and bottom-line focused. We are asked to leave our personal and emotional baggage at the door before entering the office. We have been told that humor in the workplace is unprofessional and that silliness is for play and not for medical practices.

I think we can learn from Southwest Airlines, which believes that failure to nourish and encourage a sense of humor in the workplace not only undermines productivity, creativity, adaptability and morale can also impact employee retention, resulting in costly turnover.

Southwest Airlines hires employees, from baggage handlers to pilots, who can do their jobs well with laughter and grace. A passenger on a Southwest Airlines plane wants to engage with empathetic employees who inherently believe that serving passengers includes a healthy sense of humor, which makes the lives of the employees and the passengers more fun. Healthcare can be challenging - simply by the type of service we provide - but healthcare professionals have an opportunity and a responsibility to move out of the serious, stiff, humorless atmosphere and add appropriate levity when providing care for our patients. We need to find ways to make working in healthcare fun despite the intensity and seriousness of our profession.

How do you find those with a funny bone and as well as a crazy bone? We need to follow the example of the Southwest Airlines hiring process: “hire for attitude and train for skills.” Their hiring department looks for employees who don’t take themselves too seriously and then commits to training them on what they need to do to make the flight enjoyable for the passengers. They focus on hiring employees with the right spirit, those who are willing to work hard and have fun at the same time.

Perhaps when you are interviewing a potential employee for the first time, you might ask, “Tell me how you used your sense of humor in a work environment or tell me how you have used humor to diffuse a difficult situation.”

When posting a job opening, you might include something along the lines of, “We are looking for someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously while taking their patient care very seriously.” You could share, “Consider Acme Healthcare if you want a future that encourages coloring outside the lines, without boundaries, the opportunity to be original, and a chance to work your tail off!” This kind of post emphasizes that your practice is committed to providing a medical practice that is serious about providing outstanding patient care while committing to having fun, building connections, and creating a culture filled with down-to-earth, charismatic people. I am not suggesting that you are looking for standup comedians or those who can dole out one-liners. The message must be clear that behind all the fun, there’s hard work.

Bottom Line:

Consider looking for future employees with a sense of humor. You should hire for spirit, grit, work ethic, and enthusiasm. You can follow up and train for skills, which is easy. Treat such an employee as a family member or best friend when you have such an employee. Don’t ever take them for granted. Finally, treat everyone with kindness and respect. They will appreciate the kindness and pass it on to your patients. As a result, you will have an enjoyable, productive, efficient, and fun practice.

Let’s end this blog with another quote by Herb Kelleher, “We will hire someone with less experience, less education, and less expertise than someone who has more of those things and has a rotten attitude. Because we can train people. We can teach people how to fly and how to be kind to passengers, but we can't change their DNA.”

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