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Is a better workplace environment the solution to physician and nurse burnout or the staffing problems faced by the senior living industry?

Well obviously, that's not the only solution. But designing a healthcare workplace that supports and engages their mind, body, and spirit could go a long way to reduce staff turnover and burnout.

Learning from the Corporate Workplace Environment

I was reminded of this last week when I attended a presentation at NeoCon on "Creating a Culture of Caring for the Care:  What We Can Learn From Corporate Workplace Design."

Led by Stacey Brimmer and David Euscher of Corgan, they didn't tell me much that I didn't already know. Nurses feel undervalued and think they have more work than they can handle. And 51% of them have musculoskeletal pain.

They didn't even talk about physicians. According to a 2016 survey by The Physician's Foundation, 49% of physicians often or always experience feelings of burnout.

"Focusing on employees first is akin to being on a plane and putting your oxygen mask on before your kids," Stacey said, quoting a hospital executive at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

I like that. What's more, happy employees make for happy patients -- or, in the case of senior living, residents.

Give People Choice & Control

Some of the corporate workplace considerations Stacey and David think that healthcare organizations could focus on are amenities, intuitive tech, co-working, health and wellness, and acoustics. They spoke about giving people choice and control over their workplace environment, with design solutions like:

  • Sit to stand workstations
  • Spaces for flexible collaboration and focused work
  • Areas for socialization and learning
  • Break and re-group spaces
  • Access to the outdoors

These are all good things, but I think that finding ways to bring laughter and fun into the healthcare workplace environment is also important.

For example, the teenage wait staff at the upscale, but somewhat traditional senior living community where my mom and dad live in Central Illinois are notoriously slow and not very pro-active. Sometimes you have to ask two or three times just to get something as simple as a missing spoon.

If they had a workplace environment that they thought was fun, they'd be much happier, more engaged, and might just do a better job. Just say'in.

Finding Joy in Work

In its 2018 Environmental Scan, the American Hospital Association stated that 58% of hospital executives think it's very likely that by 2022 their hospital will have implemented strategies to increase employee job satisfaction and "joy in work."

Which is really interesting, because I had a conversation about this very topic at dinner last week with Kerri Badura, an interior designer at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz.  She and her colleagues were in town for NeoCon.

Kerri told me their team had been tasked with "imbuing joy and innovation" in their projects. "While we have not developed a concrete way to create joy or innovation, it is something we are always discussing," she wrote in a follow up email. "The general idea related to joy is to increase staff to staff and staff to patient engagement and decrease burnout."

They are planning more staff collaboration and respite areas and talking about how to support improving the staff-patient relationship, because "happy staff equals patient joy."

I shared with Kerri my work with The C.A.R.E. Channel nature video and music programming for patients and how I witnessed its ability to bring comfort and joy to both patients and staff. Every workplace environment should have some kind of nature and music.

Beauty in Healthcare

Then I heard healthcare designer Roz Cama talk about beauty this week. She was giving a CEU presentation on glass as a material choice in healthcare and its ability to provide infection control, dignity and privacy, safety and visibility, and beauty and satisfaction. (Full disclosure: Skyline Design, which is one of my clients, sponsored the CEU.)

Roz shared a quote from Harvard Professor Elaine Scarry, author of the book, On Beauty and Being Just, who said, "The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, but injury."

In healthcare, Roz said, "a beautiful environment is one in which people can thrive and flourish."

And find joy.

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Leave a comment

Jaynelle Stichler

5 years ago

What a great article/blog. Intuitively, I believe a beautiful and EFFICIENT environment supports employee satisfaction. Sadly, we don't have a lot of real evidence to support the notion, but I believe the reason is we don't always measure outcomes after a facility is built or renovated. We also don't give awards for changes or improvements in employee satisfaction, patient satisfaction, operational metrics, patient outcomes (number of HAIs, HAPUs, patient falls, etc). Sadly, our healthcare facility awards focus entirely on the aesthetics of design rather than even considering efficiency, durability, or sustainability. I know several "design award winners" that are considered by staff to be a barrier to safe patient care and operational efficiency, but no one measured those variables. It is so sad to see a brand new hospital in all of its beauty disliked by staff and patients because it is hard to navigate (poor wayfinding), incredibly hot (lack of consideration for west sun), terribly inefficient for staffing, or unsafe with poor patient visibility. What is the solution for this - include clinical providers as partners in design from the beginning, as contrasted to reactionaries to a completed set of floor plans. Truly listen to their input about patient care and staffing needs while balancing the need to change from the familiar to new concepts.

Sara Marberry

5 years ago

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jaynelle! And you are absolutely right -- feedback from clinical providers is so important.

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What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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