5 healthcare design strategies to reduce healthcare workers’ stress

Healthcare workers are frontline employees, and are often sacrificing their own health and freedoms to care for others. Support for healthcare workers is just as crucial as patient experience but is often overlooked or placed on the back burner. Delivering an employee experience strategy doesn’t just attract the right staff. It also creates an environment where healthcare workers can thrive and provide the highest standards of patient care, rather than experience burnout symptoms.

Healthcare workers face the unnecessary strain, leading to burnout

Pressure on healthcare workers is physical, mental, and emotional - and they are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders. Many factors contribute to stress in healthcare environments, especially during the pandemic: packed hospitals, high mortality rates, long hours, and a general feeling of overwhelm. Healthcare workers are surrounded by difficult situations daily that require physical strength and critical thinking. Still, when the environment is not conducive to a good employee experience, it may lead to poor decision making, unnecessary mistakes, health issues, and burnout - which ultimately results in staffing shortages. Modern hospital designs require deep thought on how to improve employee experiences for healthcare workers:

5 keys for employee-centered healthcare design

1. Respite areas

Respite areas are comfortable and furnished rest areas where healthcare workers can take a break and relax. Mount Sinai Hospital creates a Recharge Room with a biophilic and multisensory environment that include music, scent, lighting, and sound to support frontline healthcare workers. Modern health facilities are considering environmental psychology to enhance mood, by designing facilities around nature - with window, door, and open space alignment designed to enhance the indoor/outdoor flow. Special lighting and plant placement are used to help create a seamless flow between outdoor nature with the indoor environment.

2. Areas for physical exercise

Movement and physical fitness offer plenty of benefits, such as improved memory, mood, enhanced cognitive function, better blood flow, and a burst of energy. Walks in nature and views of green plants can help reset the effects of sustained stress, while outdoor gardens provide an area for exercise, yoga classes, and group fitness.

3. Noise reduced spaces

A recent study has shown that noise negatively impacts patient recovery and employee performance while raising cortisol in the bloodstream, which causes physical and mental health issues. A quieter environment can help ease distress for healthcare workers and allow patients to recover more quickly. Using acoustic doors that align with Sound Transmission Class (STC) standards have been proven to reduce noise in healthcare facilities. Likewise, by providing isolated enclosed teamwork areas, employees can still see their patients and converse at the same time without noisy distractions.

4. Collaborative spaces

Micro-break spaces along typical corridors may decrease stress and boost wellness. An underutilized area along a nurse’s route, for example, can transform into a variety of calming spaces for a short rest. These spaces could include cushioned chairs and seating booths or corridors ending with a comfortable couch with views to the outdoors offering a peaceful retreat. The addition of a whiteboard also allows healthcare workers to connect informally and share knowledge.

5. Technology

Modern healthcare technology doesn’t just help patients, healthcare workers can improve their efficiency, health, and reduce burdens as well. With higher risks of heart problems, healthcare workers are turning to ECG wearables to monitor heart rates. HIPAA compliant voice assistants are also proving popular for patient care, freeing up time for healthcare workers to focus on patients, instead of answering repetitive questions about visiting hours or food queries.

Gone are the days where healthcare workers were forced into team rooms and back offices without windows or ventilation. Modern hospitals and community health centers are leading the way in employee-centered design. Healthcare workers feel rewarded instead of punished while devoting their careers to the care of others. 

Q1: How does the healthcare workspace impact employee experience?

A1: When faced with too much noise or overwhelming physical and mental situations, healthcare workers are likely to face burnout, stress, and increased blood pressure. Overall, it strains the workforce, limits performance, and makes it more difficult to attract talent. Healthcare workers are empowered to perform at their best when they have spaces designed for contemplation, rest, unwinding, exercise, meditation, and tranquil scenes surrounded by nature.

Q2: What are the burnout symptoms of healthcare workers?

A2: Burnout may negatively affect healthcare workers' physical and emotional health and contributes to rising costs. It could also harm patient satisfaction, often leading to increased rates of safety issues and mortality. Burnout symptoms include feeling drained all the time, frequent headaches and muscle pain, changes in appetite, loss of motivation, sense of failure, detachment from the world, and easy to anger. Burnout also may lead to less immunity, making healthcare workers more susceptible to health issues in the hospital environment and possibly posing a risk to patients.