Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Healthcare / Workforce

Hospital staff survey to gain insights on what design aspects guide wellbeing

By Andrew Sansom 21 May 2021 0

A researcher at Vancouver Island University (VIU) is surveying employees working in Cowichan District Hospital to understand what physical architectural features make a difference to their work satisfaction and wellbeing.

Dr Lindsay McCunn, a psychology professor, is working with Island Health on a research project that could help the hospital replacement planning team understand what design features to incorporate into the new Cowichan District Hospital, which is expected to open in 2026. 

“Providing safe, high-quality care for patients is our top priority,” said Deanna Fourt, director of sustainability and business continuity for Island Health. “Creating a positive working environment is one of the many ways we can support staff to maintain their safety and wellbeing at work, and improve the hospital experience for all.”

McCunn, who specialises in environmental psychology – a relatively new sub-field of psychology that examines the transactions between individuals and their physical settings – says it’s unusual to have a study underway this far in advance to get a picture of what design elements resonate with users.

McCunn, along with three undergraduate research assistants, recently surveyed employees at the existing Cowichan District Hospital to determine current levels of the staff’s sense of commitment to the organisation, perceived productivity, wellbeing, and their pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours in their workplace. Staff were asked to describe what physical features in the hospital contribute to their sense of engagement and reduced stress on the job. 

After the new hospital is built, employees will again be questioned again to measure the effect of the architectural features included. Dr Lindsay McCunn -

“Often, research that connects an environment to behaviours is done retroactively and building users are asked how they feel about working in a setting after it has been designed,” said McCunn. “But that kind of research relies on peoples’ memories, which can include errors and biases. The study with Island Health has a better methodology that allows us to measure how staff feel in both buildings, with less reliance on memory, because we’re surveying them before and after they move into the new hospital.”

The survey asks employees questions about what physical features influence their work satisfaction and how they perceive environmental features that offer a sense of privacy, social interaction, social cohesion, safety and security, air quality, lighting, and so on. Findings will be shared with Island Health project team to enhance the team’s understanding of what design aspects are important to staff for environmental sustainability.

“We understand a lot about how we interact with each other socially in psychology but sometimes it’s more difficult to understand what attributes of a physical environment contribute to those relationships and the feeling you have in a place,” observed McCunn, adding that design features can also influence people’s behaviour at work and their attitudes toward the environment.

Fourt said numerous environmental elements are taken into account when designing a new hospital, including targeting LEED certification. Many elements of the LEED Gold Certification aim to improve the wellbeing and experience for people inside the building. Some of the features that directly affect staff are storage and collection of recyclables, indoor air quality, places of respite, and access to daylight. Another key element is access to a pleasant place to take a break outside.

In addition to the research project, Island Health will be looking to give patients and family caregivers the opportunity to provide input into aspects of the new hospital. 

“We want to make sure employees have a number of spaces that they can access to find some respite, privacy and a place to feel restored,” said McCunn. “That happens with things like biophilic design – where natural patterns and organic shapes and nature-based attributes come in.” 

Natural design elements can have restorative effects on people’s attention and mood, she added.

McCunn received an Explore Grant and Innovate Grant from the University to undertake this work.