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How the practice environment affects staff well-being

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have focused greatly on the challenges of mental health in the workplace over the past 18 months.1 Healthcare fit-out company Evoke Projects examines how the practice environment impacts on staff mental health and well-being, with suggestions for improving your environment.


Research reports

The WHO tells us that mental health conditions affect a person’s confidence and identity at work, capacity to work productively, absences and the ease with which they retain or gain work. In fact, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.2 With this in mind, any steps that can be taken to improve well-being in the workplace are worthwhile.


In the UK, Professor Michael West and Dame Denise Coia described how low well-being and associated strain is linked to increased medical errors amongst healthcare workers and can also impair decision making (having a negative impact on medical errors and patient outcomes). They also provided evidence suggesting that doctors with high levels of burnout had between 45% and 63% higher odds of making a medical error compared with those who had low levels.3


How does the practice environment affect well-being?

While ergonomics and hazardous environments are obvious contributors to physical well-being, mental well-being issues can fly under the radar. The effects are often subtle, but long-term and potentially debilitating. Negative environmental factors usually stem from a poor healthcare practice design and/or an unsupportive workplace culture.


Create a positive practice environment with good medical design

The quality of patient care will improve if staff are healthy and motivated. With staff shortages a real problem in the healthcare industry, attracting and retaining good people is vital. Being seen as a caring employer will help greatly. Reduced absenteeism also leads to a more productive and efficient medical practice.


·        Team based healthcare design

Design your healthcare practice to reflect the modern patient care model which tends to be team based. Give doctors and ancillary health professionals the collaboration spaces they need to work together. Helping people to collaborate and work as a team positively impacts well-being.

·        Activity based zones

Create activity based zones in the healthcare fit-out design. Instead of individual desks or offices, people can move to the area that suits the type of work they need to do at that time. Plan for quiet work areas, research or administration work spaces, patient interaction rooms, treatment rooms and waiting areas. Sound-proofed rooms for on-call workers to take a nap will be welcomed.

·        Sensory care

Poor air quality, excessive noise and inadequate or harsh lighting are examples of subtle issues that can cause long-term harm. Eye strain, respiratory issues or hearing damage may not be evident in the short term, but the employee will be feeling the underlying stress. As a practice manager or healthcare designer, spend time in each area listening to noise, testing air quality, re-enacting patient flow and workflow, and observing light and temperature at different times of day.

·        Get back to nature

Nature sustains and supports our well-being, which leads to better mental health. Biophilic healthcare design helps people be closer to nature while at work. Introduce water features or indoor plants. As well as aesthetic appeal, plants filter the air and remove mould and bacteria. Increasing natural daylight should be a priority for your next medical fit-out.

·        Add homely touches

A healthcare fit-out or refurbishment will inevitably include hard, non-porous materials such as tiles. Add touches of homeliness with decorative pieces, art, modern window blinds and residential style light-shades. Fabric wall panels can be used in non-sterile areas to soften the environment.


Foster a culture of good health and support

The WHO has produced fact sheets and guidelines on mental health at work.4 A medical workplace that fosters a culture of support, positive relationships, inclusion and empathy will enhance well-being.

  • The culture of a healthcare practice starts from the top down so good leadership is vital. Train line managers to watch out for signs of stress.
  • Build a culture and environment that encourages staff to use breakout spaces to refresh and reinvigorate. In the busy world of healthcare, staff are used to being on their feet and available at all times. They will need management encouragement towards a cultural change that recognises carers need some downtime to function at their best.
  • Inclusivity and motivation are helped by common goals. Make everyone feel part of the same team working towards the company objectives. Don’t focus on the profits but on what it takes to be profitable, such as first class patient care and supporting your brand values.
  • Care for the carers. For example, provide healthy snack options in the kitchen.
  • Encourage attention to personal well-being with subsidised gym memberships, stress management programs and workplace fitness activities.


Healthcare practices that consider staff well-being and environmental factors during a medical fit-out will reap the benefits. It becomes a holistically positive workplace where team members feel valued and cared about. For healthcare design and fit-out ideas for better mental health and well-being, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.

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