Quality workspaces attract and retain staff
A veterinary team is precious. It is difficult to attract and retain talent and to protect that talent from burnout.
In this article, we will explore the aspects of hospital design that are most important to your team members and discuss strategies for designing or modifying your hospital to create appropriate spaces for nurturing the team.
This begins by supporting your teammates as human beings. But a physically and mentally healthy life for each veterinary teammate can be encouraged by an employer in more ways than work structure, benefits, culture, and pay. The workspace itself plays a very important role.
Many veterinary hospital spaces have no place to take a private call or a space where employees can address their own personal health concerns. By assisting your employees with privacy and personal care, you comply better with human resources laws while communicating to your employees that you value them as human beings.
This is a small space where an employee can make a personal call, such as to their doctor or child’s school.
Phone booths can also help create private space for a difficult call to a client or to attend a digital meeting. We love them because they can fit into most any design, and they can easily be retrofitted into existing spaces.
This room has traditionally been used as a lactation room, but it can be used for other purposes as well, such as a place for an employee with diabetes to administer insulin or a place to take a mental health break after a difficult interaction with a client. In large hospitals, more than one of these rooms may be needed to accommodate a bigger team. In smaller hospitals, one room may suffice. The room can be small, even restroom sized, but it should be very well designed. Features should include LED dimmable lighting, cleanable flooring, natural light, a comfortable chair that reclines, ideally a small hand sink and cabinet, and an undercounter refrigerator.
Some people unwind by taking a quiet moment to themselves while others thrive on workplace interactions. We encourage you to design your break room for different personalities. Starbucks is very good at this; they provide stool-height seating stations that face outside for people who are not engaging in social activities as well as more social setups. When redesigning your break room, think “coffee shop” so that your employees can take the break that best suits their needs (Figure 1).
Personal areas for employees require space and can be challenging to work into a design. In today’s hospitals, these spaces can be prioritized over enclosed offices, which were more common in the past. It is a matter of considering your entire team and supporting them rather than investing in large owner offices.
It is equally important to support employees while they’re doing their work. Good veterinary workplace design helps support physical and mental health and reduces medical errors. Many of the strategies described below have been well tested in human medical environments.
Clutter is a drain on mental health and decreases the ability to sanitize a medical environment. Clutter can also increase errors by impeding workflow and efficient care for patients. See a 2-part article on decluttering.
Replace older fluorescent fixtures with newer, more energy efficient LED fixtures, which eliminate eye strain, buzz, and flicker. If you’re on a budget, you can replace fixtures in small numbers at a time. Your environment will feel so much brighter because LEDs offer more lumens per watt of energy.
If you’re designing a new space, use LED technologies to their full capabilities. Provide bright lighting in medical and patient areas. Provide dimming switches in patient areas to reduce stress when it is not essential to visually monitor a patient. Create softer lighting in staff and client areas. Dimmable lighting that bounces off the ceiling instead of directly down can make human spaces feel less clinical.
You can also Introduce natural lighting, which is a benefit in medical spaces, but natural lighting requires careful design. Windows high on a wall can bounce light deep into a space, whereas low windows allow for views to the outside. Natural lighting should be designed to reduce glare, and an architect can help you artfully place windows or add new natural light to an existing space.
Although this is a big enough topic to warrant its own article, we want to touch on the need for good indoor air quality in medical workspaces. If you have an existing hospital, start by thoroughly cleaning, maintaining, and tuning up your existing air handling equipment so it is working as intended. For any hospital, change your filters regularly, as often as once per month. In response to the pandemic, many new technologies have become available to clean indoor air and support better air quality, but look for ones that have been properly evaluated for use in medical environments and reach out to an architect or engineer for help.
Protect your employees day-to-day and reduce injuries. You can have your workspace evaluated by a professional and purchase or adjust equipment to better support your employees in their work. A very simple example is the design of the dental station. New adjustable chairs and tables can solve ergonomic concerns and help protect the well-being of the staff performing dentistry (Figure 2).
In addition to doing the right basic work to support the team, we believe that the little things make a difference. If you keep your space fresh and take pride in it, your employees will feel this care. Design or modify your hospital to be cheerful, professional, and well-maintained. Be very intentional with color and décor because first impressions matter when hiring, and quality workspaces matter when building longer-term bonds with your team.
Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB, AAA, is a partner at Animal Arts, an architecture firm in Boulder, Colorado, and a frequent conference speaker on hospital design. She’s a devoted advocate for minimizing pets’ stress and anxiety during veterinary visits. She has designed practices and shelters that range in size from 1200 to 110,000 square feet.