Natassja Wynhorst from Interite Healthcare Interiors explores why staff morale is the bottom-line of your brand and is the key element providing the most distinguishable difference between one practice and another.
Staff working within a medical practice are the key element providing the most distinguishable difference between one practice and another. Their value within the business is greatly needed, yet unfortunately, not always appreciated to the extent in which it needs to be through the provision of an enjoyable workplace. Essentially, practice morale is the bottom-line of your brand, as this level of morale is reflected in the atmosphere and the client’s experience.
‘Support staff’ refers to the multitude of staff members who perform various duties within the working environment to keep the business afloat. Without these key contributors, the business would lack a distinguishable culture and brand, and may even cease to function.
The importance of your support staff
In order to grasp the value of the support staff within your practice, look to the Receptionist. These administrative employees are the first, most critical, and in some cases, the only form of exposure a potential client has with your practice. However, if one questions the administrative staff about the value and importance of their role, they will more than likely undervalue their contribution. However, their underappreciated roles are key to an ideal customer experience; a customer experience which embodies the culture and brand of your practice. Ultimately, these administrative elements can be the factor which most impacts client attraction and retention.
This is just one example demonstrating how integral support staff are to the success, or otherwise, of your practice. To influence outside perception of your practice, first the internal cogs of the organisational machine must be understood and appreciated in order to properly steer the business towards its collective goal.
Appreciating your support staff
Appreciation, education and opportunities for extension within the workplace are key to ensuring support staff understand the vitality and importance of their role.
As outlined in Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory, the most functional members within society have a deep need and desire to belong. The ‘mini society’ present within your practice reflects this very normal human desire, which thrives on recognition, communication and appreciation as a vital part of a team. Once staff can see their work contributing to the bigger picture goal, their thirst for further success and recognition increases in direct correlation, in turn increasing productivity and holistic workplace enjoyment. Noting the achievements of your support staff will produce rewards for your practice.
The effect of design on your support staff
Workplace design and layout has a significant impact on both the internal atmosphere and the emotions of its users, specifically in the cacophony and high-stress environment which is the modern world. Unfortunately, a significant portion of employee’s regard work as a necessity which must simply be ‘put up with.’ If so many employees purport to dislike their jobs, we should be asking why, and what can be done about it.
Support staff within a practice spend a significant amount of their day within the internal clinic environment, with the physical and sensory environments therefore able to influence their psychological state and over-all wellbeing. Quite simply, the environment they work in affects their efficiency and productivity, for good or for bad.
Tailoring the design and choice of materials within a certain space to align with its desired use is essential. Having an area properly equipped to perform critical functions increases the capacity of engagement and productiveness from employees. Not only this, but the basic interior design of your practice evokes atmosphere, influencing emotions and impacting the level of productivity displayed. Because support staff are significant contributors to your practice as already discussed, the design and layout adopted needs to reflect their role requirements and provide them with the most optimal space to function.
‘Space’ is a fundamental concept essential for any practice to consider early on in its journey and can essentially be divided into two categories: positive space and negative space. Positive space holds objects, while negative space is generally empty and used for traffic flow/walkways. A considered balance between these two spatial types must be met to avoid any overcrowding or sparseness in a room which would hinder the intended function and the ability of staff to perform their duties. When building or refurbishing a practice, the space must always be designed from the user’s perspective.
Another design concept in which effects your support staff is the lighting of your practice. Without any natural or man-made lighting within your clinic, the aspects of other design elements would not be emphasised, rendering them pointless as their functionality is inhibited. When considering the lighting within a space, whether it be the waiting room or examination room, it is critical to understand the activities that will be taking place in that space to decide on the quality and quantity of the provided lighting.
If natural lighting can be used to meet this need then it should be. The use of natural lighting is integral due to the many positive effects on the occupants’ productivity and mental state. Natural lighting is recommended not only for its aesthetic quality but for also for its many health benefits. Working within a darkly, or man-made, lit workspace for nine hours a day is not healthy, nor is it functional. The Lighting Research Centre (LRC), in Troy, New York, has reported that environments which are lit naturally increase staff productivity and comfort. They also stated that natural light is found to provide positive mental stimulation, which is necessary to regulate ‘human circadian rhythms’ (Archlighting, 2014).
Similar in impact, the colours used within a working practice can affect the mindset of the support staff. Just like the value of these key staff, the psychology supporting colour theory should not be underestimated when designing or refurbishing your practice. Colours used within a space can evoke emotions and memories not only for clients, but also for the main users that spend all day within the space. This is because colours stimulate a physical and psychological response from our bodies (The Interior Design Academy, 2018). When considering colours within the room, whether that be the waiting room, consultation room or examination room, the use of the room must be considered. The colours utilised will reflect the chosen lighting which can alter their perception. Muted or lighter colours are often used in smaller areas to give the illusion of a larger space, which in turn deflects responses such as claustrophobia.
Contrary to popular belief, bright and vibrant colours have been found to induce anxiety among many patients, making the planning of your internal colour palette a significant contributor to patient emotions and health. For example, the colour red is a dominating colour which heightens awareness. The colour red has been shown to increase blood circulation, breathing rate and metabolism; however, bright hues of reds tend to aggravate and irritate, responses which should be avoided among patients and support staff alike.
Green generally symbolizes nature and is one of the most harmonious colours to promote feelings of calmness and refreshment. The more common shade of green to have this effect are beige greens and pale-yellow greens. The colour blue, especially in a soft neutral shade, promotes peace and calm and is gentle and soothing in nature. It is a colour that aids in calming your mind, slowing down your heart rate and of course, reducing stress.
A proper understanding of Ergonomics is extremely important and is becoming increasingly more recognised within all working environments, including medical practices. Ergonomics encapsulates designing processes and equipment to align with the human body and cognitive capabilities. Your support staff should be provided equipment which reflect good ergonomic; for example, keyboards should be positioned to allow wrists to be straight, chairs should have adjustable heights and tilts to maximise comfort, cradling phones between the shoulder and the neck should be replaced with headsets, and computer monitors should be at eye level and at a reasonable distance.
Especially within administrative support roles, the best and most simple move towards good ergonomics is exchanging a sitting desk to a desk with sit/stand optionality. This setup improves overall health within the practice and steers the practice towards the optimal state of ‘active working.’
Whether it is a new construction or a simple refurbishment, all staff should be included and considered in the processes. A human centred focus must be facilitated within both the design and construction phases and utilised as the central philosophy within all facets of the practice. This philosophy acknowledges the physical environment is important to all users of the space, including support staff. Able to provide physical comfort and psychological relief, the main users of this space on daily basis should receive optimal support through design without diminishing the quality or supply of healthcare services.
This human centered approach is important and should be taken into careful consideration during any vision and strategy planning process. Support staff are the backbone of each business and by designing within a Human Centered framework, their functions, roles and wellbeing are safeguarded.
Ask yourself, “How would my medical practice function without my support staff?” Can you picture having a successful business if there is no receptionist or nurses to assist?
Most likely, the answer is no. Without support staff in your practice, the business’s functions will be hindered or rendered impossible. Reinforcing the importance of these critical staff members is essential to maintaining an enjoyable and productive working environment which reflects the culture and brand of your business.
Your staff spend most of their week in your clinic, so designing a space for them to prosper and achieve within a human centered environment is essential. Space, colour and lighting are only a few elements which can impact the psychological and physical state of your staff, which in turn affects the productivity of your business.
Quite simply, to take care of your business, you must first take care of your support staff.
DISCLAIMER: Views, information or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company. These views are subject to change and revision.
Optimise your practice space
If you want to talk to a design specialist about how you can optimise your practice space for both your business, patients and you staff, please contact us for an introduction to Natassja Wynhorst.