Recently I heard a business consultant allude to the business philosophy of Southwest Airlines—in so many words, “With us, our customers come second.” Customers second? Who’s first? According to Southwest, “number one” is staff.

Since Southwest is the most (if not the only) profitable airline, I guess the company bears listening to. But staff as number one?

The reasoning goes thusly: If staff is happy and highly motivated in their work, customer satisfaction will take care of itself. As an occasional Southwest customer, I can attest to that. Those jocular, friendly flight attendants take a lot of the pain out of flying—and, in my experience, they’re also no-nonsense about getting that Jetway door open and passengers on their way. They seem to care about such things.

The point is that this approach to customer satisfaction seems to be penetrating the world of healthcare design, as well. Yes, we hear it said all the time that patients (and families) are number one. But, more and more these days, serious attention is being paid to staff satisfaction. Maybe it’s not exactly “number one” quite yet, but it’s no longer an afterthought.

Cases in point in this issue include the articles “Design Meets the Bottom Line” (p. 28) and “Designing for Staff and Patients” (p. 36). The first describes Clarian West Medical Center’s considerable efforts to make the working environment safer, more convenient, more comfortable, and all-around more pleasant for caregiving staff. Among several features Clarian offers are “a replenishment room where staff can rest in quiet and a meditation retreat overlooking the lake and rose garden for reading or just simply relaxing.” Small wonder Clarian West boasts a turnover rate of less than 3%.

The second article discusses Wise Regional Health System’s approach toward using standardized design to the max to expedite staff efficiency and error-free performance. Aside from progress toward these goals, the facility notes that it has doubled the number of physicians affiliated with it over the past few years.

Other articles in this issue of Healthcare Design discuss ingenious reconceptualizations of the nurses’ station, again to keep staff as comfortably engaged and stress-free as possible.

Efforts along these lines in healthcare have a double-barreled effect. Not only are patients and families likely to enjoy the spillover benefits of a happy and less self-protective staff, the increasingly dire manpower situation emerging in American nursing could be blunted for these more enlightened hospitals. In short, making the right investments in the right direction—the staff satisfaction direction—may end up creating the happiest group of all: hospital management and owners. HD