According to the World Health Organization, healthcare faces an epidemic of stressed and burned-out staff—a thinning talent pipeline that’s short on time and resources. A nationwide survey by CareerBuilder and found that 69 percent of healthcare workers report being stressed, while a Press Ganey survey of hospital employees found 45 percent reported not being engaged at work. Much of this can be attributed to the current state of the work environment: caring for patients, some of whom can be very demanding; averaging 25,000 steps per day; working in understaffed departments; and having barely enough downtime for a microwavable lunch in a tight breakroom with no available chairs.

As a result, the industry is attracting fewer prospective candidates, while many existing staff are calling it quits, with nearly 30 percent of healthcare workers saying they’re actively acquiring skills in a new industry, reports CareerBuilder. Meanwhile, the staff shortage further adds to the burden on nurses, upping their risk of personal injury and potential for work errors.

While healthcare spaces are primarily designed to support patient health and well-being, they are relatively unsupportive when it comes to caring for the unique needs and preferences of the staff responsible for delivering that care. Motivated to retain top talent in a fiercely competitive market and improve patient outcomes, the healthcare industry is starting to take note of how other sectors, including its corporate counterparts, are reducing burnout and increasing staff productivity, engagement, and satisfaction. Many of these best practices and solutions can be applied to healthcare environments, albeit with materials and methods more appropriate for the design conditions required. Here are five to consider.

1. Personalization
Corporate America’s marked shift to customizable workplaces, which popularized sit-to-stand desks, focus rooms, and collaboration lounges, can be adapted to healthcare to empower staff to tailor their environment for their specific work style. A variety of spaces and set-ups provides the power of choice for each team member to select the appropriate setting for the task at hand. For instance, a centralized nurses’ station with zoned work areas or a hybrid inpatient model that permits charting in a patient’s room or in the corridor both support staff with efficient and convenient work spaces while offering options that support personal preferences. Millennials, who are more likely to value team-oriented settings, can find collaborative spaces to learn from more experienced colleagues, while those looking for “heads down” time can use workstations tucked within the nurses’ station yet still remain engaged with the department.

2. Mindfulness
While wellness rooms, meditation spaces, and yoga classes seem more at home in trendy tech startups, nurses may benefit from a similar approach. Emotionally invested in a long list of patients and even longer shifts with little time to use the restroom, grab a bite, or make a quick call, nurses are especially vulnerable to fatigue and burnout. Intentional, quiet respite areas can offer “me moments” for nurses to regroup between patient visits, encouraging a more human and balanced culture. Serene images, music, and lighting can be strategically used to enhance these spaces, while windows with views to the outdoors and inviting lounge furniture or pods create purposeful breaks that help nurses maintain their energy and positivity to deliver sustained quality of care throughout the day. Situating these spaces along common paths of staff circulation encourages nurses to take care of themselves and establishes a culture of well-being throughout.

3. Amenities
Limited both by the nature of work schedules and the restrictions of infection control, staff amenities in healthcare must be more integrated within the built environment than the add-ons and flashy perks of ping-pong tables or private fitness rooms that are commonplace in some corporate settings. For nurses who are often more concerned about where they can store their water bottles for easy access, amenities that afford convenience or caring and comfort are especially important. Breakrooms inspired by the arrangement of local coffee shops, for example, can be activated as flexible spaces with bar tops to plug in and stay connected, round tops to enjoy a quick bite, and lounge chairs for a small break or casual conversation. Elsewhere, offstage work zones create private areas where staff can focus on specific tasks or even make important social and professional connections.

4. Residential trend
While the residential trend has made its way to patient waiting rooms to bring added comfort and a sense of calm to patients and families, staff spaces are often overlooked as opportunities to incorporate similar elements, including color, texture, and visual effects. For example, porcelain and vinyl flooring designed to look like wood can replicate the sensory effect of a warmer, familiar, and more residential space. Additionally, finishes such as colorful fabrics, wallcoverings, or images of the outdoors help create peaceful, welcoming staff spaces and help blur the line between work and home.

5. Culture
Employees who feel relevant and are connected to their coworkers or organization are less likely to explore other job opportunities. Incorporating branded graphics in breakrooms and respite spaces offers a dynamic platform to visualize core values while adding creative points of interest throughout a facility. Walls and displays can be used to recognize staff contributions and achievements, share community events and resources, and articulate cultural values or continued education opportunities. These connection points balance the larger healthcare facility with spaces that are designed to promote the social needs of healthcare staff and, when located strategically, can offer casual and intentional opportunities for mentorship and teambuilding to establish a sense of community and belonging.

Building collaboration
Inviting the human resources department or the hospital’s relationship manager into the design process can bring a valuable resource to the table when considering staff spaces. At the helm of people and culture, these professionals generate insights and discoveries that reveal nuances of an organization’s values and actionable steps that can give shape to a more human design. Collaborating with these key voices to vet ideas and curate solutions can provide important context and lead to viable and sustainable solutions.

Corporate America has already recognized the potential of the work environment to meet the needs of its employees, attract future talent, and drive productivity and engagement. Though few corporate trends can be exactly translated into a hospital setting, healthcare design has a powerful opportunity to modify these key drivers to respond to the physical and psychological demands on staff, express its values of well-being and mindfulness, and develop a space that’s a natural extension of an organization’s culture.

Tina Larsen, EDAC, AIA, LEED AP, is managing principal at Corgan (Dallas). She can be reached at