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How Interior Design Boosts Recruitment and Retention: 3 Areas To Consider

Stress and burnout are high in senior living, and work environments may hold the key to unlocking their job satisfaction.

A pair of reports from OnShift reveal insights into the strain on senior living employees, and what employers can do to help. The 2021 Employee Perspectives Report gathered insights of more than 2,800 workers in senior care industries, including close to 1,200 employees in senior living, and nearly half said that among their most significant work challenges was feeling “stressed and burned out.”

Among other responses, 34% noted not having enough “me time” while one quarter cited concerns over their mental wellbeing.

Meanwhile, “Supporting Your Staff During COVID-19 & Beyond” noted the importance of physical spaces within a community designed to remove stress and strain from care staff, such as spaces to meditate and kitchens where staff family members can come to eat. Simple decisions like these can help operators retrain strong staff members — a crucial goal at a time when staffing is a struggle.

Of course, when an operator is faced with decisions about renovations and space creation, they will be inclined to consider revenue, and might not consider staff areas to be revenue generators.

“They couldn’t be thinking further from the truth, because their staff is probably one of the biggest revenue generators they have,” says LuAnn Thoma-Holec, principal and founder of Thoma-Holec Design. “The staff creates the culture for the building, and if the staff isn’t happy, it’s costing operators more money for training and more money due to low staff involvement with the residents.”

All told, operators are beginning to better understand the value that indoor amenities bring to staff members, both mentally and physically. Here are three areas of a senior living community where operators can make interior design choices that impact worker recruitment and retention.

Staff lounge

Whether for socialization with colleagues or a place to catch 15 minutes of calm, the staff lounge is an ideal area for operators to make adjustments to help alleviate stress and strain from the lives of staff, Thoma-Holec says.

“The old method was that the lounge was located in the rear of the building and typically did not have windows,” she says. Lounges were often designed more as delivery areas than true lounge spaces. Outdoor access was often relegated to a parking lot, rather than a courtyard.

“They might have a microwave or a refrigerator and a four-top table, lockers, a time clock that they punch in and out and maybe a bathroom,” she says. “That was pretty much it.”

Thoma-Holec is now seeing operators move in the other direction, with staff lounges created as central to the work experience of employees. They are bigger, and moved from the back of the building into areas that are more easily accessible, with larger windows and access to meditative outdoor space. Inside, the lounges feature soft seating and more dining space, and include recreational amenities such as televisions and games.

“Employees can have access to a nice courtyard area where they can go out into that courtyard area and breathe and get motivated to go back and do their work again,” Thoma-Holec says. “Our lounges help the staff feel that they’re valued, and help them feel that their bosses care for their wellbeing and the work that they do.”

Fitness centers

Another revealing insight from the Employee Perspective survey is that 40% of respondents noted the challenge of staying healthy — worrying about diet, exercise and the concerns of becoming ill. Therefore operators must consider each building’s fitness and wellness areas, she says.

A natural benefit of the senior living community is that fitness and workout rooms already exist. The problem, Thoma-Holec says, is the firewall that separates staff members from the fitness rooms, whether due to lack of time or a sense that the rooms are exclusively for residents.

“I think they can be designed in such a way that they can be used by the staff,” she says. The same methods that communities use to encourage residents to take advantage of fitness spaces and equipment can be directed to staff, including easy access via technology to programs that track usage and health.

While operators could use this as a revenue generator, charging employees, Thoma-Holec stresses the value of having it as a perk, yet another tool to help increase retention.

“Why should staff have to go down the street to a gym and pay for a membership when some of these communities have incredible, modern, beautiful fitness centers?” she says. “Any time you can reduce stress for an employee, you’re going to have a more productive employee and you’re going to have an employee that is a happier and healthier employee. The fitness center is an excellent place for that to happen.”

Dining and kitchens

The desire to relax and recharge and the desire to stay healthy can each be addressed by reimagining dining areas. Furthermore, 74% of respondents shared that they want to spend free time with family or friends, and creating inclusive dining areas within a community is a great way to continue to use space to meet multiple needs at once.

“The intergenerational aspects of combining children with residents in a community is a great way to create that positive culture and positive connectivity between staff and residents,” Thoma-Holec says.

In the same way that communities should make fitness areas available to staff, ensuring that dining spaces account for staff needs helps in the same way.

“The number one reason employees enjoy working in these communities is their connectivity to the residents,” she says. “By utilizing some of these amenity spaces, you can increase that connectivity and create a more positive atmosphere and a happier workforce.”

This article is sponsored by Thoma-Holec Design. To explore additional creative concepts of staff-centric design, visit

The post How Interior Design Boosts Recruitment and Retention: 3 Areas To Consider appeared first on Senior Housing News.

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