Design for building an inclusive and resilient residential aged care workforce

The design of the physical environment is recognised as having a significant impact on of the wellbeing of older people living in Residential Aged Care

RAC Workforce

Image: Luca Bravo

While the effects of environmental workspace design on the health, productivity and performance of aged care workers are increasingly being recognised, research has largely focused on supporting the aged care workforce via: staffing strategies, regulations, work design, new models of care, and not on the environmental workplace design.  In 2016, a University of Melbourne Hallmark Ageing Research Initiative (HARI) seeding grant provided the opportunity for a multidisciplinary team of design, workforce, ageing researchers and a Residential Aged Care (RAC) facility to explore the characteristics of RAC workplace design that contribute to building an engaged, inclusive and resilient RAC workforce.

The research was conducted at one RAC facility in Victoria, Australia and involved three qualitative research approaches including photo-elicitation; follow up group discussions with RAC staff; and individual interviews with senior facility Directors.

We found that key workspace design features affect how RAC staff feel, function and perform, including: a home-like environment, access to outdoor spaces; indoor quality environment; and access to safe, open and comfortable workplaces.  The research resonates with earlier studies on ‘comfort in the workplace’, and specifically with an internationally recognised Environmental Comfort Model that suggests workers require physical, functional and psychological comfort in their workspace environment in order to perform work tasks optimally.  

This research has led to a Commonwealth Department of Health Dementia and Aged Care grant application, which proposes to trial and evaluate the Environmental Comfort Modelwithin RAC facilities.  Given the increasing complexity, demands and projected scale of the aged care workforce, this research can define workspace comfort principles and guidelines to support workers within all Aged Care facilities.  

  • Dr Lucio Naccarella, Senior Research Fellow, Health Systems and Workforce Unit, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne
  • A/Professor Clare Newton, Associate Professor in Learning Environments, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne
  • Professor Alan Pert, Director of Melbourne School of Design, The University of Melbourne
  • Dr Ruth Williams, Research Fellow, Centre for Workplace Leadership, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne
  • A/Professor of Ageing Briony Dow, School of Population and Global Health and Director National Ageing Research Institute
  • A/Professor Kurt Seemann, Director, Centre for Design Innovation, Faculty of Health Arts & Design, Swinburne University of Technology
  • Kate Sellick, Director, People And Communications Director, Estia Health

[Source: Lucio Naccarella, Senior Research Fellow, Health Systems and Workforce Unit, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne]