Cowichan District Hospital staffers are at the centre of work being done by a Vancouver Island University (VIU) psychology professor, looking at how architecture affects workplace wellness.
Dr. Lindsay McCunn is working with Island Health on the research project, with the ultimate goal of incorporating her findings into the design of Cowichan’s new hospital slated to open in 2026.
“Providing safe, high quality care for patients is our top priority,” said Deanna Fourt, Director of Sustainability and Business Continuity for Island Health. “Creating a positive working environment is one of the many ways we can support staff to maintain their safety and well-being at work, and improve the hospital experience for all.”
The project asked current CDH employees “which architectural elements and design features they associate with aspects of employee satisfaction, well-being, productivity and more. After the new hospital is built, employees will be surveyed again to measure the effect of included architectural features.”
McCunn specializes in environmental psychology which examines the transactions between individuals and their physical settings. She said it’s rare to be able to ask employees questions prior to construction.
“We understand a lot about how we interact with each other socially in psychology but sometimes it’s more difficult to understand what attributes of a physical environment contribute to those relationships and the feeling you have in a place,” says McCunn, adding that design features can also influence people’s behaviour at work and their attitudes toward the environment.
Staff at CDH were asked about their “feeling of commitment to the organization, perceived productivity, well-being, and their pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours within their workplace.”
They were asked about everything from feelings of safety and privacy, to lighting and access to daylight, to garbage and recycling collection, and access to break space and more.
“Often, research that connects an environment to behaviours is done retroactively and building users are asked how they feel about working in a setting after it has been designed. But that kind of research relies on peoples’ memories, which can include errors and biases,” said McCunn. “The study with Island Health has a better methodology that allows us to measure how staff feel in both buildings, with less reliance on memory, because we are surveying them before and after they move into the new hospital.”
The findings will be shared with Island Health’s design team.
“We want to make sure employees have a number of spaces that they can access to find some respite, privacy and a place to feel restored,” said McCunn. “That happens with things like biophilic design – where natural patterns and organic shapes and nature-based attributes – come in.”
Construction on the new $887.4M CDH is set to begin in 2022.