Essential team members within the healthcare system, nurses are leaving the profession in droves due to burnout. Symptoms include physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, job dissatisfaction, depression, and, for some, PTSD. Increased stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this occupational burnout.
Research suggests that the built environment may help reduce burnout. To mitigate this organizational strain, healthcare systems are creating spaces specifically designed to help nursing staff relax and recharge. This study investigated the role of evidence based-design in break areas for nurses.
Do nurses take breaks, where do they take them and what design features impact nurse engagement and satisfaction with breaks?
Our team conducted research within a single medical tower on two architecturally identical medical-surgical inpatient units at UF Health North’s campus in Jacksonville, Florida. We collected data using online surveys, design thinking sessions and staffing data to observe nurses’ behavior in meal break areas and lounge break areas, as well as the cafeteria, other open lounges, exterior courtyards, balconies and a fitness area. Additionally, the team used a digital behavior mapping tool that automatically generated heat maps based on nurse break activity.
The initial study findings revealed that nurses don’t often take breaks, and when they do it’s usually quick so that they can return to caring for patients. These findings led the research team to zero in on the effect of administrative and design interventions on the restorative break during the second part of this ongoing longitudinal study.
Summary of Findings
- Nurses felt breaks provided much-needed relief from shift stress.
- Nurses identified two types of breaks: ‘restorative breaks,’ which allowed staff to de-stress and re-charge, and ‘bio breaks,’ which were quick and focused on necessities like food, water and bathroom breaks.
- Nurses identified five major themes for a restorative break environment, including: technology, nutrition, relaxing décor, access to nature, and ergonomic furniture.
- The lounge-style break rooms were underutilized, while traditional meal break rooms were preferred.
- Nurses showed preference for the ‘work-oriented’ lounge, which a higher number of monthly visits that averaged 5 minutes. The longest visit lasted 30 minutes.
- Nursing culture outweighs environmental factors and should be a major consideration when designing nurse respite areas.