Younger Staff Most Unhappy with Assisted Living Environments

Assisted living facilities that want to keep younger workers happy should do two simple things: cut down on ringing phones and make sure the air doesn’t smell like cigarettes.

That’s because assisted living workers aged 19-30 are more bothered than older workers by ringing phones and tobacco smoke in the air, according to recently published study findings out of Central Michigan University.

Throughout 2014, staff members in both medical and non-medical roles at 12 assisted living communities in Michigan completed surveys to gauge their satisfaction with “indoor environmental quality” (IEQ). The buildings all were constructed or renovated in the last 10 years. Results were broken down to show how different age groups have different satisfaction levels across the domains of air quality, workspaces, thermal comfort, acoustic quality, and cleanliness.

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Generally, the youngest cohort of workers appears to be the least satisfied with assisted living environments. This group had the lowest mean ranks of satisfaction on most of the identified IEQ factors. This group also was the most responsive to the survey; 46 respondents were between 19 and 30 years old, versus 18 respondents between 51 and 73 years old.

However, the results show that the different age groups—as well as people in different job functions—had varying degrees of satisfaction across a number of environmental factors, highlighting how challenging it is to create assisted living environments that are pleasing to everyone.

For instance, just in the domain of air quality, middle-aged workers were more bothered by perfumes and air fresheners than other age groups were. Meanwhile, older adults—though generally more satisfied with air quality than younger or middle-aged workers were—also were most likely to say that air quality enhances or interferes with productivity.

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“The results from this study demonstrated the complexity and challenges that designers would face within a diverse multi-inhabitant community, which often consists of conflicting needs and preferences,” the authors wrote. “The authors suggest basing design decisions on credible evidence and prioritizing actions with the most impact potential.”

In particular, here are some recommendations for six primary IEQ factors:

1. Workspace layout: Designs that promote worker collaboration, encourage communication between workers and residents, and maximize resident privacy appear to be most attractive, based on the findings.

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“It is noteworthy that the young and older staff scored significantly lower on their satisfaction with the filing and storage spaces than the middle-aged group,” the authors pointed out. “Hence, workspace planning that features increased filing and storage capability may better accommodate the changing demands of the aging care workforce while also potentially increasing appeal and retention of prospective young care workers.”

2. Indoor air quality: Older workers appear to be less impacted by poor air quality than young and middle-aged workers, possibly due to sensory decline or habituation to the environment, the authors noted.

3. Cleanliness: This may be an area where policy trumps design, as workers noted problems related to infrequent trash removal, dusty surfaces, and spills and debris.

4. Thermal comfort: Middle-aged workers in particular like having thermostats in public places. Younger workers also are much less satisfied than older workers on the temperature of buildings, but they may have to make do—resident preferences should be foremost in this domain, the authors recommended, and older people tend to become chilly more easily as their metabolic responses to cold slow down.

5. Acoustic quality: Designers can use sound-proofing materials, strategically pick the best interior surfaces for sound quality, and put recessed areas in walls and ceilings for their acoustic benefits, the authors wrote. On the policy side, having workers use visual signals instead of ringers on phones can help.

6. Lighting: Among noteworthy complaints in this area: lack of daylight, insufficient electrical light, and flickering lights in some areas. Designers should consider lighting early on in the design process, as the “building envelope and fenestrations are decisive components for optimizing daylight,” the authors recommended.

Complete study findings were published online last week in the Journal of Interior Design.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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