Supporting Australia’s aged care workforce is essential as the population continues to age.

Associate Professor Lucio Naccarella understands the imperative. His current research takes steps to address the question of how the physical environment of aged care facilities support or hinder staff.

This study recognises that the demographics of Australia’s ageing population are changing, with older adults being more affluent, well-informed and healthier than in previous generations. Whilst aged care facilities are an option for some as they age, greater attention is being given to supporting older adults in their homes and communities. Given that many older adults are remaining within their community for longer, if they move to residential aged care, their needs are likely to be higher and their stay shorter. Given this dynamic need for Australia’s ageing population, our aged care workforce needs to be well supported and able to respond to these changing trends. 

Aged Care Settings

Previous research conducted by A/Prof Naccarella indicated that it is important workers feel valued and the spaces that are provided are integral to this. Of the dynamic array of staff employed in the aged care workforce (nurses, allied health staff, doctors, cleaners, kitchen staff etc) all have a different view of what workplace design should include. Simple aspects like designated lunch rooms were deemed fundamental for staff well-being and However it is crucial these important elements are not overlooked.

A/Prof Naccarrella explains that often when evaluating workplace environments, attributes such as leadership, communication, conflict management and staff cohesion are assessed, with less focus on the physical design of workplace environments.

About the Study

In May 2018, the University of Melbourne hosted a Symposium. The symposium included over 60 participants from hallmark initiative ageing research, including professionals from aged care, design and health workforce academics, industry and government attendees. The main theme of “Evaluating Aged Care Workspace Environments” was explored.

Key messages from the symposium

The symposium highlighted that staff in aged care had never been asked about the environmental design of their workspace. Ultimately workspace design had been undervalued; not just the physical space, but other aspects such as ensuring employees felt safe, productive and, had a sense of belonging and community.

Four key workspace design features for Australian residential aged care workforce have been identified:

  • a home‐like environment;
  • access to outdoor spaces;
  • indoor quality environment; and
  • access to safe, open and comfortable workplaces.

The above features also influence how residential aged care staff feel, function and perform. A/Prof Nacerrella believes that developing and implementing aged care environmental design needs to be informed by evidence, crucially lived experiences and feedback from both older people and the workforce that looks after them.

Moving forward…

Of the aged care facilities involved in A/Prof Naccarella’s research, they can all see the value in what is being done and one of his main goals is to make the evidence visible. A major aim is to support the next generation workforce as well as retaining the current one. As A/Prof Naccarella states, “I am interested in the younger generations’ wellbeing to support our older generations’ wellbeing.”

His research is also interested in indictors and positive workplace strategy. In particular, the Environmental Comfort Model, which looks at all aspects of a workplace, physical, psychological, functionality. A/Prof Naccarella explains that the psychological aspect is the most important as it can assist with staff retention.

Ideally, four key drivers of workplace design need to come together for successful implementation:

  • Workforce planning
  • Service planning
  • Finance planning
  • Design planning

​A/Prof. Naccarella is highly passionate about this topic and believes that we need “an aged care workforce that is well supported, valued and respected”.