Healthcare professionals at all levels are suffering from burnout - but using colour in their workplaces can help, says Nina Bailey.
Brightness and the circadian rhythm Circadian rhythms control our energy levels, mood and sense of alertness. A study conducted by CBRE and the University of Twente in the Netherlands showed that when lighting was adjusted to workers' circadian rhythm, their task performance rallied by 12 per cent, and participants felt more energised (71 per cent), happier (76 per cent) and healthier (50 per cent).
Allowing plenty of natural light to flood workplaces will guarantee that a space feels open, contributing to the wellbeing of staff and patients.
Where natural light is not available, for example, in lower-ground floors, brightness can be adjusted. The study recommends that in workplaces, lights should change from a warm, yellow tint in the morning to strong, bright blue in the afternoon, and return to a softer yellow towards end of the day.
Brightness and colour contrast are important, however, neutral tones don't have to mean white. Create the desired calming effect using warm or cool subtle hues.
Colour must match the environmental needs
In a healthcare setting, it's vital to think about the type of environment the staff need, such as calming or energising. Also consider the hours they spend in these spaces.
Blues and greens create a cool, calming impression, reducing the anxiety of staff in emergency wards. Blue is soothing but also linked with low mood so avoid it in mental health settings.
Warm tones (yellows and oranges) help to improve employees' moods during long shifts. They're invigorating - making them ideal for physical therapy wards. Red, however, should be used sparingly as it has been observed to raise levels of the hormone cortisol, boosting stress levels.
Colour and space
Although there is no clear-cut causal relationship between a certain colour and a specific emotion, colour is a powerful communication tool and can greatly influence our experience of a space.
Colour can make a space appear larger by creating the illusion of a higher ceiling or a wider room.
Light colours and small patterns visually amplify while dark colours and large patterns make a space look smaller. High contrast can result in eye strain and headaches so, for example, a window wall and frame should be light so as not to contrast too much with daylight sky.
Bright colours appear lighter in weight. Red is the heaviest, followed by blue, purple, orange, green - yellow is the lightest.
Light objects will appear larger against a dark background, while darker objects appear smaller against a light background. Colour is useful in creating 'zones' and assisting with wayfinding. With the latter, signage should stand on its own and be immediately noticeable.
Borrow from nature
The recent trend in healthcare environments is to use colours of nature to inspire relaxation and prevent claustrophobia and burnout by creating calm and reducing anxiety.
When applied together, leafy greens and woody browns will resonate with workers.
Research has proved that healthy workplaces make people happier, perform better and inspire them to live healthier lifestyles outside of work. Indoor plants add to employees' positive emotions.
Hospitals have conducted research into the effects of plants on patient outcomes and health, showing that patients recover faster in environments with plants. Indoor plants have been shown to alleviate headaches, depression, anxiety disorder, asthma, heart disease, concentration, self-discipline and physiological stress.
Plants oxygenate the room, so bring the outside in and embrace the continuing trend for biophilia. This will also help staff to feel more connected to nature. Remarkably, this benefit doesn't need real plants - artificial plants or wall murals and paintings of plants are also beneficial.
Nina Bailey is UK design manager at Formica Group