Implement good work design in healthcare and social assistance

Learn about good work design and improve your practices.



How this helps your business

Work design is made up of the tasks and activities within a role, as well as the working relationships and responsibilities of staff.

Good work design improves employee health and wellbeing, business success and productivity. It encourages worker diversity by allowing for more flexible employment conditions, which helps build a reputation as an employer of choice - attracting and retaining a leading workforce.

Key stats and facts

11.4 days  

Staff in public health care roles have one of the highest rates of sick leave across industries, and that rate had increased to an average of 11.4 days of leave per full-time employee, per year in 2017-18. 

The state of the public sector in Victoria 2017-2018 report

When employees have more control over how they do their jobs, lower workloads, and more support, their health improves.

Egan et al. 2007, The psychosocial and health effects of workplace reorganisation

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Outcomes of good work design can include learning and development, enhanced physical and mental health, increased control and flexibility, and more motivated staff.

Watch this 5 minute video from the University of Western Australia explaining what work design is, why it matters, and how to improve it – including examples and scenarios from different industries.

Job characteristics that help staff feel more motivated and less stressed include ability to make decisions, task variety, opportunity to use skills, receive useful feedback and feel like their job is important. In your industry opportunities to improve work design may exist around rostering, variety in case load, specialising in particular disabilities or age groups, and presenting in peer supervision sessions, for example.

Many events could prompt you to start a work redesign project. These range from small events impacting one staff member, to large, workplace-wide changes.

Work design principles can add value in events such as:

  • Results of staff engagement survey
  • Organisational restructure
  • New work location or major change
  • Increasing turnover
  • Increasing absenteeism
  • Increased job dissatisfaction
  • Identified risks such as fatigue, occupational violence or trauma
  • Lack of diversity in your workplace
  • Extreme physical working environments, such as temperature extremes
  • Critical incidents
  • Workplace injuries or psychological health issues
  • High levels of complaints
  • Issues observed and commented on by people in the workplace.

For workplaces in aged care, community support, disability services and health care, leaders and high level decision makers must be on board, and take ownership when setting up a work redesign project. For more information and to find out how this was used in a large healthcare organisation in the UK, read the 'role redesign' document.

Step 2

Assess your workplace

Check out the Centre for Transformative Design brochure for information about how to apply the S.M.A.R.T framework to work design. After reviewing the brochure you can assess where you're doing well and where you can improve by using the framework.

Display this S.M.A.R.T. poster in your workplace to build awareness among your staff and managers. It has practical examples including staff in aged care, hospital and other carer and customer service roles. The work design sketches and stories page also shares examples and tips from more roles in health and other workplaces that you could learn from.

Step 3

Consult your staff

Ask staff to complete a two minute S.M.A.R.T. survey for a self-assessment of their roles. This activity will help to identify where change is most needed, and introduce your staff to work design in a practical way.

Remember, not all all employees want the same things for their role, so it is important to understand individual needs, and consider these as part of meeting overall workplace demands and objectives.

Once you have a baseline from the survey you can work together to identify possible design solutions.

More ideas to engage your staff:

  • Use a suggestion box
  • Ask the question in different ways "how can we do this job better?" or "how can we provide better care?"
  • Use your engagement surveys, such as People Matters if you're part of a public health network
  • Offer confidential opportunities for employees to make suggestions
  • Use focus groups
  • Identify champions to promote participation in work design
  • Encourage any interns or trainees who come into your workplace to contribute fresh ideas to a work design problem

Watch this video to see how St John of God Berwick Hospital involved staff feedback and suggestions throughout the process of designing a new hospital.

Step 4

Consider workload

If the 'T' for 'tolerable work demands' in the S.M.A.R.T. framework is a priority area for your work design project, you may wish to address workload as a starting point. Watch this 5 minute video from EML that uses a light-hearted approach to start the conversation about managing workload at 'Inappropriate Corporation'.

In your industry, having more work demands than is reasonable can also impact on the people your staff care for and work with.

Note how your workplace culture, environment and management actions could be impacting workload. Use the video and checklist as a starting point for conversations about what could be done better, and identify your top 3 priorities.

Step 5

Consider flexibility

Workplaces that offer flexible working arrangements see better employee health outcomes, motivation and productivity. This is related to the 'A' for 'agency' in the S.M.A.R.T framework.

Consider including discussions about flexible working arrangements in individual meetings with staff, and find out what might help in their role, remembering what suits one person may not suit another.

As an industry, public health care has the highest rate of part time employees, at around 60 percent of the workforce (Victorian Public Sector Commission). Other types of flexible working arrangements include:

  • changed starting and finishing times
  • job sharing
  • working more hours over fewer days
  • working extra hours to make up for time taken off
  • taking rostered days off in half days for more flexibly
  • time off work instead of overtime payments
  • changing the location of work or the need to travel to work (for example, working from home)
  • purpose built office designs to suit staffing needs and create a safe and confidential environment for working with clients/patients
  • purchased leave arrangements.

Remember you also need to make sure your employees receive their minimum entitlements and that you are following your workplace Enterprise Agreement. The Fair Work Ombudsman website provides guidance to employers about flexibility in the workplace.

Read the case study below about using job redesign to introduce a flexible work model. While it is based in a law firm setting, the lessons learnt could still be relevant to your workplace.

Step 6

Review and keep improving

Once you have completed a work redesign project, you should review it's progress at regular intervals to ensure the project is on track, and make notes on where you could improve. Gathering feedback from employees involved is a crucial part of ongoing improvement and project success.

It is important to be continuously improving the way your workplace uses work design to help create a mentally healthy workplace. What will you put in place to facilitate this?

Based on the work design project you've completed, identify and implement 3 key actions you can take to make work design 'business as usual' in your workplace. This will ensure you can act quickly when you encounter some of the events or issues listed in Step 2.

Think about:

  • Were there any barriers to work design?
  • What tweaks could you make to existing systems, processes, information, skills, or culture to make the process easier?
  • How can you facilitate buy-in from different parts of your organisation and at all levels?
  • What were the benefits to your workplace?
  • Could you share your work design experience through a case study or other resources that you have created?

More resources

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.