Relaxation in the Workplace
By: Johnna Barrett, President, Barrett Design, Inc.
Workplace relaxation. These are two words seem diametrically opposed to one another, yet the importance of integrating the two is grossly underestimated in today’s office environments. We multi-task, over schedule, and keep ourselves tethered to electronic devices so we can always be connected. The level of responsiveness required from the average worker today is unprecedented. We want responses and we want them immediately. Expectations from our clients are high, and the pressure we put on ourselves to always be available is taking a toll on our health and our mental well-being.
What we need is to relax! Not once a year during a two-week vacation that we spend inordinate amounts of energy preparing for – often to the point that we’re too stressed over being out of the office to enjoy. We need to take control of our health and integrate daily relaxation practices into our working environment. Relaxation rooms provide a way to do that.
What is a relaxation room? Companies like Google and Nike have been providing them in their workspaces for years. A relaxation room is a space that is set aside for the sole purpose of providing employees with a place to go during the work day to relax. It can be as small as a walk-in closet or as elaborate as the ones Google provides, with aquariums, lounge chairs and bathtubs, which are dry, of course, and not-clothing-optional. The point is to create a room that uses every device possible to induce relaxation.
The best versions of these spaces combine several components to induce the relaxation response. Key elements that create the environment include color, temperature, lighting level, smell, sound, visual imagery, touch, aesthetics, and physical comfort.
At the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center in San Antonio, Texas, we created a relaxation room for the staff, named Tranquility. As the sole facility caring for combat burn casualties within the Department of Defense, the intensity in their workplace is tremendous. Doctors and nurses are faced with some of the most horrific injuries imaginable, many returning to the U.S. from active duty overseas, then working grueling hours performing live-saving surgeries. The need for a place to nurture their staff was great and we were called in to create it.
Drawing from vast amounts of research, we created a space that incorporated every sensory element known to induce a relaxation response. The lighting level in the room was lowered, creating an immediate stark contrast to the brightly lit hospital corridors. Aromatherapy, using essential oils proven to reduce anxiety and stress levels, was used to affect the sense of smell, while color therapy further induced relaxation. A water feature was introduced to bring in sounds of nature, along with an ambient music soundtrack with brainwave entrainment to help users reach a more relaxed state. Massage chairs with soft blankets were incorporated, including a zero-gravity bed that gently rotated to induce the feeling of floating on water. Low light nature visuals were displayed on screens.
The response from the staff, after using the room, was tremendous. Skepticism was replaced with gratitude as the rejuvenating effects of relaxation time were felt. While the people using this space were an extreme example of need, the fact remains that we all face daily stresses that, left unmitigated, threaten our health and affect our mental well-being. Happy, healthy workers contribute to a positive work environment, better work product, and higher employee retention. It’s time to make daily relaxation as high a priority as checking emails!
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