Rejuvenation Space: Does Your Office Have—or Need—One?

“Rejuvenation space” doesn’t refer to a place you visit to recapture youth—unless you count relaxation as the route to feeling the decades slip from you. The Louisville BizBlog posted a video this week on how some companies are devoting a room to employee de-stressing. It doesn’t have to be a fancy or high-tech room. Apparently, it can just be a quiet place where an overly taxed worker can stretch out on a sofa or easy chair and be away from his or her desk.

The reason why we need such a room is the more interesting question. At the same time as many are talking about flextime, there is another trend of employees spending more time than ever in the office, and with mobile technology, hardly, if ever, having a break from work-related communications. I think a workplace “rejuvenation” space is great, but I think it’s worrisome that a room devoted to relaxation should be necessary. Years ago, I think it was usually the norm for employees to just leave the office for an hour and take a lunch break. I still practice that ritual. No matter how busy I am and regardless of the weather, I leave the office for an hour and not only pick up lunch outside the office, but take about a 20-minute walk. I don’t find my productivity affected and I don’t worry if anyone is trying to reach me during that time. In fact, though I am able to check work e-mail on my phone, I never do during my lunch break. I feel the phone vibrating and choose to ignore any messages unrelated to my personal life.

From what I’ve read about 21st century work styles, I must be a retro-style employee. But why should that be the case? What pressures are companies under today that they weren’t years ago, so that this new 24/7-tuned-in mentality has arisen? I wonder: Have economic circumstances and pressures changed, or is it much more that our attitudes that have changed? We take ourselves more seriously than we used to. With the exception of a medical doctor or emergency services employee who is on call, is anything dire really going to happen if we step out for an hour and disconnect from work-related communications? On my walk to work each morning, I see fellow sidewalk commuters feverishly checking messages on their phones as they make their way to the office, and I always wonder to myself why they just can’t wait until they get to the office to check their messages.

The worry many workers have today is that even though they know they’re not that important, their bosses or others at the company might get upset if an hour goes by and they don’t respond to a message. So my idea I is to launch a page on company intranets (or an app if your company is technologically forward) that would enable employees to input that they are taking an hour off for lunch and will not be reachable for that hour. Employees would be encouraged to log their time offline/out-of-touch an hour or two in advance so those who need something from them would know they need to send a message or call before that time, or wait until the designated hour is over. That way, the employee can leave the office, or even stay in the office in a break room, and disconnect from work with a clear mind.

One funny thing that could happen with these rejuvenation rooms is the transformation of a space for relaxation into just another work zone. I can imagine co-workers wondering where so-and-so is and then popping into the relaxation room and either pulling them out of the room or sitting down right there for an impromptu meeting. For true “rejuvenation,” employees need to step away from the office altogether and disconnect entirely from work-related communications. It’s important that companies let employees know it’s OK, and even a good idea, to do this.

Are your employees too nervous to take an hour away from the office and work-related communications during the workday? What do you do to make it easy for employees to step away from the office during working hours without worrying about a co-worker or boss trying to get in touch?