A Space for Calm: Setting up a Wellness Room in the Workplace

By Loriene Roy and Inessa A. Ach

Workplaces may provide onsite or nearby access to wellness facilities such as gyms, lactation rooms, or spas. In other cases, library workers do not have convenient wellness locations to which they can retreat during their workdays.  In this article we will describe how one graduate school of information responded to the perceived needs of its faculty and staff to create an in-house wellness room.

The School of Information (iSchool) at the University of Texas at Austin is located in the University of Texas Administrative Building (UTA) at 1616 Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. While this location provides small and mid-sized classrooms, an information technology lab, a paper lab, makerspace, student lounge, meeting rooms, and faculty and staff offices it is still located blocks south of the forty acres of the main university campus and the location of its well-equipped gymnasium. While iSchool workers can walk to the gym, they would need to return to the UTA building after their exercise in order to retrieve their cars. As a result, it became easy for iSchool employees to skip exercise all together. In addition, doors to faculty and staff offices are glass with ‘frosted’ central panels. While students and colleagues are asked not to peer under the frosted panels, the doors afford little privacy to their inhabitants. Exiting the building brings pedestrians to restaurants, parking lots, and state government buildings but not a tranquil path that would give a needed private and nurturing break from routine, and sometimes stressful work related tasks. The iSchool does have the advantage of having ten unused or little used faculty offices.

In June 2017, Ms. Inessa Ach, former Senior Administrative Associate in the iSchool submitted a mini-grant proposal to the on campus Healthpoint Wellness Program initiative. This local opportunity offers a one-time financial support of up to $1,500 for departments to support at least 10 to 15 staff members to follow healthy behaviors or to change their unhealthy actions. Funds can cover the costs of contracting with instructors to teach classes including automated external defibrillator (AED) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and/or purchase equipment such as standing workstations and exercise equipment such as rollers or yoga supplies. When the initial grant proposal was not funded, the iSchool funded Ach’s request for $765 to convert one of the small empty classrooms into a wellness room. The room became available to faculty and staff in the iSchool in October 2017.

The aim of the new room was to provide a comfortable and private space to stretch, take a short break, exercise, or meditate within the UTA building. Plans for the room included providing enough exercise equipment within the ten foot by twenty foot space for a total body workout without overcrowding the space. Along with the equipment, the space would have floor lamps emitting a soft light instead of the standard overly-bright lights used in each of the offices. In addition, music would be available through a Bluetooth speaker. Visitors who desired to use the space as a break room could rest in a zero gravity chair.  Privacy would be provided through requiring staff key access to the room (and reservations, depending on demand) along with ceiling to floor curtains to cover the class doors.

The $765 budget for converting the faculty office to the wellness room included the following items:

  1. Interlocking foam tiles exercise mat, one set of six tiles: $30

The tiles provide a protective and cushioned workout surface

  1. Exercise equipment: a stability ball with a base; a medicine ball; resistance bands; and a set of weights: $300
  2. Furniture: A gym bench,  zero gravity chair/recliner, curtain tension rod, curtain, mirror, two floor lamps: $320
  3. Bluetooth speaker: a speaker that can be connected to a smartphone/table for streaming exercise/meditation videos or used as a noise machine for relaxation: $40
  4. Exercise posters: two or three posters with text and/images that illustrate how to stretch and exercise: $75

Use of the wellness room is not required and does not impact staff/faculty personnel evaluations or benefits.  Staff are asked to provide feedback on their use of the room through a voluntary survey to provide a measure of its reach and impact. Use of the room will be monitored and its impact discussed in terms of how its presence assists iSchool personnel in improving the quality of their everyday work lives.   

Loriene Roy is Professor in the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin. She may be contacted via email at: loriene@ischool.utexas.edu; 512-471-3959

Inessa A. Ach is University Transportation Center Assistant Director, the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin. She may be contacted via email at: iach@austin.utexas.edu; 512-471-1291