Team Bayer

Sensory Rooms to Address Silent Disabilities in the Workplace


At the onset of COVID we were all challenged to learn to work in new ways. There were many challenges most employees at Bayer had to adapt to after years of working in an office environment; new technology, office space and surroundings to name a few.

For some the sudden adaptation of a new working environment caused unease and anxiety and elevated a national dialogue on how we can better support employees to adapt, this dialogue also focused on ensuring front-line workers had the support resources they needed to do their critical tasks.


The dialogue was valuable in raising visibility of the need to focus on mental health and wellness in the workplace, while also highlighting the impact of employees living with silent disabilities. About 10% of people live with an invisible disability. Many times, those invisible disabilities can impair the ability to work under normal conditions or participate in social activities at work. People with invisible disabilities can have dramatic limitations with typical work activities, and it can be difficult for co-workers to acknowledge, recognize and understand the disability.


Invisible disabilities can range from epilepsy to dyslexia, and hearing and vision impairment to chronic pain, PTSD to autoimmune compromised, Attention Deficit, Sensory Processing and mobility impairments and anxiety and depression. In the U.S., 96% of people with chronic medical conditions show no outward signs of their illness.


In the time of Covid-19, the incidence of invisible disabilities are certain to grow as people confront an increasing number of physical and mental health issues. It’s based on these insights that the Pittsburgh Enable Chapter, co-led by Cindy Steffen, Head, US Service and Device Software, Radiology started to explore ways to better support the front-line workers at the Indianola site, while thinking about ways to support employees who were again having to experience a work transition with coming back to the office, especially those with invisible disabilities.


That is when Cindy, along with Enable National and local Pittsburgh members started to explore the idea of the creation of Sensory rooms. The premise of the rooms was to create spaces that assist in alleviating stress in the workplace environment.  With that goal in mind of supporting workers who may be experiencing a range of workforce stresses, Cindy contacted Pressley Ridge School, a school that specializes in providing behavior support, intervention, and education to children with Autism, and also a long-time community partner of Bayer in Pittsburgh to help bring the vision of creating ‘safe spaces’ at work to life.


“My daughter Savanna is an Occupational Therapist and she is always telling me how there are specific items that assist children and adults with visible and invisible disabilities (furniture, light, sound, smell, etc.) I then noticed that airports have been adding sensory rooms for children. I started to wonder why companies have not started to adopt this and it really hit home at the beginning of COVID when my oldest daughter Malia (who has mental health challenges, one being anxiety) was suffering when her life was significantly uprooted and she found herself at home. Her therapist told her to use scent to help relieve her anxiety.”


Drawing on Pressley Ridge’s experience with the creation of their Sensory rooms, Cindy and members of the Enable Pittsburgh Chapter worked with Kelly Weimer, Director of Autism Services at Pressley Ridge, to create spaces that assist in alleviating stress in the workplace environment. Reflecting similar spaces at the Pressley Ridge School for Autism, Weimer provided a few options to outfit the rooms, including subdued lighting, comforting furniture, relaxing seating, and cool colors to promote relaxation.  Employees can then interact with items such as bubble tubes and fiber optic lighting to help energize them before returning to work. 


“I am thrilled Bayer recognized this need for their neurodiverse workforce and chose to collaborate with Pressley Ridge. Self-care is important for everyone, and when employees take care of themselves, they are more effective. These rooms provide a space for employees to refresh and relax. A quick break is sometimes what’s needed to reduce stress and increase productivity.”


Weimer’s approach followed that of “Recharge Rooms” developed in a New York City hospital that were multi-sensory with nature-inspired experiences. While there is still more research to be performed, early indications suggest a reduction in perceived stress of frontline workers by creating “moments of stress relief and relaxation” (Front. Psychol., 19 November 2020).   


Today two rooms, now called Serenity rooms are fully operational at Bayer’s Indianola campus to serve a range of needs for employees, from needed  time to destress, recharge, rest or feel more secure in the workplace.