An awesome break room can be a place of relaxation, rejuvenation, and refreshment, where employees gather to share a coffee, have a chat and unwind from the daily stresses of their workload.
Typically, it can be a place of joking around, laughter and merriment, or a quiet respite from the hectic energy of the mosh pit in which some of us work. In many cases, it has also been the venue for a darker side of company life where complaining and gossip can take root. This is where you have an opportunity to set the tone for workplace culture by evolving a set of standards of behavior and how the community of professionals interacts in the break room.
It would be extremely wise for the leadership of a business to create a space of positivity, community support, and growth — rather than negativity and the cancer that is gossip and carping criticism of one’s fellow staffers. This is an easy yet very powerful and effective way for management to guide the moral compass and morale of a company.
While WeWork failed spectacularly, it was for many different reasons than its initial idea — which was to create a workspace that was in essence one great big awesome break room for freelancers to collaborate and gather in.
The break room can also be a place where management can interact with the rest of the company employees on meal or coffee breaks. It opens up communication lines between the executives and those working with them and allows them to be more familiar, more approachable.
Because the office break room holds such an important role in improving office culture and morale (and therefore engagement and productivity), it should be something that those who are the custodians of company culture should examine and work to improve. Having an office break room that is inviting and is filled with positive energy can have far-reaching effects on the overall culture of an organization.
The virtual break room
What if your company is operating with mostly remote employees where zoom meetings are the order of the day, rather than in-person work? Well, there are still ways to bolster a positive culture even if you’re doing it remotely.
During scheduled breaks, instead of everyone walking away from the meeting (not counting bathroom breaks) try things like a Tea vs Coffee tasting experience or a snack tasting. You can send each participant some specialty teas, coffees, or snacks, and have them try them and discuss which ones they like.
Another idea is to run a pub quiz or trivia contest. You could also have a mini dance party or a quick group cardio workout. Go around the virtual room and pick out something that you noticed or that you particularly like about each person involved. There are hundreds of ways to spice up your virtual meetings and make them fun.
Tip: Keep your virtual coffee break between 15 and 30 minutes and schedule at least one virtual coffee break for every hour or two of a video conference.
The office break room
An office break room can either be a small, dingy, smelly collection of week-old sandwiches and microwave meals — or it can be a bright, inviting, inspiring, and supportive space for your employees to gather and rejuvenate.
Some recommendations for a better break room:
Healthy Snack Bar
Creating a snack bar with healthy food items can help give employees the pick-me-up they need on their breaks. Not only is offering free snacks to employees a great workplace perk, but it also can help them stay productive.
Studies show that eating healthy snacks makes employees feel more creative, happier, and engaged. It stands to reason that the foods with which your employees choose to fuel their bodies will, of course, have a dramatic effect on how they are able to perform at work.
While you’re at it, why not add some refreshing liquid to the equation. Your office break room should include quality drinks for your employees to show you care for them. From a high-quality filtered water cooler to a coffee pot with gourmet coffees and tea options, to various beverages on tap, you can offer your employees something to wet their whistle during their downtime.
Comfort is key
Besides the food and drink options, the biggest key to a good break room is comfort. Much of the value of a dedicated break area in an office is lost if it does not at least provide some way to lounge and relax. So it is important to choose furniture and seating options which provide exactly that. Think in terms of comfortable sofas and armchairs, bean bags, etc. Move away from your stiff, conventional table and office chairs that don’t provide any escape from the discomfort of their day.
Provide adequate tables and chairs so they can leisurely eat, but also provide couches or cushions where they can lounge out in front of the TV on their lunch break and really relax. This is an area of the office where creative and inviting furniture can make a huge difference. Creating a space where your employees can put their feet up, relax, and veg out for a few minutes is essential for them to clear their minds and have a short mental health break.
Why break rooms are important
Having a communal break room that is built with community in mind encourages interaction between employees. It sets the stage for positive interaction and more communication between colleagues. We all have the tendency to stick within our own departments and stay in our lanes with the people we know and work with more frequently.
The problem with this is that it often creates subdivisions within workplace culture and can even lean into a sort of “class distinction” in an office environment where cliques can emerge. The creatives tend to spend time with other creatives, and the accounting staff does the same, and so on. This is understandable when you consider that common ground is a solid basis for friendships but the “us vs. them” mentality doesn’t do anything to enhance a corporate culture — in fact, it does the opposite.
Being that humans are creatures of habit, we often tend to take breaks at around the same time each day. This means that Sam from Accounting might end up having coffee with Dawn from Sales or Jerry from the Creative department.
This will inevitably evolve into a daily conversation and it builds relationships between departments, which is hard to replicate in any other way. Relationships between departments mean increased overall company morale and community.
In a break room, coworkers are able to gather, relax and bond together in a relaxing space and this strengthens intra-office relationships. When a workplace has an office break room, it also allows employees to chat with someone they would have otherwise not had the opportunity to interact with.
Mental Health Breaks
“Taking a mental health day” has become a phrase that is more and more common in today’s vernacular. But allowing your staff to take a short “mental health break” on a daily basis, will circumvent the need for them to reach a breaking point of needing an entire day of self-care to decompress.
Everyone needs a mental break. No matter how much your employees love their jobs, no matter how satisfied they are and how driven they feel to complete their tasks and perform highly, they need a mental break in order to stay positive, focused, and effective.
Make sure the seats are cozy enough for them to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or a healthy snack before jumping back into their projects at hand. As they leave this oasis away from their desk and return to their workspaces, they can feel ready to go with a renewed sense of energy and are far less likely to become overwhelmed by stress and burnout.
Burnout is among the leading causes of employee turnover, and having to hire people consistently costs the company more money and more time in the long run. It is definitely in a company’s best interest to keep good talent around rather than seeing a revolving door of burned-out employees replaced by wide-eyed graduates entering the workforce for the first time.
Besides, you don’t want your business to be a dull place of employment. Work doesn’t need to be a strictly tense environment. Ideally, it shouldn’t be tense or stressful at all. High levels of stress increase medical and insurance costs, affect absences of your employees and contribute to burnout. To offset this, consider focusing attention on the perks and benefits of working in your building.
By simply offering your employees a break room, you can make it clear to them that you value their peace of mind as well.
The creation of an ideal break room — colorful, fun, positive, comfortable, and relaxing, filled with healthy snacks and gourmet coffees — will act as honey to the flies, so to speak. It will attract the talent in the building to come and spend time there. And in doing so, they will naturally interact with one another.
A likely outcome of this environment is that this social, fun respite from the daily grind can become a haven for idea-sparking and problem-solving. Socializing in a break room can lead to unexpected creative ideas. Collaborations can easily happen when feeling relaxed and at ease.
There is no pressure when you are enjoying a cup of coffee. There is no weight of expectation for your employees to meet deadlines or come up with some world-saving solution for anything. And this lack of pressure is exactly what can drive creativity. By simply offering a safe and calm place for people to gather, you’ve encouraged this construction of a brainstorming community.
Another perk of having a space like this is that you’ve inadvertently created an informal conference room or an alternative workspace for you anyone who chooses to do their tasks in a more comfortable spot. They’re no longer chained to their cubicles. In other words, you’ve given your employees a choice, and in so doing, you’ve taken a huge leap toward creating a culture of positivity, fun, engagement, and productivity.
The old (archaic) idea of the small windowless space with a smelly microwave and a fridge hardly bigger than the one you had in your college dorm just isn’t good enough anymore. Folding chairs and portable tables don’t send a message that your employees are a priority.
A 5-star break room goes beyond simply allowing your employees to feel more comfortable and giving them incredible perks and amazing coffee. It is about creativity, community, and collaboration.