Advice for Administrative Professionals

The Office Break Room

Your office breakroom is strategic to your business? Yes, that's right. The way you set up an office breakroom can actually have a material effect on your revenues and profitability.

When it's time to unwind, employees head to the break room, often the most undervalued, underappreciated room in the workplace.

But before you send your employees off to the broom closet for their morning coffee you might want to think twice, because the break room might be the most important room your company has.

Seriously? The break room is really that important? Absolutely, and here's why: The break room draws people out of their offices and cubicles, and provides a central gathering place for employees to interact with one another face to face.

Although employees don't always discuss work-related issues in the break room, the conversation usually come around to the workplace and even when it doesn't, employees are still building relationships. It's like a daily meeting that your employees are actually anxious to attend!

Unfortunately, many employers don't leverage their break room's potential simply because they fail to take a few common-sense steps to ensure an enjoyable atmosphere. After all, who wants to go to a disgusting break room? But with a little planning, your break room can be the talk of your company. Here are some questions to get you started:

How should I set up our break room?

Break room set-ups vary from company to company. However, there are a few essentials. First, you'll need a table or tables for people to sit around while they are eating. You'll also need a refrigerator, a sink, a microwave, and basic kitchen supplies like paper towels and dishwashing soap. Beyond that, the sky's the limit. Some break rooms contain lounge furniture, but that decision is entirely up to you. The key is to create an environment that is comfortable and conducive for conversation.

Who cleans the break room?

In a word - everyone. Somehow you need to make it clear that people are responsible for cleaning up their own messes, including the removal of food items from the fridge. Humorous, concise signage helps, but ultimately people will have to hold each other accountable for keeping the break room neat and tidy. Even so, plan on making the break room a scheduled stop for the maintenance crew.

Who pays for coffee - the employer or the employees?

There are two schools of thought on this one. Some employers happily provide coffee for their employees as a gesture of goodwill. Others feel that employees should either pay a nominal fee for a cup of coffee or come up with their own system. Again, the decision is up to you. But whatever your decision, be sure to factor in how it will be received by your employees. You may find that a can of coffee is a small price to pay for the benefits of the break room?

Who is allowed in the break room?

Obviously all employees and staff should be allowed to use the break room during scheduled breaks. It wouldn't kill you to spend some time in there, too, especially if you are looking for a way to bond with your staff. Clients, however, are strictly a no-no. Remember: The break room is a place for employees to get away from customers, not eat with them.

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We greatly appreciate any advice you can provide on this topic. Please contribute your insights on this topic so others can benefit.

  • Mrs. P posted on 3/31/2009
    Mrs. P
    My office has, what I would call, the top of the line break room. Not only do we have the essentials, refrigerator, sink, and microwave, we also have a dishwasher, full oven/range, 2 industrial size microwave, and the refrigerator has a full size freezer. All provided by my employer who generously keeps the fridge stocked with bottled water. What more can I ask for? All we would need is for someone to cook for us!!!
  • Rivalee Redesign posted on 4/17/2009
    Rivalee Redesign
    There are SO many sad, rather disgusting breakrooms out there. I am currently redesigning a breakroom for a client which right now is painted dirty yellow and doubles as a storage closet. It's a small space so it's a challenge to make it a gather space as you describe in this article, but really this one needs to be more of a retreat any way since the work space is very high energy and focused on engaging.
  • Debra posted on 8/27/2009
    What are the typical dimensions of a break room? I am looking for the size of a copy/breakroom combination.
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 8/27/2009
    Ken Gaebler
    Debra, designing a break room should be done based on how many employees you have and a number of other factors. I'm not sure that there is such a thing as a standard breakroom size. Good luck with the buildout!
  • Damon Greenfield posted on 11/10/2009
    Damon Greenfield
    I think we need to go green in the break room. Start using more earth friendly products. We have them out their,(cups, plates, cutlery,) all biodegradable. yes a little more expensive, but not when you think about our children, were leaving them enough mess.
  • cz posted on 3/22/2010
    I am currently looking to improve my employee break room. Open to suggestions and ideas, I really want them to have a place to get away and feel like they really are on a break away from work.
  • Brandon posted on 8/17/2010
    A bit of information for all office managers out there when considering offering drinking water for their employees. Instead of bottled water that is delivered to your office, you can save money and go green by exploring purified water systems. Bottleless water coolers are the way to go.
  • Gina posted on 9/16/2010
    Hmph...our Employees (I swear to you this is true) take their breaks in what was once (and still is) the ladies room at the TRU Express in Rockaway, NJ. They put plywood over the sink counter top and placed a small microwave there and covered the toilet with a cardboard box! They put a tiny table and a chair in there for you to take your break! The worst breakroom I have ever seen!!! But on the plus side you can take a squat and eat at the same time!

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