The days of the drab, poorly stocked breakroom are over. Or they should be.
There’s mounting evidence that breakrooms are critical drivers of employee productivity and satisfaction—and not just because it’s faster to grab a cup of joe when you don’t have to leave the building to do it.
For instance, data from a University of Illinois study shows that the brain’s ability to focus drops after a long period of focusing — so much so that it impairs attention and performance. Brief breaks actually reset our ability to concentrate, helping us be more effective, accurate and productive. Breaks also allow us to change our thought patterns, which can help us identify solutions and innovations. And research from Boston-based Sociometric Solutions found that employees who spent time with coworkers during formal coffee or lunch breaks or casual encounters were 10 percent more effective at their jobs.
“Across many types of industries, jobs and sizes of companies, interaction between people is the primary drive of big outcomes,” says Sociometric Solutions’ CEO Ben Waber. “If you can spend 15 minutes to an hour of your day making the people you work with 10 percent more effective by having shared breaks or lunch, that’s worth it.”
So what breakroom trends should you tap into to optimize this important business driver?
One study found that millions of people run out to pick up coffee every day, with the average trip taking 20-40 minutes. Today’s best breakrooms offer an array of beverages to suit a variety of tastes, including a wide selection of coffees. A central coffee location encourages cross-team communication, Waber notes, while department-based brewers foster team cohesiveness. Poll employees to discover preferences, whether it’s K-cups® packs, a fancy espresso maker or something else.
More employers schedule team or company breaks and lunches to improve team spirit and communication. Some, like TechnologyAdvice in Brentwood, TN, and The Nerdery in Bloomington, MN, even have lunch brought in several days a week. “If you give individuals the option to sit alone, they will likely do so,” says Robert Benson, a designer with CannonDesign in Chicago. “If you want a more collegial culture, use larger family-type dining tables that can double as meeting tables.” Add a few café tables for small groups or solo breaks.
Savvy employers know the value of recreation in recharging, so they outfit the breakroom diversions including board games or a lending library. At Whistle Sports, a digital sports media network in New York, there’s a basketball hoop, footballs with an inflatable throwing target and lacrosse sticks—items that reflect the company’s business and culture, according to Brian Selander, executive vice president. TVs also are popular, both for leisure viewing and for group presentations and conference calls.
Use comfortable chairs and sofas to promote casual and formal conversation. “If it’s too much of a corporate setting everywhere you turn, stress levels will be higher,” says Brittany Sykes, a publicist for BloomNation.com in Santa Monica, CA. “Being surrounded by furniture and décor that makes you feel more comfortable and at home will let you easily de-stress and be more productive when you do get back to work.” Be sure to choose durable, easy-to-clean finishes and fabrics for breakroom furnishings.
Old-school vending machine fare is giving up more ground to healthy snacks, fresh fruit and gluten-free goodies. Make sure the snack inventory reflects staff preferences, says Rob Bellenfant, TechnologyAdvice’s CEO. “We make note of what they like to eat and drink and then try to help make it as easy as possible for them to access it,” he says.
Go the extra mile with special treats. “It might not have been the most important factor in my accepting a position here, but I realized my company didn’t have a traditional mindset concerning employee satisfaction the instant I saw the commercial soft-serve ice cream machine in our breakroom,” says Noah Tucker, an SEO consultant with DoMyOwnPestControl.com in Norcross, GA. Other employers celebrate milestones and enforce downtime through weekly happy hours featuring cold brew from the breakroom, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. The Nerdery has a clearly worded alcohol policy and offers subsidized cab rides home from any company event featuring adult beverages, according to Mark Malmberg, the company’s communications director and co-president.
Employers and employees want more sustainable breakrooms. Some opt for recyclable disposables. Bellenfant chose reusable serving supplies, a dishwasher and disposal to help his 40 employees produce less trash. And don’t forget paper towels and napkins, or cleaning supplies such as disinfecting wipes and dishwashing items.
You might think all this great stuff in the breakroom will cause employees to spend more time socializing than working, but that is not the case. “Anyone thinking a breakroom encourages people to goof off needs to really analyze their company culture and leadership,” Bellenfant advises. “It’s the responsibility of the company leaders to establish the boundaries, set expectations and foster a great work ethic on their team through clear communication.”
In the end, your breakroom is a reflection of your company culture.
“I don’t think it’s possible to have a healthy, successful company without showing your employees that they are cared about,” O’Neill says. “And the breakroom is one of the best places for a company to show it cares.”