Give me a Break! A Place to get Re-energized

By Arlene Allen, Contributing writer

If it’s not already apparent in your work- place, today’s employees require more than a job with a good wage. While that was probably enough to satisfy their parents — or more likely, their grandparents — today’s workforce looks for an environment that is rewarding, socially engaging and otherwise satisfying on a number of levels. And if they don’t find it to their satisfaction, moving on is not the cause of angst once experienced by their workplace predecessors. You might just call it the “see ya!” syndrome.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. There are a number of ways that the employee experience can be heightened, and boosting employee retention and morale, and improving productivity might be easier than you think— just start with your break room!

While there are still barriers to creating and delivering such an inviting place for your staff, several studies have revealed that the break room has the potential to be far more than a place where workers warm up their lunch and feed their caffeine addiction. Done right, they are spaces where workers can form friendships, share ideas and, most importantly, relax and rejuvenate before returning to the daily grind. Scott D’Cunha, Vice President of Marketing, eCommerce and Communications at Staples Business Advantage Canada, says encouraging employees to take a break or have lunch in the break room is sure to help to improve over- all health and wellness—and the bottom-line!

“When workers step away from their desks, even for just 20 minutes, the change in scenery helps them return to their desks feeling refreshed and ready to tackle their workload,” adds D’Cunha. One research study out of Baylor University in the U.S. agrees. That study found that workers who took effective breaks experienced greater job satisfaction, health and productivity. Several key findings were made from the research:

  • Workers who took their breaks earlier in the day, around mid-morning, reported having high- er levels of energy, concentration and motivation after a break, versus those who waited until mid-afternoon or lunchtime for their first break.
  • The research concluded that while longer breaks are good, frequent short breaks allowed workers to replenish their energy, concentration and motivation levels and keep them high throughout the day. On the other hand, employees who waited until they were completely depleted before recharging took longer to recover their energy, concentration and motivation.
  • Employees who used their break to do activities that they wanted to do and chose to do, even if those activities were work-re- lated, reported having more restful breaks and returned to work more refreshed and ready to tackle their assigned workload.
  • Workers who engaged in the above practices also experienced better health and increased job satisfaction. After breaks, these workers reported less somatic symptoms such as headache, eyestrain, and lower back pain. They also experienced increased job satisfaction and a decrease in emotional exhaustion or burnout.

Breakroom Basics

With so much evidence showing just how good breaks are for your business and your employees’ health, it’s easy to see why the office break room is paramount in delivering value to your staff and why you should turn your attention to it. After all, part of encouraging workers to step away from their desk is having an attractive and inviting space for them to step into—somewhere that will help them completely disconnect from their daily routine and tasks and replenish their energy, concentration and motivation.

But remember: you can only reap all these amazing benefits if your employees can find the time and have the space for an effective break. According to D’Cunha, at its most basic level, a breakroom should be a clean, inviting space with good amenities and a few must- have items.

“I think most would agree that having beverages like coffee and tea available is a must for the workplace. It’s one of those things that people have come to expect today,” says D’Cunha. “Most organizations have realized that productivity increases with these simple additions. And providing these amenities to associates means they don’t have to physically leave the building to get their daily fix.”

Appliances like toasters, kettles, microwaves, and refrigeration are also a definite must-have. But, if you’re looking to take your breakroom from good to great, D’Cunha suggests having things like quality seating, reading material, access to natural light and snacks to keep employees fueled and alert throughout their workday.

“Making table seating available so associates have a place to eat and get a real break from their desks is highly beneficial for productivity levels,” said D’Cunha. “Of course, televisions and game tables can also be a great addition, and really make the breakroom a great place to be, if a workplace has the space to accommodate them.”

For more ambitious companies looking to do a major breakroom overhaul, D’Cunha recommends getting some professional help, as well as input from the people who will actually be using the room.

Once your break room is up and running, it’s going to need some upkeep. To accomplish this, plan ahead and keep on top of a maintenance and ordering schedule to help reduce the time and effort that goes into keeping your break room well stocked and clean. Here are his tips for good break room maintenance:

“The breakroom is an extension of your company culture, so in order to be sure you include all the right elements, have a furniture and office design expert come in and help with your overall vision,” he continues. “From there, survey your employees to find out what kinds of snacks and beverages they would like to have. Including employees in the planning process will help make them feel involved and valued.”

Breakroom Maintenance

  • Sign up for a coffee program. This will help you manage your inventory and budget. Ordering in bulk can also help lower the per unit price of coffee as well as reduce shipping costs.
  • Have a dedicated cleaning schedule. Implement a rule that food left behind in the fridge will be thrown away if not disposed of by the end of each week. This ensures people aren’t leaving things in the fridge for indefinite periods of time.
  • Provide proper receptacle bins. Receptacles for recycling, organic waste, and garbage are a mandatory accessory to help keep cleanliness under control.
  • Dedicate someone in the office to replenish supplies. Ensuring that basic supplies— cream/milk, sugar, coffee, tea, snacks, napkins, dish soap and other general cleaning products—are always available will make your break room more attractive to employees and make it easier for them to help keep it clean.
  • Remind associates that the break room is a common space and set your expectations upfront. Simple reminders for associates that the break room is a common space will help keep cleanliness under control. This can be done with signage in and around the break room, on any tables, near garbage and recycling receptacles, and on the fridge. Letting employees know what you expect at the get-go, coupled with reminders, will make a big difference in the long run.
  • Give associates access to general cleaning supplies. Having dish soap, paper towels, napkins and wipes available will ensure everyone has the opportunity to keep the space clean and fresh.

Keeping your breakroom in tip-top shape will require a little planning, some resources, and a bit of effort on everyone’s part; but a good breakroom is an essential part of keeping your employees happy, healthy and productive—all of which will go straight to your bottom-line!

Developing a workplace culture that encourages workers to step away from their desk during the day starts with having a great space for them to escape to. The payoff, says D’Cunha, is not only an increase in employee happiness and productivity, but also a reduction in stress that will most definitely improve employee wellness and result in a significant rise in employee morale and retention.

SHINING A LITTLE LIGHT ON THE MATTER

While break rooms are finally starting to get the respect they deserve, it appears that taking a break is not the easiest thing to accomplish for many workers! In their inaugural 2015 Workplace Index study, which measures workplace trends and work culture with the aim of helping businesses increase their productivity, Staples Business Advantage found that nearly half of employees do not feel they can actually leave their desk for a break. Sixty-three per cent of employees also said that burnout erodes productivity and is a motivating factor for a new job search. One year later, Staples’ 2016 Workplace Index found that 91 per cent of employees were working more than 40 hours per week at least some of the time because they were unable to complete tasks during regular hours.

Other findings include:

  • 68 per cent of Canadians said their workplace had contributed to stress
  • 27 per cent cited the volume of their work as the number one workplace stressor
  • 54 per cent believe their current company does not offer either fresh food or healthy snacks
  • 48 per cent of all three groups agree that they’d like more natural light in the office
  • 56 per cent of Baby Boomers want ergonomic furniture as part of their wellness plan
  • 47 per cent of Millennials say that burnout is making them look for another job
  • While 41 per cent of Baby Boomers are motivated by having a sense of purpose at work, 39 per cent of Gen Xers and 36 per cent of Millennials rank salary as their top workplace motivators
  • 45 per cent want fresh foods
  • 40 per cent want an onsite gym, while 28 per cent would be happy with a gym reimbursement
  • 34 per cent want ergonomic furniture and supplies, and 18 per cent want healthy snacks
  • 63 per cent view an onsite wellness program as a positive selling point in a new job

This Article was originally published in the Spring 2017 Issue of Office Today Magazine