Identifying the Problems
Prior to changing the break area, consider the problems associated with the space. It is not technically a money-generating area — such as an office or work station — and therefore usually does not get top-billing in office designs. This attitude results in six problems that are common to office break rooms:
- Overflow storage. When space is at a premium, it is not uncommon for the lunch room to double as a storage area for supplies, files, spare furniture or presentation materials.
- Smoking lounge. Even though the building may be designated as a smoke-free environment, there are plenty of human resources managers who look the other way when smokers band together and commandeer the area for nicotine use. This is especially true if the smokers greatly outnumber the non-smokers.
- Old furniture. Rather than purchasing attractive lunch room furniture, the break room becomes the hand-me-down section of the office. Broken furniture, badly mended fixtures and ill-matched decorations dominate the space.
- Noisy machines. You would be surprised to learn just how much noise a couple of vending machines can generate. Add to this the hum of the refrigerator, and the decibel level of the break room might actually rival or exceed the workplace noise of the office floor.
- Entertainment. Putting a television set or radio into the break room is not necessarily a good idea. Unless the taste in programming and noise level is equal among workers, these creature comforts can actually becomes points of contention.
- Drab atmosphere. Is this small room the only area in the office — other than the storage room — that has not gotten a paint job? Offering workers a drab atmosphere when they should be recharging can actually backfire with respect to employee productivity.
If one or more of these conditions identify the area where your workers go for their breaks or lunches, consider changing the room's designs to better facilitate a restful atmosphere.
1. Size It Correctly
A staff of 50 workers, 20 of whom might be using the room at the same time, should not have to make do with a room as small as a broom closet. Consider taking an office and converting it into a lounge for the employees. While there is no minimum square footage for this space, it must be in keeping with the number of staff members and the number of workers who might be using it at any given time.
2. Task the Room
Remove anything that does not belong in the break room. Eliminate the overflow storage, remove the office equipment and do not use the break room as a training area for new hires. If an item has nothing to do with eating and relaxing, removing it is a must. Note that doing so will result in the need for more storage in other areas. Allocate suitable space before empting the room to avoid unsightly and potentially dangerous areas in hallways or offices.
3. Design a Lighting Scheme
Ideally the room will have natural light from large windows. Realistically, the area most likely only has one or no windows at all. The experts at Medical Office Today suggest the use of light bulbs that mimic natural sunlight. Incorporate different light sources, such as reading lamps, and avoid the use of overhead lighting that is identical to the office lights.
4. Paint with Relaxation in Mind
Avoid the fast food paint schemes that hurry along the eater. Cornell color experts highlight that the psychological connotation attached to colors may make or break the restful atmosphere. A room that features a lot of red might sound like an energizing space, but in the already agitated or stressed worker, red can stir up feelings of aggression and anger. Another energetic color is yellow; unfortunately, too much exposure to sunshine yellow can be too much of a good thing. Earth tones with orange color splashes — by way of furniture or fabrics — is a great compromise.
5. Furnish for Functionality and Comfort
Basic furnishings include a refrigerator, microwave, sink, dishwasher, shelves, one or more tables and sufficient chairs for the employees. Buying furnishings can be expensive, but using the broken ones left over from the last move is not a good idea, either. Look to ‘going out of business sales’ or office liquidations to buy sturdy, functional furniture. Paint it, if needed. Cover worn couches with throws.
Frequently overlooked in office break room designs is the avoidance of noise pollution. Noise in the workplace has the power to add an element of stress that continues on even during lunch. Usual sources include old refrigerators, noisy vending machines or office equipment that is placed too close to the room.
- Photo Credit: “Temporary light fixture” by Wdwd/Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License
- Cornell, http://char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/color/color.htm
- Medical Office Today, http://www.medicalofficetoday.com/content.asp?article=4980