Employee Break Room Essentials: Design and Supplies


When determining the importance of an employee break room, you may want to begin by considering the impact of employee morale on productivity. Happy employees are always more productive and an inviting employee break room goes a long way towards boosting employee morale.

By creating an attractive and well-stocked employee break room, you are providing an important area where your staff can both unwind as well as create team-building bonds that will surely improve your company’s performance.

The list of employee break room supplies can be as varied as a procurement officer’s list on a battleship. Break room supplies for a small, minimally appointed space may require little in the way equipment, while a well appointed, fully functioning space may require both equipment and amusement machines. The basics of employee break room supplies, however, may appear on all lists. The lists in question must be based on specific break room design, functionality, goals and objectives of the HR’s employee relations budget, and actual size of the employee roster, work schedules (for compaction avoidance) and ease of use. Minimally, an employee break room should have some type of seating, typically dinette chairs and tables and maybe some casual seating. The list of accoutrements grows from there.

The Basics

Employee break room supplies can vary dependent upon the features of said space, but literally, they Must Have the following at a minimum:

¨ Waste basket or trash can

¨ Hand sink, soap and paper towels

¨ Dish cloth or other clean up wipes

¨ Disinfectant spray to clean tables and chairs

¨ Running water, water cooler or vended bottled water for hydration

Beyond the Basics

The a fore stated break room is Spartan at best, so let’s make a few assumptions. Most businesses provide some type of coffee/tea availability, even if it is in a coin-operated vending machine. In addition, since employees will probably want to heat up a bowl of soup or lunch from home, there will be a need for a microwave or two. Soft drinks should be on the list, along with some form of drinking water, whether vended or provided. Now the list of supplies has grown a bit. Let’s add:

¨ Plastic teaspoons or stir sticks

¨ Paper napkins

¨ Plastic straws

¨ Mop and bucket (for beverage spills)

¨ Hot pads (hot food container handling)

Effective Design Options

There are different styles of employee break room supplies lists. Each of these design options will have their own specific list of employee break room supplies, so it is important to decide prior to building or remodeling the space. The most typical styles of spaces are:

¨ Lunch Room – Without a doubt, this is the most common of rooms providing a bit more than the advanced basics. Typically, lunchrooms may have a refrigerator, cupboards with plates, bowls, utensils, cutlery (all of which may be disposable), perhaps a toaster and/or toaster oven. Larger lunchrooms may house vending machines offering beverages, snacks and the like. A coffee/tea station, microwave and kitchen style sink for clean up will assuredly be included in the basic design.

¨ Kitchenette – If budgets are small, this is the most basic of design space for providing a location for employees to take a break. Mainly consisting of little more than a sink, a counter to hold a coffee maker, microwave, this space is not going to enhance employee relations. In keeping to the Spartan code, there is nothing other than enough space to house these items, and it may not even be dedicated space. This configuration can be contained in a hallway instead of a room itself. This style of space would inhibit the employees from eating at their desk or leaving the facility in search of a restaurant or café.

¨ Reading or Calm Room – This space or spaces may be useful for productivity improvement, should people have time enough on their breaks to sit quietly and read, listen to music, meditate or even take a calming nap. Furniture in this (these) area should be soft, relaxing and well spaced. It is common for people to consume their lunch and exit the building for a walk outdoors, or a trip to their car for quiet time alone. Providing a place by which they can save that time by reserving a quiet room for relaxation and refreshment is a benefit well received.

¨ Exercise/Fitness Room – This can be accomplished quite affordably, as there is no need to fully equip a fitness center per se. The simple addition of an exercise bike, treadmills, exercise balls and yoga mats will satisfy nearly all fitness enthusiasts. While large corporations may provide memberships to clubs, or have a fully functioning fitness center, this is a great feature that more and more businesses are incorporating into their in-house employee relations plans, on a small scale.

¨ Multipurpose Room – IT firms have long understood the need for multipurpose rooms where staff can go to let off steam, clear their heads and do more than sit and eat or read. Game rooms that feature arcade games, table tennis, Foosball, etc. are very well received, and are not that expensive. The most costly would probably the dedicated floor space required to outfit an excellent outlet for the technical and creative minds. In addition to fully outfitted lunch rooms with all of the necessary equipment, some firms have added game rooms, espresso machines, juice bars and audio visual features like big screen televisions, stereos and even functioning rock and roll stage complete with electric guitars, drums and so forth. Remember, for every accoutrement, a new employee break room supplies list is to be developed.

If the staff is large, some additional equipment is always a good idea. Items like an ice maker, automatic dishwasher, espresso machine, fully functioning stove and oven, perhaps a steam table for special events (see below). This equipment can benefit the sophisticated employee break room, and provide additional opportunities to provide benefits to staff beyond the typical.

Now that basics and design options have been discussed, let’s talk reality for a moment. While at one time employers gave little or no concern for the welfare of its work forces, today is another story. The competitive marketplace requires that businesses of all sizes keep the best staff, low turn over and motivated employees, so providing them with extras like free coffee and tea, bottled water, snacks (healthy of course) and occasional extras. These can go a long way toward keeping staff happy and fulfilled.

With the environment in mind, corporations of all sizes are paying attention to their carbon footprint, so utilizing Green employee break room supplies may be in order.

There is a full complement of biodegradable supplies, such as:

¨ Cutlery

¨ Plastic cups and lids

¨ Straws, stir sticks,

¨ Paper cups and lids

¨ Plates, Platters and Bowls

¨ Eco-Containers

¨ Trash Can Liners

The internet is loaded with procurement options, from online shopping sites specifically geared toward employee break room supplies, as well as a full line of other restaurant and conference supply sites.

Office supply stores now stock all of the basics one might need to stock a break room, but pricing may be better through comparison-shopping these sites regularly.

A review of the best practices companies espouse with regard to employee break rooms list the reasons why outfitting a quality space makes sense. It would be wise to stock employee break room supplies for the following reasons:

Employee Break Rooms

¨ Boost employee morale– When employees feel good they work better, longer, harder and are motivated to succeed for a company that cares for their well-being. It is proven that happy employees are healthier, happier at work and home, and display better attendance than their counterparts.

¨ Increase productivity – Employees that eat their lunch on premise typically stick to the allotted break schedule. Having to leave the facility to procure a meal often lends to taking extra time due to waiting lines, slow service at restaurants, additional errand running etc.

¨ Improves employee health – Meals from home are more nutritional, offer the variety individuals desire (after all, they made it at home) and have the ability to make nutritional choices, rather than what happens to be the quickest thing to buy outside of the business.

¨ Facilitates employee interaction – When dining together in the break room, relationships with fellow workers increases, and often lends to discussing work related issues and concerns. It isn’t all about idle gossip, more important decisions are made from discussing them in a casual environment than is expected.

The employee break room supplies, space design and use can contain as few or as many as your budgets allow. The value of a well appointed space is well documented above, but it is always left to upper management and the budget that will dictate what is furniture and services are available, whether they are a business expense item or merely provided at a cost to the staff, or whether one exists at all. It is hoped that this food for thought sparks some level of thinking on the part of the leadership to provide adequate provisions and space allocation for a respectable employee break room.

What is the best way to identify the type, size, provisions and improvements your employee break room might need? Ask your staff. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), “SHRM’s own research reveals that 81 percent of organizations review their benefits programs once a year and 43 percent of organizations use surveys to determine employee job satisfaction. To that end, SHRM’s People InSight survey service focuses on more than 35 different aspects of job satisfaction and 34 additional factors relating to employee engagement — providing very specific information on the type of work environment employees value.”

The space created for staff’s relaxation, refreshment and breaks is a multipurpose benefit and should be viewed in that light. The most important aspect of this space is providing a space that is part of work, but not work-related, so to speak. Specifically, this should be a place that is comfortable, can serve as a casual, friendly place for work-friends to meet publicly where they won’t be interrupted by supervisory personnel. This space can house more than a place for lunch or a coffee break, it can contain information on activities employees may be involved with, such as volunteer groups or other outside activities that they might be involved with as a group. It can also serve as a centralized information place for company benefits, postings, etc. Employee morale is the one aspect of the workplace that is most affected by the employee break room. Supplies suited for the particular break room you choose should be taken into consideration when determining overall budget.

Here are some ideas for improving morale through the use of the break room:

¨ Pay for the employee break room supplies. Free coffee and tea go a long way to improve morale and productivity. Most adults in the work force consume at least some coffee or tea, so providing a quality blend of variety of teas will go a long way toward job satisfaction.

¨ Have televisions installed. Information on what is going on in the world is best served when a television is tuned in to stations like CNN, or other local broadcasting. All too often things happen locally and nationally that affect people, so it is good to have an information source that is always on, unobtrusive, yet clearly visible. The break room can have specific rules about which stations are authorized, so there is no bickering over which soap operas will be on air, so you may want to consider an employee run committee on rules for the break room.

¨ Offer some healthy food options. Even if the only source of foods is vending machines, offering healthy food alternatives is a good idea. The sugars and caffeine found in junk foods make employees initially gain a burst of “energy” but shortly they crash, losing productivity along the way. Healthier food choices keep employees healthy, and more productive without thinking about it.

¨ Provide a variety of reading material. Paperbacks, magazines and other periodicals like the daily newspaper make for a nice perquisite, especially if they are kept current. Remember your last trip to the dentist where you found a two-year-old magazine? You do not want to have your staff think of your firm the same way. Keep periodicals fresh, as they should be on the list of employee break room supplies that require regular monitoring.

¨ Offer fun outlets. Organize a fun, after work outing, or a trip to the zoo on a weekend afternoon. Have sign up boards and talk up out of work activities. Volunteer groups make a great way for employees to develop a sense of purpose, as well as a better relationship with fellow workers by helping someone in need. Internally, games and puzzles in the break room can add for social interaction and relaxation.

¨ Provide comfortable seating and decor. Make sure the space looks unique to itself, and is not a substitute space for the office or cubicle area. Through the use of comfortable couches and chairs, along with colorful artwork on the walls, the sterile work environment can be put out of mind for a while. The space can be inviting, put people at ease and make it cozy and warm instead of what else it can be. Morale is automatically improved when staff has a nice place to use their free time.

¨ Celebrate holidays and special days. If your business is open for business on national holidays, make a celebration of it. Hold a potluck lunch, or bring in lunch “On the boss” once and again. People love free, and they love to bring in their favorite dish to share. So what if not everyone contributes, talk up a special day activity and you will be surprised how many rise to the occasion.

There you have it; employee break room supplies will vary with the style, design and intention of the break room, but I think now you have a more informed position from which to decide how to address the issue. Remember, there are specific responsibilities when outfitting a space for employees to take their breaks. Safety is always a primary concern, and so is health. If you choose to provide refrigeration, it should be sufficient to house the lunch and beverages of everyone bringing lunch to work. Also, there should be regular cleaning schedules for all equipment, with specific individuals responsible for cleaning and maintenance.

Employee break room supplies, design and functionality are all parts of your HR employee relations program, and determining how you will approach the meal and break periods is an important decision making responsibility for leadership. One of the best things a business can do is get the staff involved in some of the decision making in advance of creating or remodeling an employee break room. Good luck!

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About davidjdunworth

Dunworth’s success comes from a simple belief; “I can sleep when I am dead; then there will be plenty of time for that!” Since the door to door days of his youth, Dunworth has opened, managed and sold more than 25 businesses, and works as a consultant to entrepreneurs and emerging enterprises. His advice for entrepreneurs desiring to grow quickly: “Find the busiest man or woman you can find and enlist their support. You’d be amazed at the results.”
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