4 Tips for Keeping Your Break Room From Looking Like a War Zone

A dedicated break room can be great for employee morale — but only if the area is a safe and comfortable environment.
office break room
As a business owner, you have a responsibility to set expectations for break-room etiquette — just as you would for any other workplace expectations. (Photo: Shutterstock/LDprod)

Do you have a dedicated space at your small business where staff can step away from their jobs and take a breather during the workday? A staff break room can be great for employee morale — but only if the area is a safe and comfortable environment.

According to Jana Tulloch, HR manager of technical training firm DevelopIntelligence, a dedicated break area for staff gives your workers a safe place to unwind, where “they won’t be interrupted by customers or others who may think they are on the clock.”

A break room also gives staff a place to get to know each other personally, she said. “Establishing rapport with colleagues is a great trust and inclusivity builder, and can help individuals feel more a part of the ‘team’ at work.”

Jana Tulloch

A dedicated break area for staff gives your workers a safe place to unwind, where “they won’t be interrupted by customers or others who may think they are on the clock,” said Jana Tulloch of DevelopIntelligence. (Photo: Jana Tulloch)

But when your break room is a mess of dirty dishes, stinky food and inconsiderate co-workers, a tranquil space can quickly turn into a stressful environment. Lay a few simple ground rules to ensure your workplace common areas remain a positive and stress-free environment for employees.

Set clear expectations

Have you ever been to someone’s house and been surprised by their less-than-tidy home? While everyone’s comfort level is different when it comes to housekeeping, keeping a clean break room at work is the shared responsibility of each of your employees.

“Without guidelines, everyone’s standards come into play,” noted Tulloch. When someone feels a colleague is not doing his or her fair share, it can build resentment on the team.

As a business owner, you have a responsibility to set expectations for break-room etiquette — just as you would for any other workplace expectations. Identify easy ways each employee can do his or her part to contribute to a clean common area. Include these policies in your orientation with new hires and spell them out in your employee handbook.

“Also note that, as an area of ‘rest’ [the break room] is not the place for negative comments about customers or colleagues; valid concerns in that area should be professionally addressed with a manager,” added Tulloch.

Related: Nipping Employee Negativity in the Bud: How to Do It and Why It’s Crucial

Keep the rules simple

Setting a few ground rules can make a major difference in your break area’s cleanliness, but having too many rules can actually demotivate employees, so keep things simple and straightforward.

“Avoid having a long list of rules that most won’t bother to read,” advised Tulloch.

Instead, she suggested employers strategically place helpful notes and reminders in appropriate spots throughout the break room. For example, put a note above the sink describing what should be done with dirty dishes, a sign by the door reminding staff to put away garbage and wipe tables after use, and a marker on the fridge so employees can put a name and date on their lunches.

Restaurants and other businesses have health and safety regulations to take into consideration as well, which will drive minimum requirements for break-room cleanliness, she said.

washing dishes

Setting a few ground rules can make a major difference in your break area’s cleanliness, but keep things simple and straightforward. (Photo: Shutterstock/Dragon Images)

Provide necessary cleaning supplies

If you want your employees to excel at their jobs, you must provide the tools they need to succeed. Similarly, business owners should provide all the necessary equipment needed for keeping common areas nice and tidy.

Related: How to Get an Office Slob to Clean Up Their Act

According to Katy Ward, HR manager for e-commerce platform Bonanza.com, providing cleaning supplies makes it easier for everyone to contribute to a neat workplace.

Even if cleaning the break room is a team effort, you should still designate a point person to ensure etiquette rules are followed. It’s also helpful to bring in a professional cleaning crew on the weekends to keep things under control, suggested Ward.

Reinforce the rules

One of the best tools for keeping your employee common areas tidy is positive reinforcement. Not only does this impact cleanliness, it also contributes to a business culture that recognizes when praise is due.

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

For example, said Ward, “employees who are spotted helping with general cleaning tasks are often publicly praised by our CEO via an office-wide chat program, encouraging others to participate.”

In addition to rewarding your go-getters, it’s also a good practice to periodically remind staff of break-room etiquette and expectations. By keeping cleanliness and professionalism top-of-mind for your employees, you can ensure everyone does his or her fair share and common areas remain comfortable and relaxing for your entire staff.

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