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Modern break rooms key to staff productivity

By Kimberly Anne Armstrong
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With the economy in a slump and the labour pool shrinking, employers inprofessional services industries are putting greater emphasis onemployee productivity. Though it may seem intuitive that the reductionof extended lunch breaks and flexible hours would result in overallworker output, the reality is quite different.

For years, researchers have been praising the virtues of downtime in the workplace, emphasizing that breaks during the day result in a happier and more productive worker. Recharging workers’ batteries could ultimately translate into an equal level of work being accomplished within a shorter timeframe. More importantly, it means keeping workers happy, which removes the threat of them visiting job sites for new openings.

{mosimage}Though the current economic drought has left workers in certain sectors feeling insecure, many professional services employers continue to focus on recruitment and retention strategies while trying to determine how to get more output from the workers they do have. In doing so, they have introduced new perks, such as additional health benefits, stock share plans, in-house daycare centres, gym facilities, and monetary bonuses.

Yet perhaps the most overlooked perk is one that has been around for decades and often taken for granted – the company lunch or break room. This area, which was originally intended to serve as a place where employees can eat their lunches, has now turned into a sort of refuge for workers looking to break the monotony of their daily tasks and clear their minds as a means of re-energizing.

{mosimage}Ann Gomez, founder of productivity consulting firm Clear Concept (www.clearconceptinc.ca/index.htm), has made it her raison d’etre to assist companies in developing strategies to foster greater efficiency. Employees are most productive when they are refreshed and able to focus.  When fatigue sets in, taking a break can help staff renew their energy and come back to work more focused. Therefore, companies benefit by encouraging these breaks.  

There are several ways that companies can encourage employees to take breaks and return to work more productive.  One way is to establish an inviting break room. Gomez says a lunch room consisting of bare walls, a standard table and chairs, and a few kitchen accessories isn’t sufficient to send employees the message that they should be taking breaks regularly.

“Think of the hip, new coffee shop of today,” says Gomez. “The old ones had hard chairs and rigid tables. Now they’re a place to lounge. They have comfortable seating, funky décor and interesting music. There are diverse food and drink options – teas, coffee, juice, and water. There are reading materials; maybe there’s some inspiring artwork or quotes on the walls, and effective lighting.”  All of these things draw people in and encourage them to ‘escape’ for a few minutes.

Similarly the new age break room isn’t simply a venue for employees to chow down. On the contrary, it’s a congregation point for all things that relax the mind and let the conscience be free, and it should be the focal point for the majority of non-work-related amusement and enlightenment. Gomez says that the lunch lounge will only be effective if employees choose to use it. Encouragement to do so must flow top-down and be universal.

“The culture should support people going to that place,” says Gomez. “Employees need to see senior managers going there, and it’s got to be a place where people can escape for short periods of time. The focus of this room should be to disengage from work for a brief period of time.”

To help employees gravitate toward the lounge and turn it into more than a daily pit stop on the way to the next meeting, Gomez encourages companies to host in-lounge events, such as fun Lunch and Learn sessions or the hiring of a massage therapist to give employees 10-minute massages that fit into their individual schedules.

Other ideas to entice people to use the break room include hosting book, poetry or trivia club meetings there.  In addition, the company could post photos from fun staff events.

To keep employees coming back daily, the lounge should be inviting. Gomez says a general emphasis on superior interior design sends the message that the company has chosen to invest in the lunch lounge because it believes in and encourages its use. And contrary to popular opinion, size doesn’t matter.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small the break room is,” says Gomez. “I’ve seen both big and small break rooms that are equally effective. The key is to invest in an atmosphere that draws people in – good furniture and lighting are important elements to consider.”

Today, the monetary extent of that investment will be the real worry among managers and procurement officers. Every organization – public and private – is engulfed in increasingly stringent belt tightening, and cost efficiency has elevated to the top of the priority list.

Traditionally, procurement officers – particularly those in larger organizations – have been able to realize significant cost savings through the economies of scale they gain via bulk purchases. However, revamping the staff lounge rarely involves mass quantities of anything and the cost per unit of new furniture, lighting, accessories, paint and artwork can add up to a hefty sum. Add in consultancy fees and the administrative cost of dealing with multiple suppliers and suddenly investing in a new lounge might seem prohibitively expensive.

To get around this conundrum, Gomez recommends sourcing a one-stop shop that can facilitate the purchase of the lounge’s numerous elements through one supplier.

“The idea is for organizational leaders and administrators to feel excited and energized about redeveloping their staff lounge or break room,” says Gomez. “Working with a vendor that allows for greater procurement efficiency means all employees reap the benefits of the new and enhanced break room much sooner.”

Gomez notes suppliers that can offer assistance with everything from furniture and lighting to ergonomics and design, like Grand & Toy, can not only help ease the administrative burden but also curtail product and consultancy costs.

The key, says Gomez, is to continually see the forest for the trees. Though the short-term consumption of time and cost might appear to be a burden, the long-term impact of the new lounge on employees’ attitudes and productivity will more than make up for the short-term monetary and administrative stress. If that’s not enough, the cost savings realized by avoiding high turnover and retraining should be more than enough incentive.

“They say you should never mix business with pleasure,” says Gomez, “but in this case it’s the pleasure that helps build the business.”

Kimberly Anne Armstrong is marketing manager, large business with Grand & Toy. For information about all of Grand & Toy’s business solutions, please visit www.grandandtoy.com.

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