According to UK law, employees are entitled to a single uninterrupted 20-minute break during their workday. In an office, this is ordinarily a much longer period of time, making breakrooms a crucial aspect of such environments.
Post-COVID, doubts arose regarding the relevance of a dedicated area for breaks, especially since 85% of UK office workers, as reported in the 2021 Census, expressed their preference for a hybrid working model.
Restoring pre-pandemic habits hasn’t been a quick fix and company attitudes towards hybrid and remote working are constantly evolving. A 2023 survey conducted by recruitment agency Hays UK & Ireland, encompassing 15,000 employers, revealed that 24% foresee changes in their hybrid working arrangements, anticipating a shift towards more in-office attendance over the coming year. While it’s not an easy task to tempt people back to the workplace, certain incentives can be instrumental.
Notably, suppliers in this category have observed the redesigning and even repurposing of office space to render traditional breakroom settings more appealing. Advantia Managing Director Steve Carter predicts this trend will continue through 2024, adding: “Employers have realised that having a kettle, a microwave and a sink tucked away in a corner doesn’t cut it any longer, prompting them to become more adventurous.”
Updated breakrooms offer a compelling draw, not only for luring back former staff to the workplace but also for captivating the attention of new generations entering the professional sphere.
Nemo Office Club Marketing Manager Alan Calder explains this shift: “The breakroom has become more important as businesses continue to seek ways to not only incentivise the return to the office but attract new talent from a generation that has higher expectations of the business environment and demand greater flexibility when it comes to remote working.”
For the latest generation, Gen Z, their initial exposure to the workplace either involved immediate homeworking experiences or just brief encounters with conventional setups. As a result, they have become disillusioned by such workspaces, according to a poll by Gallop. The global analytics and advisory firm found 54% of Gen Z employees are “not engaged at work”, necessitating more innovative incentives to motivate office attendance as well as encourage long-term commitment to an organisation.
Central to Gen Z’s priorities and a growing factor affecting wider workplace dynamics is mental health. As indicated by the Health and Wellbeing at Work survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in August 2023, poor mental wellness is the top cause (63%) of long-term absence as well as being the third main reason (39%) for short-term leave.
Meanwhile, the study – based on UK data – revealed supporting mental health is the primary focus of wellbeing activity. In fact, companies are exploring ways to help their employees as the research shows over three-quarters (78%) of organisations are taking steps to identify and reduce stress.
More than a breakroom
Looking after employee mental health isn’t about increasing salaries or offering additional holidays; it can be addressed by reducing staff burnout and ensuring they have enough time and space for a restorative break. Calder corroborates this notion, highlighting how dealers in the breakroom category are beginning to see their role expand to encompass not just physical amenities but also aid for mental wellness.
Real estate consultancy firm Knight Frank has identified spaces which have been purposefully designed to boost employee wellbeing through positive breaktimes. For example, the firm highlights several London offices with areas acting as breakrooms where facilities range from ‘library rooms’ for screen breaks to relaxation pods with hanging swings, and fully-equipped gyms running exercise classes.
Another effective method of promoting relaxation and job satisfaction is the introduction of nature into the breakroom. Many studies have shown there are plenty of benefits of biophilia in the workplace. Plants and greenery can enhance mood, creativity, productivity and air quality, and improve the overall health and wellness of staff while reducing stress.
Calder continues: “Successful dealers don’t just sell product; they sell solutions and imaginative ways of creating the right environment for employees. It’s a totally new form of selling because if the customer is truly buying into the concept, budget is no longer the main driver in the decision-making. This generates good opportunities to upsell.”
It’s evident some form of flexible working will persist for years. Yet, this is not the bad news suppliers might have feared, contrary to initial concerns when COVID altered the playing field.
Carter says: “If there are fewer people in the workplace on a daily basis, it stands to reason extra space can be used for breakroom or recreational purposes, which makes it more appealing to employees when they’re on-site.
“Some employers have repurposed the office space and created mini-gyms, wellbeing areas, prayer/faith rooms or put in table tennis, dartboards, table football and pool tables.”
Such areas are suitable for more than the traditional breaktime, with Nestlé Professional reporting the benefits of taking ‘micro-breaks’ at work. Citing research from the West University of Timisoara in Romania, Nestlé explains that breaks between five to ten minutes reduce stress and strain on the body, enhancing concentration and leading to better performance.
Engaging in activities such as a quick game of table tennis takes people away from their desks and occupies their minds, allowing them to go back to their tasks refreshed. In addition, Calder notes that breakrooms are increasingly used for meetings and brainstorming sessions, offering respite from the distraction of multiple screens and eliminating the isolation formed by individual workstations.
“To achieve this multifunctional space, the choice of furniture has become key, including the introduction of meeting booths and soundproof rooms. Transparent booths have also become popular,” he continues.
There is not a one-size-fits-all scenario for breakrooms, however. Calder warns the remodelling of underutilised areas will vary depending on each business’s type and especially its size. “At one end of the spectrum, you have the likes of Zoom offering free meals and comfortable dining areas as part of the plan to get people back into the office. But there will always be others taking the opportunity to cut costs on rented space.”
Another development gaining momentum over the past year is the demand for ‘resimercial’ designs. First talked about in the late 2010s, resimercial refers to the practice of infusing residential design into the commercial workplace. Due to working from home, people have grown accustomed to creature comforts and employees now want more than the cold, stark atmosphere of pre-COVID breakrooms.
Shedding light on the topic, Carter explains the resimercial requests Advantia has received: “They tend to be for more soft, comfortable furnishings than you would have historically expected to see. Homely fabrics, textures and colours are being utilised rather than the greys and royal blues we’ve been used to.”
However, achieving a successful resimerical design requires a delicate balance between residential comforts and ergonomic needs, according to architecture firm Ted Moudis Associates’ Studio Design Principal Jeff Knoll. “The biggest consideration when merging these styles is ensuring the office still functions primarily as a workplace. Any residential aspects that are incorporated must be flexible enough to be comfortable, but also satisfy ergonomic needs for long-term use and integration of technology,” he says.
Unquestionably, the durability of breakroom furniture is another crucial factor to consider. Unlike home settings, communal spaces in offices experience significantly higher foot traffic and not all soft furnishings are equipped for long-term, regular use.
The healthy choice
It’s a known fact that breakrooms can play a pivotal role in enhancing wellbeing through the provision of healthy options. In addition, Nestlé Professional emphasises the correlation between productivity and providing food and drinks which represent the diverse communities company personnel belong to.
Says Nestlé Professional: “When employees feel a sense of belonging, they are more motivated and productive. Promoting diversity and an inclusive work culture not only boosts staff happiness but it can also open them up to new ideas and perspectives which can be seen in the increased quality of work they produce.”
As of 2022, 48% of adults in the UK have been drinking plant-based milk alternatives, making them a necessity in the breakroom. Failing to provide these means staff may have to pay for them or miss out on the coffee break, resulting in missed sales for dealers.
Despite the enduring popularity of coffee, there has been a change in the complexity of caffeinated drinks desired. “A tin of Nescafé has always been a top seller for dealers, but over the past 12 months the demand for fully functional, plumbed-in coffee machines has become evident,” says Calder.
Furthermore, employees continue to be mindful of nutrition when eating at work, with over half (55%) of UK consumers checking the relevant labels before purchasing snacks, according to the 2022 Global Consumer Snacking Trends study.
The survey also revealed people are influenced by sustainability when making their selection, with 64% willing to pay more for food which is “better for the environment”. For example, if the packaging is recyclable or contains ethically sourced ingredients. Reducing waste was a top priority for surveyed consumers, with seven in ten stating they prefer snacks with less packaging and nearly three-quarters (72%) “typically” recycling it.
Breakrooms are no longer just about grabbing a five-minute timeout to make a coffee. The space they occupy serves several purposes and adds to the overall success of a company. How employers achieve this function is rapidly evolving, so it’s never been more important to stay up-to-date with trends – whether it’s popular catering options, installing entertainment features like table tennis or even resimercial furniture.
One area dealers must have on their radar is how the breakroom can cater for the wellbeing of employees. Knight Frank identified the most expected ‘perks’ are all related to wellness, including healthier food and beverage offerings, gym and changing facilities and utilities that support mental health.
For organisations preparing for the future, ensuring employees have access to such resources should certainly be high on the agenda. Dealers can therefore be optimistic about the category. As Calder outlines: “It’s all about the benefits the space brings to employee wellbeing and productivity.”