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Break-room Makeovers Boost Morale and Focus on School Staff Wellness

Helpful advice and lessons learned for developing a successful break-room makeover strategy from schools and school districts that have tried it out

“A school setting can be isolating for adults, and teachers can easily choose to stay in their rooms during breaks and prep periods,” said Anita Waldron, a health educator from the Barbara Lee Center for Health and Wellness in San Leandro, California. “Having a place that is inviting, conducive to relaxing or working with others — and one that is clean and not just a holding place for boxes or junk — is a gift.”

A well-equipped, inviting staff and teacher lounge is a place to unwind and refresh. Lower stress levels can help staff remain healthy and engaged, perform at their best and take fewer sick days.

A recent look at staff break-room makeovers found that they can come with big benefits that school staff appreciate.

“The biggest impact we found was around staff social and emotional health. These improved spaces give school staff a place where they could go to collaborate with each other and recharge for the school day,” said Lisa Craypo, principal at Ad Lucem Consulting, a San Francisco Bay Area agency, and Thriving Schools partner.

Craypo worked with Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools to evaluate staff break-room makeover successes — what local champions are doing right and how the improved break rooms are leading to happier, more productive employees. There are dozens of factors to consider when assessing the need for a staff break-room makeover, including looking at the kitchen, food prep, vending machines, the eating area, seating, ambiance and space for physical activity.

“We found a very positive response to the makeovers. The relaxing spaces led to an increase in socialization due to more time spent in the break room,” said Craypo. “Staff commented that the break rooms were more pleasant and welcoming and new kitchen amenities increased focus on healthy eating.”

An organized, inviting staff break room provides a relaxing space to connect with colleagues during the school day. But an untidy, cramped lounge can deter staff usage, thereby discouraging faculty and staff from spending time together, which can lead to missed opportunities for team building and collaboration.

Waldron worked with her district’s employee wellness committees to implement a number of improvements devoted to staff wellness, including several break-room makeovers.

“There are many benefits that come from a made-over break room. After a renovation, employees, teachers, and staff spend more time in the rooms, which creates opportunities for them to gather,” said Waldron. “And with an environmentally friendly place to gather, employees respect the room, pick up and participate to make it a nice place.”

Getting started: advice from other schools

“As we launched our employee health and wellness policy, we were motivated to implement changes. The staff room renovation was our first tangible step in promoting and encouraging wellness within the workplace,” Waldron said. “From this, we created an employee wellness survey and found the highest level of interest.”

If you are looking to embark on a journey to spruce up a shabby staff break room, take some of these lessons to heart:

  1. Communicate: Maintain open and frequent communication between school staff and administrators as you make plans.
  2. Get buy-in: Thoroughly explain proposed changes to increase the likelihood that future users of this space will feel invested and heard.
  3. Survey: Ask what staff’s needs are and what improvements can best make a difference. Staff surveys will identify priority break-room amenities. “Create a survey for all employees to complete, which can recognize priorities that fit within your budget. Also, work with all groups that represent your employee base by forming a committee or focus group,” said Waldron.
  4. Engage: Early planning can help avoid last-minute decisions. After needs have been assessed and plans made, ensure that all parties have been kept in the loop about plans.
  5. Monitor your budget: You will be working to keep expenses to a minimum, so remember to keep purchases in check.

Fixing up that wanting staff break room is a strategy that recognizes staff wellness as a priority. A made-over break room can create an environment that promotes physical, mental and emotional well-being, and can lift up morale by showing staff that they are valued and appreciated.

Even small changes can make break rooms more inviting.

Find the Thriving Schools guide on improving staff break rooms for useful tips, important first steps, and thoughts on organizing your space.

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