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Give Me A (Coffee) Break! Importance of the Courthouse Staff Breakroom

by Mary Talley / December 22, 2016

 

 

 

When I first started my career, I worked in the case assignment section of a county court clerk’s office. The office provided an employee breakroom and, to be kind, our courthouse staff breakroom was downright awful. It was an adequately sized rectangular room with windows along one wall, so the space certainly had promise. Unfortunately, that’s where the ambiance ended.

The breakroom had white walls and a white linoleum floor. It was furnished with three white collapsible tables and hard plastic chairs that were also – you guessed it – white. Though the color white is supposed to make a room look visibly larger and have a sense of brightness and neatness, our breakroom just looked bland and cheap.

There was no décor, not even window coverings. The room had three vending machines that weren’t stocked on a regular basis, so they were usually only half-filled, mostly with cold soft drinks. The most egregious oversight (at least for me) – there wasn’t even coffee available.

Maybe it was all the white furnishings or the lack of any decoration, or maybe it was the thermostat settings, but the room always felt cold. I wondered, “Would it really be that hard to spring for a Mr. Coffee, or to hang a picture or two?” Or how about just turning up the thermostat?

There can be many reasons for declining productivity and low morale in a courthouse – increasing workload, decreasing budgets and staff, even having to deal with stressful and complicated cases. But one area that shouldn’t add to dissatisfaction among staff is the condition of the breakroom. The good news is that there are some simple and relatively inexpensive things you can do to create a better space for employees.

An Unfortunate Ripple Effect

Back to my personal courthouse breakroom experience for a moment. Because of the conditions described above, our courthouse staff breakroom was rarely used. Staff wouldn’t eat lunch in there. When the weather wasn’t nice enough for people to eat outside, they ate at their desks. Since the clerk’s office staff sat at wide-open cubicles in clear view of the public, visitors to the office were often greeted by a clerk eating a messy cheesesteak sub and onion rings. Thus, the clerk’s office appeared less than professional at times during the workday and that’s certainly not the impression we wanted to portray.

The unappealing breakroom also had a negative effect on productivity. Staff members rarely stepped away from their desks to take breaks, simply because the courthouse staff breakroom was so uninviting. Particularly when doing monotonous tasks, as can often be done in the clerk’s office, it is good – even essential – to take several breaks throughout the day. Countless studies have shown that taking breaks during the workday helps to keep productivity up.

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A Better Approach to the Courthouse Staff Breakroom

In my travels to other courthouses as a courthouse planner, I have seen some breakrooms that wouldn’t be out of place in a penal colony. On the other hand, I have seen exceptionally nice employee breakrooms that are well-designed, relaxing areas which offer a welcoming respite from a hectic office. Based on these experiences, I can offer some simple suggestions for creating a courthouse staff breakroom that courthouse employees will want to use.

  • Provide comfortable seating. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many courthouses have breakroom chairs that are just as uncomfortable as the hard courtroom benches. It’s not easy to relax and decompress for a few minutes if the furniture isn’t comfortable and, well, relaxing.
  • Provide a comfortable space for employees to eat. As can be seen in this photo of an Oklahoma courthouse staff breakroom, there should be an adequate number of tables and chairs. A refrigerator, sink, and microwave should be provided, and other nice touches could include a water cooler, coffee, tea, or even snacks. These small amenities go a long way toward increasing employee morale. (And the age of the Keurig has removed the issue of who gets stuck cleaning the coffee grounds from the coffee maker!)

courthouse staff breakroom 1

Oklahoma Courthouse Staff Breakroom
  • Separate the breakroom from the public. This is so important in a courthouse. From my experience, I have often seen witnesses, litigants, and other trial participants wander around the hallways only to end up in the clerk’s office. This can be disconcerting enough for staff, but staff should at least be assured they will not be joined by trial participants in the breakroom.
  • Provide a setting that distinguishes the space from the rest of the office. This could be as simple as a different paint color than the rest of the office. The décor could also be softer than the rest of the office, or the room might be provided with window coverings, pictures, or softer lighting. However you design it, the breakroom should be a place where you would want to go and unwind for a few minutes. The employee break room shown below is an excellent example. The overall color scheme is a calming blue and the floor and wall coverings add a warm and comfortable feel.

courthouse staff breakroom 2

Calming Employee Breakroom
  • Provide some activity for employees to help them further break away from the work routine. A television, as shown in the room below, is ideal. At the very least, it is nice to be able to tune into the news when there is something going on in the world, or to just enjoy some light daytime entertainment. If a television isn’t feasible, magazines or games would also give employees a quick break from the workday.

courthouse staff breakroom 3

Tennessee Courthouse Employee Breakroom

As a courthouse planner, I focus extensively on the types of spaces required to support courthouses of all sizes. The breakroom is one area where I recommend investing in your court employees by providing the best space possible to boost morale, increase productivity, and maintain a professional image for the court.

At a minimum, please provide hot coffee.

Tags: Courthouse Planning

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Mary Talley

Mary Talley

Mary has a master’s degree in public administration and has worked as a facility planning analyst for Fentress since 2003. In her free time, she enjoys baking, decorating, and spending time with her family.