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Tips for proper breakroom etiquette

Tips Breakroom Etiquette

When it comes to breakroom etiquette, your coworkers are just roommates that don't sleep over. It may be a funny way to think about it, but kitchen cleanliness habits are a common point of contention between people who spend a lot of time in close proximity, whether they are coworkers or roommates.

While you may be able to yell at your roomie or a family member for not keeping shared spaces neat and clean, or for clipping their toenails on the couch, handling a breach of etiquette in the breakroom at work is a far more delicate scenario. Yet, a gentle reminder can go a long way to making sure you and your colleagues stay on great terms with one another and no tempers flare.

Here are Quill's top tips for breakroom etiquette:

Set Expectations

Arguments and tension over cleanliness often come from people not sharing the same expectations. Set a time to meet with your whole team and decide on some mutually agreed upon rules for using the office kitchen. If everyone is on the same page about appropriate behavior, your team is less likely to find themselves buried in a pile of passive aggressive notes.

Perfect cleanliness doesn't have to be the goal. Make rules that are specific to the preferences of your team. For instance, if nobody in the office minds leaving a few mugs in the sink until the end of the day, this can become the rule. The point is to make sure everyone is on the same page to prevent resentments from forming.

Clean Up After Yourself

Adopting a "clean up after yourself" philosophy and taking it seriously is the simplest way to ensure that the breakroom stays clean over time. It's easy to get into the habit of ignoring a bit of splattered soup in the microwave, but when everyone ignores their own splattered soup, the microwave can quickly devolve into a toxic waste dump. Make sure your office is stocked up on paper towels and sanitizing wipes so that cleaning up after yourself is never a hassle.

What Goes On At Your Desk, Stays At Your Desk

There's nothing worse than sitting down to lunch and hearing a co-worker humblebragging about their latest project or using well-deserved downtime as an opportunity to discuss a work-related matter when you should be enjoying a pastrami on rye. It's important that co-workers understand that the breakroom is a place to get away from work and recharge their batteries.

Don't burn out or bum out your coworkers by talking about TPS reports or other items. Save that talk for the cubicle and the conference room. Try to make it a point to keep breakroom banter light and engaging: sports, TV shows, fun plans for the weekend or afterwork happy hours. It'll bring you closer together as teammates and give you a chance to unwind.

Don't Swipe Your Coworkers' Lunches

This should go without saying, but every so often, offices have had a rash of lunch thefts. It may be innocent, as a coworker had a lunchbag that looked strikingly similar to your own and you accidentally took it to eat on-the-go. If that's the case, please do every effort to replace your coworker's lunch.

However, there are some people who sometimes feel it's perfectly alright to sample the contents of their coworkers' lunch bags for whatever reason. Not cool.

To ward off this problem and avoid having to assemble an Office Food SWAT Team, it's helpful for people to label their food bags with their name. Community property – such as milk and creamer for coffee or condiments such as mustard and Sriracha – can be labeled as such, too.

Keeping the Refrigerator Clean is a Team Effort

If everyone has a specific idea of when tasks will be done, expired milk and mysterious takeout containers will become less of a burden on your team. If everyone on your team understands they should throw out old lunches lingering in the fridge before they grow legs or turn into penicillin of their own accord, it can make maintenance a snap. There are few things as satisfying as a sparkling clean office fridge filled with Tupperware of delicious snacks. And having a fridge free from old, possibly spoiled food can keep your teammates healthy and leave more room for the good stuff everyone can snack on!

The breakroom is a sacred office space, a place where you can go to get away from it all and enjoy a cup of coffee or a granola bar. Rally your team behind the idea of practicing breakroom etiquette to ensure that the whole office will always have a great place to unwind. Contributing Writer

Krista Wolfe is a marketing project manager for where she writes to help small businesses, teachers and healthcare professionals make more informed decisions on office essentials. She also writes on our new community blog, Café Quill, about a wide range of business matters such as leadership, productivity and work-life balancing. Krista lives in Chicago and you can find her on Google+ or LinkedIN.