Photo: Courtesy of Library of Congress
Photo: Courtesy of Library of Congress

I was listening the other day to one of my favorite podcasts (well, favorite besides Serial) called The Gist.  Mike Pesca, formerly of NPR, spends about 30 minutes each day on topics both big and small.

And on a recent podcast, he tackled….wait for it….the workplace kitchen.

Turns out there’s another podcast — the Sporkful — which has devoted several episodes to the politics of the office fridge.

Both are really quite amusing.  There’s a discussion about whether condiments are fair game, or how best to keep your food safe (put it in a plastic bag).

But they brought up a semi-serious point and one worth thinking about.  To semi-quote their exchange on the podcast:

If you’re ever on a job interview, and suppose you’re trying to evaluate how good of an employer they are and how well do they take care of their employees? If you want quick and dirty answer, you can get it by looking in their lunch room. When you see the amenities they provide to their employees, it’s a signal.

What kind of amenities?

They talked about how free coffee — and even the milk FOR the coffee — goes a long way towards making your employees happy.

What else makes for a good kitchen? A second microwave. It might only be in use 20 minutes during the day, said Pesca, but those are 20 minutes where a co-worker is not angry with a co-worker.

So I wondered if there was any truth to that?

Well, unfortunately, most Google searches for the benefits of employee lunchrooms, come up with “cafeteria plans.”

Not helpful.

I was able to find one case where the office refrigerator played a starring role in a discrimination claim. In a 2007 case, an employee who had a co-worker post “sexually related materials in the office kitchen on the refrigerator for all employees and customers to see” was able to state a hostile work environment claim.

But I think this all goes back to a point I’ve made before on the blog: How you treat your employees overall may make a big difference in how your employees perceive your workplace. True, this isn’t rocket science, but even the little things like your employee lunchroom, can make an impact.  Happy employees are employees that don’t sue you for every perceived slight.

The employee who has their salad dressing “borrowed” by their co-workers is just going to be angrier at his or her employer.

So what do you think? Can you judge an employer by its lunchroom? And if so — aside from Google’s insane cafeteria — what makes for a good break room?