What’s A Break Room?

Ian started a new job training and social skills program last week. When the teacher sent home the daily schedule, Steve and I raised our eyes at all the unstructured, free time, including a full hour for lunch. I asked the teacher what the students were going to do with all that time down in their downtown basement office space? He said the hour would simulate a break room in an office, where workers leisurely eat lunch and chat with co-workers.

I read the email to Steve and both of us had the same reaction: “What’s a Break Room?”

Here’s how lunch works for us — remotely or in the office — we get up from our computers where we have been sitting for four hours, find a sandwich or a salad, eat in front of the computer, keep working for five hours. There are no “break rooms” in any office that we’ve worked at. No hour-long breaks! Holy crap! What do people do with that time? It sounds awful.

I just got back from a jog with a friend and told her about this mysterious thing called a “break room.” The friend said, “what are you talking about, Laura? I’ve never worked a job without a break room.” Her family does blue collar work – maintenance, bussing, nursing. Jobs where you punch in on a clock and would never put in extra time at your job. I asked my friend what people do with those sixty minutes at lunch, and she laughed at me. She said they go for walks, check email, or whatever.

Not only have I never had a full hour for lunch, a designated lunch time, or a break room, but beyond some college summer gigs, I never had jobs where I punched a clock or had firm boundaries about work time. Steve and I pretty much work all the time, though for different reasons. I’ve always been lucky enough to do work that I love — teaching, writing, selling books on the Internet, blogging…– so I enjoy working all the time. If I wake up in the middle of the night with insomnia, sometimes I’ll check yesterday’s edits from the editor on Google docs and make changes on my iPhone. Many jobs don’t even earn money (this), but I still do it anyway. Steve works a lot, because his job expects it. And the more work that he does leads to more money and promotions.

And I watch Ian, our son with autism, doing the same thing. He spends 10-12 hours every day creating massive databases of information about video games, which are his passion. It’s all in charts with code and hyperlinks on various video game wikis. I have no idea if anybody looks at what he creates. He also spends hours remastering music on various music-tech programs. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of stupid Internet memes. On Saturdays, he HAS to listen to his entire music library, which is about 12 hours long; it’s an OCD-thing which his therapist is trying to help him stop.

So, is Ian emulating us? Or are modern workers a little autistic? I’m not sure, but it sure is a huge culture gap.