Please, Stop eating lunch at your desk!

The sound of a colleague eating Ryvita getting you down? Perhaps its the smell of last nights left overs that they are having for lunch next to you that makes your skin crawl. Or maybe, as a boss, the sight of your teams desks over lunch, half eaten sandwiches, empty food containers, crumbs in places crumbs should never be (Don’t even get me started on the smell of improperly washed protein shakers).

Such are the everyday horrors lurking at SadDeskLunch.com, a Tumblr blog dedicated to documenting in photos the aftermath of the millions of white-collar workers who eat lunch while sitting at their desks. This is a trend in the common office place that is becoming more and more “the norm”, and not in a good way. Research carried out by the University of California shows that a mere 1 in 5 of us steps away from our desk at lunchtime for the hour break away from our desk that we are not only entitled to, but not paid for.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that numerous studies have proven that eating lunch at your desk, day in, day out, is bad news, not just for you, but for business.

“We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment, to a natural environment,” says Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, who studies workplace psychology.

“So staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” Elsbach tells Jeremy Hobson, host of Here & Now.

Not only that, but it can be really, really off-putting for your colleagues.

There are some basic rules that will help navigate the mine-field of “Desk Dining Etiquette” without irritating those at adjoining desks:

  • Avoid things with strong aromas, such as garlic, and other stronger smells (Stilton soup, for  example, can be highly offending to the nose for some)
  • Stay away from things that make a lot of noise when you eat them, like potato chips and, perhaps, soup — some people slurp their soup, which can make some co – workers cringe.
  • If you have rubbish that may offend the nostrils of others, don’t throw it in your wastebasket; take it to a break-room bin. Don’t stack up empty takeout containers on your desk. If you share a work space, be sure to clean up all the crumbs.”

Also be mindful of the image you’re projecting.

When you’re sat at your desk eating, it’s easy to send the message that you’re unapproachable. When you eat while you work, you tend to do both a little slower. Someone may have an important question to ask you, and you don’t want them waiting 45 minutes for you to finish eating. Don’t give the impression that you’ve put up that yellow tape saying ‘Stay away.’

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Ask if people mind. When in doubt, ask your office neighbours if they mind you eating at your desk. I always ask this question of my seat mates when I want to eat something on an air plane. It’s important because some people are sensitive to certain foods such as peanuts.

Some companies have started enforcing a strict “no food at your desk” policy, and with good reason.

Dr Ron Cutler, a microbiologist at Queen Mary University of London, believes a quick lunch at the desk could be potentially threatening to your health. He said: “The crumbs that accumulate on your desk and in your keyboard provide a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive. The temperature in offices is typically around 20C, the point at which staphylococcus can breed, causing diarrhoea and vomiting — which is why leaving your sandwich on your desk all morning is also a risk, and the more people who share office equipment or desks, the greater the risk of catching a bug.”

It appears then, that your desk probably isn’t the most hygienic place to consume your lunch.

Simply put, eating at your work station is not good news. It can be offensive to your colleagues, it can cause a drop in productivity, and in extreme cases, it can be highly unhygienic.  If you are one to dine “Al Desko”, tomorrow, why not try taking your lunch away from your desk and enjoy some time outside (if the weather is nice, I appreciate its February and the Great British Weather is highly unstable), or just to a canteen/break-out area.

As for me, I’m off for a run followed by lunch. In our staff room. (not at the same time, obviously)

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