the case against eating lunch at your desk

We’ve discussed work-life balance at length, and how to find a healthy routine that works for you. We’ve talked about the importance of taking vacations, how employers should take responsibility for work-life balance, and supporting good mental health. Our next target: why you should stop eating lunch at your desk.

Eating lunch at your desk has become increasingly common. According to recent data, as many as 1 in 4 office workers opt to eat their midday meal at their desk… if they eat lunch at all. This isn’t just a sign of overworked employees; it’s unhealthy and contributes to lower productivity and mental health issues. Here are a few of the many reasons eating at your desk is bad for you.

why you should stop eating lunch at your desk

you perform better with breaks

Did you know that the average person can only concentrate on a task with single-minded focus for about 90 minutes before their mental functions start to lose efficacy? You might be able to power through and work for hours on end, but your mental functions won’t be firing on all cylinders. Though it can sound counter-intuitive, taking frequent breaks makes you more productive. It’s recommended that you take a 5 minute break from work tasks every 90 minutes or so to give your brain a rest, and to optimize your productivity. Lunch is conveniently scheduled smack dab in the middle of your workday to give you a chance to stretch your legs, refuel and otherwise refresh. So use it! You’ll be a better employee for it. Work smarter not harder.

you’re more likely overeat

When you’re mindlessly chowing down while sitting in front of a screen, you’re more likely to keep eating, even when you’re no longer hungry. Being distracted causes you to miss satiation cues. Also you’re more likely to eat quicker because you’re not really paying attention. Practicing mindful eating is better for you and can help prevent weight gain and a host of other health issues.

you like your coworkers less

Lunch is a social activity in many offices. Whether coworkers opt to congregate in the break room, or head out of the office to grab a meal, many coworkers opt to eat their lunch with colleagues. Socialization is important for team building and collaboration. You like people more when you spend time with them and get to know them on a personal and social level. Isolating yourself at your desk has the opposite effect: you tend to like your coworkers less. You’re also less likely to enjoy your job when this happens. Having a close relationship with your colleagues builds a happier, more harmonious workplace, which, in turn, is the single most important factor that determines whether or not you enjoy your job. According to one study, ‘the people’ was the number one reason workers gave for liking their job. It was given as a reason 3 times as often as the next closest answer: freedom.

your mental and physical health suffers

Staying cooped in your office all day under fluorescent lighting and breathing circulated air is proven to be bad for your mental health. Getting outside just once per day to breathe fresh air and catch a few rays of sunlight has a radical impact on your demeanour and mental health.

Getting up from your desk during the day is also important to break sedentary patterns that contribute to health risks such as heart conditions, strokes, insomnia, obesity, diabetes and countless other issues. It’s recommended that you get up every 60-90 minutes to take a quick walk and stretch your legs. Since most workers don’t do that, it’s especially important to use your lunch hour to get a little non-seated physical activity. Even if it’s just heading to the corner coffee shop, or walking around the block, little bits of activity matter, and lunchtime is a prime time to squeeze them in.

it’s breaking office etiquette

Are you that coworker who uses the office microwave to cook fish or eggs or something equally pungent? It’s bad enough when those smells take over the break room, but bringing them out into your working area is another layer of torture. What about crunchy chips or croutons? Munching away at your crunchy lunch is often distracting and unpleasant for your coworkers. Everyone’s been on a phone call while a nearby coworker is making a racket. Open concept layouts are extremely common in today’s workplaces, which means whatever you’re doing at your desk is exposed to your nearby coworkers. So be considerate and head over to the lunch area in your office, or even better, take your lunch to go and find a nice spot outside to get some fresh air with your lunch.

You’re also likely to make a mess and drop crumbs in areas that aren’t cleaned as often. Even worse if your office has carpet that isn’t as easily cleaned. Break rooms are typically designed to be cleaned often; main work spaces on the other hand tend to be wiped down and vacuumed less. Consider: when was the last time your keyboard was cleaned? By eating lunch at your desk, you’re probably exposing yourself to more germs and bacteria.

you’re bringing down office morale

When one employee starts eating lunch at their desk – especially if they’re in a leadership position – it can put pressure on other employees to do the same to ‘prove’ that they’re as hardworking as their coworkers. A culture built on overwork tends to creep from one employee to the next. Overwork and unrealistic expectations on employees kill morale and hurt your corporate culture. If everyone eats lunch at their desk, the employees who choose not to can be looked down upon as less dedicated. It should be the opposite – people who have the urge to eat at their desk should be encouraged to join their coworkers in the break room or get out of the office.

it’s highlighting broken processes

If you need your lunch hour to have adequate time to finish your work, the procedures and policies at your workplace are broken. No one should have more work on their plate than they can adequately handle within reasonable work hours. Lunch breaks are mandated by law in each province. The most common rule is that anyone who works for more than 5 consecutive hours is entitled to a 30 minute break, at minimum. For many it’s easier to suffer in silence and make concessions to pick up the slack than it is to have a difficult conversation with their manager. If you regularly find yourself working through lunch in a last ditch effort to keep up with your workload, you’re overworked, my friend. It’s time to talk to your leader and find an appropriate solution. Giving up your breaks and personal time is not a long-term solution, nor is it healthy.

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