True story: I’m eating lunch while I type this. I know, I know: keyboard crumbs. How could I? Personally, I’m willing to risk a stray crumb lodged under my enter key in the name of multi-tasking, but when it comes to eating lunch at our desks, there appear to be quite a few other issues: prolonged sitting, lack of socialization, and decreased productivity. These are just a few of the proposed damaging effects of eating lunch at your desk during the workday.
But how bad is eating at your desk, really? Well, it all depends on you.
According to a 2012 survey, approximately 62% of surveyed Americans typically eat lunch at their desks. Many of these desk-diners are bringing a lunch from home and consuming it at work in front of their computers. It’s easy to paint a very sad picture of the American worker with over half of us eating lunch alone, our sole reprieve a trip to the vending machine between 2pm and 4pm to grab even more food to consume in front of our laptops.
And it turns out that desk dining is not just lonely, it could also be stunting overall productivity. While a lunch from home is certainly a cost-effective option, by simply standing, chatting with a co-worker, walking around, or taking her lunch outside for a few minutes (weather permitting), our sad desk-dweller would likely feel better and be more productive in her afternoon.
And it turns out that desk dining is not just lonely, it could also be stunting overall productivity.
However, while some workplace scenarios appear to be lifted straight from Office Space, many offices are moving towards a more collaborative and open workspace, offering multiple opportunities for socialization as well as corporate wellness plans that encourage movement and activity during the workday, making the statistic of 62% of us eating our desk somewhat misleading.
I spoke with Megan Stichter, Senior Accounting Manager for tech company Appfolio. She noted that many of her staff use their lunch breaks to enjoy fitness classes offered onsite. These activities provide a necessary break in the day, but likely leave employees returning to their desks to eat after they play. While they may still fall into that desk-dining statistic, the patterns of their day are such that perhaps a desk lunch is more helpful than harmful to afternoon productivity.
Megan explained that she used to love going out for lunch with co-workers during the day, but noted, “as I’ve grown in my career and have more obligations at work (and at home), I tend to eat lunch at my desk most days.” Megan is a working mom with two small children, so her priority is to get home in order to enjoy dinner with her family. This means that she works through lunch or eats quickly at her desk most days, affording her the opportunity to leave a little earlier in the evening to get in some extra family time before her kids go to bed.
Take inventory of your schedule, your habits, and your routines, and come up with a plan that breathes life into your day.
There are a number of reasons why we eat lunch at our desks or in front of our computers. Perhaps our goal shouldn’t be to villainize desk dining and the horror of keyboard crumbs, but to see our office table as a viable dining space. Take inventory of your schedule, your habits, and your routines, and come up with a plan that breathes life into your day. If you’re the mirror image of our sad desk-dweller, by all means consider changing it up! But, If you’re more productive going on a jog during your lunch break and then eating a salad at your desk, by all means, run and eat afterwards. Likewise, if you’ll feel more rewarded by a quick desk lunch because you know a family dinner is awaiting you on the other side of the workday, embrace it. The modern work environment is changing, and it’s okay for us to change alongside it, keyboard crumbs and all.