Employer Branding

The Dangers of Desktop Dining

Are you one of those employees who eats lunch at your desk each day? If so, why? Is it because you’re too busy to go out? Or do you just want others to think you are? Maybe you’re afraid you won’t be able to stay competitive with those coworkers who use the extra hour to get ahead, or that your boss will perceive the break as a sign of laziness. Or maybe you simply want to save money. Regardless, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by OnePoll, more than half of U.S. workers don’t take a proper lunch break, and as many as 30 percent typically eat lunch at their desks.

A recent article on lists a number of reasons why employees should take the time to venture out for lunch. Two of the main reasons are to avoid annoying coworkers with smelly food and to increase work productivity. Nearly everyone who has worked in an office environment knows the pain of sitting near a coworker who insists on eating fish or ethnic food at his or her desk. What may be appetizing to one may be nauseating to many once the pungent smell wafts through the office. Add to this the proven effects that stepping away from one’s desk throughout the day have on productivity, work output and idea generation and the argument for going out to lunch strengthens.

However, these aren’t the only good reasons for taking the time to eat lunch out now and then. There are a variety of other ways leaving the office for a midday meal benefits individuals, teams and employers. Let’s look at a few.

Increases Engagement

Despite the fact that technology has made it easier than ever to connect with individuals around the globe, for many, work-life seems to get increasingly lonely, leading to higher rates of employee disengagement. While in past years the lunch hour involved socializing and bonding with coworkers, for many, eating at one’s desk is now the norm.

However, going out to lunch benefits more than just employees’ social lives. Research has shown that North American workers who take a lunch break every day are more engaged and score higher in job satisfaction, efficiency, desire to be active in the company and likelihood of recommending their employer to other prospective employees. Furthermore, promoting social bonding among coworkers helps boost teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving in the office.

Promotes Healthy Eating Habits

Sure, there are drawbacks to eating out. It can get expensive, and people tend to overindulge when in groups. However, one upside is that after eating a sit-down meal, one is more likely to leave feeling satiated. On the other hand, a quick bite at one’s desk isn’t nearly as fulfilling and can lead to snacking throughout the day. In a study of 122 employees, the average worker stashed an average of 476 calories’ worth of food in his or her desk, with one individual hoarding 3,000 calories. This results in giving up a solid meal in exchange for hours of snacking on junk food in an effort to gain an extra hour of desk time.

Helps Local Businesses

Though employees may not feel any obligation to eat out, rest assured that local restaurant owners rely on lunchtime business from office workers just as those office workers likely rely on business from their clients and customers. Nowadays, many tech companies and startups offer their employees free lunch in an effort to keep them in the office as many hours as possible. This has negatively affected local eating establishments to such a degree that in 2014, the city of Mountain View, California passed a law that Facebook’s new campus could not offer free food. Additionally, San Francisco followed suit by proposing a law that would prohibit new offices in the city from including cafeterias.

While an employee eating lunch out now and then isn’t likely to save a failing restaurant business, when more than 50 percent of the working population doesn’t take a proper lunch break, it can deal a blow to the local economy. Many employers consider helping local businesses as part of their community involvement efforts. This should extend to encouraging employees to patronize local eating establishments to help boost the economy, as well as benefit from the midday break.

Reduces Germ Spreading

Have you ever noticed how many office workers use a paper towel to open the bathroom door so as not to touch the handle? Offices are full of germophobes, and the worst place those concerned with cleanliness can eat is at their desk. According to research by CBT Nuggets, the average office computer keyboard has 20,598 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Similarly, a computer mouse has 45,670 times more bacteria than a toilet handle. Think about that the next time you’re eating a sandwich while typing. What is the best way to avoid sickness-causing bacteria in the office? Regular handwashing and keeping food away from your desk!

For many, eating lunch at one’s desk has become a necessary evil brought on by the same reasons that prevent taking vacation time. Some managers may hold fast to the perception that every minute spent away from one’s desk is a minute spent not working, and that employees who take lunch breaks are lazy or not busy enough while their more dedicated coworkers are willing to push through. But too often, the benefits of working an extra hour a day don’t outweigh the benefits of taking a much-needed break, eating a hearty meal and socializing and bonding with coworkers.

Of course, every individual, manager, company, and industry are different, and what works best for one may not work for the other. However, employees should make an effort to get away from their desks during the lunch hour when time allows, if for no other reason than to gauge how their productivity and eating habits improve or decline when doing so. Those who find it impossible should be cautious their lack of work/life balance doesn’t lead to future health issues or burnout.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.