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There is another reason often cited for in-cubicle eating, but everyone who has studied the issue agrees that it’s a bad one: trying to create the impression of being a dedicated employee willing to go the extra mile.
“If you’re sitting at your desk, you’re not building those relationships that are good for your career,” Barclay said.
“If you see your boss going out to lunch with your co-workers, it’s good for you to go, too. Otherwise, you’re just going to get more work piled on you while your co-workers get promotions.”
Helmke agreed: “Being successful in the workplace is about building relationships, and you can’t do that sitting at your desk.”
In addition, numerous studies have shown that taking breaks enhances productivity.
“People think that by sitting at their desks [during lunch], they’re being more productive, but they’re not,” Love said.
Staying at your desk all day, day after day, can lead to increased stress levels that can affect a company in terms of reduced productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, compensation claims, health insurance and medical expenses.
“We need breaks,” she added.
If you must eat
Of course, if you use your lunch break for, say, exercising, you still face the issue of eating at your desk when you return. There are some basic rules that will help you do that without irritating those at adjoining desks.
“Avoid things with strong aromas, such as garlic,” Barclay said. “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. If you have garbage, don’t throw it in your wastebasket; take it to a break-room receptacle. 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 sitting at your desk eating, it’s easy to send the message that you’re unapproachable,” she said. “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.’ ”
As common as eating at one’s desk has become, Helmke thinks that the phenomenon might be about to peak. Or, at least, change.
“With smartphones and tablets and other wireless technology, we don’t have to be sitting at our desks” to be working, she said. “We can sit in a park and eat a sandwich and still be connected.”
In other words, instead of having lunch at our desks, we’ll have desks at our lunch.
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392