Scientists Discovered Another Reason Why You Should Stop Eating Lunch Alone at Your Desk
By Shana Lebowitz
I'm embarrassed to admit that the keyboard on which I'm typing this article is slightly sticky from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ate at my desk a few days ago.
As usual, I assumed that I was crunched for time and had better not take even a half-hour break to socialize with coworkers.It's hardly an uncommon feeling. Surveys have found that a whopping 80% of workers eat at their desks, in spite of research that suggests taking a midday break can be highly restorative.
Now, new research offers another incentive to break for lunch instead of trying to plow straight through the workday: Taking the time to prepare and eat meals with coworkers can help boost team performance.
For the study, which was highlighted recently in The Harvard Business Review, researchers at Cornell University looked at teams of firefighters at 13 firehouses in a large US city.
The researchers learned that firefighters frequently prepare and eat at least one meal together, including cooking and washing dishes, depending on the length of their shifts. Firefighters reported that it makes them feel like a family, and that they mostly spend time in the dining room while they're on call.
When researchers surveyed the firefighters, they found that cooking and eating together not only helped the firefighters bond, but also improved group performance.
Specifically, the more often teams ate together, the better they performed, according to self-reports. And teams that cooked together were about twice as likely to demonstrate cooperative behavior, like going out of their way to help coworkers outside the boundaries of their job.
Of course, the researchers acknowledge that they can't say for sure that preparing and eating food together causes team performance to improve. It might also be the case that high-performing teams are more likely to eat together.
The researchers also note that there are some potential disadvantages to eating with coworkers, such as employees forming mealtime "cliques" and becoming isolated from other staff.
Yet, assuming that workers use lunchtime gatherings as a way to forge new relationships instead of close people off, eating together could be an easy (and enjoyable) way to improve team performance.
While it might be difficult to replicate the experience of cooking and washing dishes in a firehouse, most of us have the ability to spend half an hour eating a sandwich in the cafeteria. As The Harvard Business Review points out, instead of waiting for chance encounters in the restroom, for example, we can plan to have lunch together a few times a week.
It might seem like you're wasting time when you should be working, but in the long run, you could see tangible benefits.
As for me, I'll be bringing my PB&J to the Business Insider kitchen this afternoon.