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Eating lunch at your desk won't earn you brownie points with your boss...

… and it might even make you less healthy.

IT’S LUNCHTIME and your nearest and dearest colleagues at work are about to unleash the flavours of the world on the office. (Unless, of course, you work at Google or another one of the swanky tech companies or large multinationals who provide their staff with a purpose-built canteen.)

If you’re the salad-munching, apple-eating employee who minds their own business and doesn’t pollute the office or work space with your choice of lunch then you are to be commended. However for the crisp eaters out there, who insist on finishing off their lunch with a packet of Tayto, Hunky Dories or some other hideously strong brand of delectably delicious crisps, please go outside and eat them. In fact, don’t come back in at all if you want to sit beside me for the afternoon – in fact I refuse to participate in any team-working activity, regardless of how much work WE as a team have to get through today.

I’m sorry, but the stench of crisps lingering in the office air, long after the packet has gone and its contents partially digested, is just too much to bear. I like to think of it as the new smoker’s breath; not even a packet of ole’ Wrigley’s can disguise. And anyway I would just love to know who came up with the idea that you get more brownie points with the boss if you eat your lunch at the desk. A la Eurovision style – nil points!

Food habits

A study carried out by Helsinki Health Study in 2001 to examine the association between workplace lunch and recommended food habits revealed that those with higher educational level were more likely to have lunch at a staff canteen, as, also, were women with pre-school children and normal-weight men. Those having lunch at staff canteens were more likely to follow recommended food habits compared with other subjects. Having lunch at the staff canteen seemed to increase the consumption frequency of vegetables and fish. It also revealed that more emphasis needs to be put on increasing the possibility for employees to have lunch at staff canteens and employers to provide a specific place away from the workspace for lunch.

More recently, Shape magazine found in a conducted survey that up to 67% of Americans are eating lunch at their desk every day. When I tried to find some statistics for Ireland, several different publications put the figures at between 60% and 70%. Apparently we engage in “distracted eating” or “mindless eating, “while preoccupied with work”. Our body and brain don’t properly process the amount of food we consume and, as a result, the hormone leptin is often late to signalling the brain that it’s time to stop eating, meaning you take in more calories than you need to feel satisfied.

What if you don’t have a staff canteen?

So, what do the employees do that don’t have staff canteens and how can they stay productive and energised if they have the equivalent of a cupboard that serves as a canteen (I once had this in a previous workplace). Isn’t it up to the employer to provide a break-out room or small kitchen for staff and be seen as proactively ensuring the well-being of its staff?

Here’s some food for thought if you’re one of the repeat offenders and can’t quite break that lunchtime work-through in pursuit of the badge of honour for workplace commitment: you might speed up the career ladder but your health will almost certainly take a nose-dive. Skipping a proper lunch break will make you more stressed, less productive and you will only end up snacking in the afternoon anyway.

But spare a thought for your poor colleagues who may not share your taste nor delight in your culinary offerings from last night’s curry or stew. Nobody likes trying to find files on your desk when it’s strewn with crumbs, and we sure as hell can’t stand the incessant gum chewing till 5pm as you attempt to conceal your lunchtime treats. Isn’t it time we campaigned for canteens to be installed in every workplace up and down the country and shouldn’t it be a basic right to have somewhere to go and eat your lunch, wind down and relax? I think we should all take a leaf out of the French rule book on lunches. They take two hours every day, everything stops, shops close, no one answers the phone and the mid day meal is sacred.

Bon Appetit.

Karen Frampton is Karen Frampton is a Career Coach based in Waterford and writes a regular Career Blog via She recently established Buro Office Design with her Architect partner, Ronan McGee

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