Your weekday lunch — where you share gossip with gobhi, chatter with curry and discuss life over dahi — carries a superpower. It so turns out that eating with your co-workers builds camaraderie, fosters deeper work relationships and boosts productivity, as research led by Cornell professor Kevin Kniffin found out. Kniffin based his study on firehouses which foster the practice of firemen cooking and eating together. According to his analysis, sharing food and drink has a different type of intimacy that creates a special kind of camaraderie and bond among teammates.
Fictional financial supervillain Gordon Gekko had said in Wall Street: “Lunch is for wimps”. And inarguably, the lunch hour is being eaten away by demands at the workplace. But HR gurus make a case for team lunches as a better team building exercise than trust falls (trust-building game). Samira Gupta, image consultant and executive coach, says, “Stepping away from your desk is important for better productivity, focus and creativity. It also allows you to unwind with fellow team-mates on a neutral platform, where everyone’s guards are down.”
Increasingly, office design is focusing on creating spaces for serendipitous encounters or “collisions” among employees in order to enhance collaboration. Steve Jobs had famously asked the bathrooms at Pixar’s new headquarters be located in the central atrium, so that workers from different parts of the building have no choice but to mingle as they tinkle.
Communal eating spaces at a workplace are becoming such spaces for bonding. Sonica Aron, founder and managing partner of an HR consultancy says that the lunch hour gives structure to non-work-related bonding. “Sharing lunch psychologically brings people closer as it spells the message that I trust you and like you and welcome you to break bread with me,” she notes. Plus, it breaks silos and takes the sharpness out of tough work-related conversations.
Eating collectively, according to Gupta, is a way to boost the emotional quotient of the workplace too. “While eating together you can practice more of your emotional side by appreciating each other’s food, talking about non-controversial and light topics like, sports, music, weather etc,” she notes. It’s a great way to show your fun side to colleagues.
And to make sure you put your best face forward, Aron advises being careful not to infringe on others’ space. Follow proper table manners and start inclusive conversations. Steer clear of religion, contentious issues and political opinions. “Also, don’t speak in your vernacular in a group setting assuming that a lunch is a non-work environment,” she adds.
Team lunch also helps colleagues move from insularity – where certain team members who socialise only with one another risk becoming disconnected from the rest of the organisation. New members may feel out of place as tightly-knit teams can be daunting. And last, it may lead to cliquish meal practices. Even so, cafeteria or lunchroom, is a space where social ties are built and reaffirmed. How your organisation lunches can be telling on how people feel or connect with their colleagues and the workplace. In the end, how you eat is as important as what you eat – at least in modern workplaces.
DOs AND DON’Ts OF EATING TOGETHER
-Clean up after yourself
-Avoid talking with your mouth full
-Take small bites, and you’ll find it easier to answer questions or join in on table talk
-Wait until you have swallowed the food before you take a sip of your beverage
-Wipe your fingers and mouth often with your napkin
-Remember your posture. Sit up straight, and keep your arms (including elbow) off the table
-When eating in a group, match your eating pace with others
-Be mindful of not burping in front of others. If you do by mistake, then quickly apologise
-Begin eating until everyone has been served or is ready with their food
-Chew with your mouth open
-Reach across the table or across another person to get something
-Pick your teeth, excuse yourself and take care of it in the restroom
-Put your utensils back on the table once they have been used
-Place your cell phone, keys, or handbag on the table
-Eat non-vegetarian food with a vegetarian colleague; seek permission
-Eat at your workstation
-Eat food with strong smell like onion, garlic
Why eat together?
1. Boosts productivity. Kniffin’s study found that firefighters who ate together, worked better together.
2. Networking tool. Eating with someone from another department — or grabbing coffee or tea — is an important way to break down the silos that exist in an office.
3. Makes you happier. Having a lunch buddy(s) at work can lessen the dread of trudging to work every day.
Increasingly, office design is focusing on creating spaces for serendipitous encounters or “collisions” among employees in order to enhance Collaboration