Should You Be Eating Lunch With Your Co-Workers?

Leaving your cubicle for lunch gives you an opportunity not only to recharge, but also to avoid burnout and increase your productivity while connecting with your fellow co-workers.

Although eating lunch alone while you decipher a report or scroll through a spreadsheet is not uncommon, a survey by Accountemps found that many professionals are craving to share their lunch with another employee. The survey revealed that 49% of accounting and finance professionals do eat solo, but 46% would prefer that another cubicle mate join them for some banter.

“Despite having ‘too much on your plate’ when it comes to work, stepping away for a lunch break is an opportunity to return to work with renewed focus,” said Bill Driscoll, a district president of Accountemps, a Menlo Park, Calif. staffing firm.

Capitalize on Lunch Breaks

Eating lunch with other employees on your team or from another group within your office is a strategy that can help people “strengthen business relationships and create a more relaxed environment for collaboration and the exchange of ideas,” Driscoll said.

Being friendly with colleagues can foster healthier relationships and boost productivity, which is critical during long projects or challenging tasks.

“A group with strong team spirit is more likely to support one another when faced with new responsibilities,” Driscoll said. “Managers can encourage camaraderie by organizing an occasional team lunch.”

For the past six months, John Cass, director of marketing for OnSource, a Braintree, Mass.-based mobile app company, and a few of his colleagues have eaten lunch at a nearby local diner to have “egg salad.” Now it has become a tradition for several of his co-workers to partake in once a week.

The lunch break allows them to catch up casually, and since the company is growing quickly as it adds more photo inspectors to its network, the time to converse at the office can be sparse. Their break is restorative and efficient: the servers at the Olympian Diner and Restaurant even know what each of them want to eats because everyone orders the same food each week.

Since they have taken the time to get to know each other personally, Cass said discussing work issues is less of an issue, because they are “more at ease with one another."

"Networking breaks down any barriers to open communication and builds trust and determining their boundaries,” Cass added.

While they do not avoid discussing work issues completely during their lunches at the diner, the colleagues have that found their  conversations have evolved to ones that are more in-depth and “good for idea building,” he said.

Office “warriors often feel that not eating is a feather in their cap” since it shows their commitment at work, said April Masini, a New York- based author and relationship advice columnist. But, in fact, taking a lunch often has a positive outcome.

“It clears your head and that allows for more creative and effective solutions,” she said. “Getting out of a rut or a creative block often happens when you take a lunch break, whether it’s to eat a meal, take a walk, go to the gym, chat with friends or even just the cafeteria workers.”

How to Network at Lunch

Lunch is a good opportunity to network with both your current co-workers and former colleagues, Driscoll said. Venture outside your current group of acquaintances to develop your professional career.

“By limiting your lunch partners to those in your department, you’re limiting opportunities for career advancement,” he said. “Invite someone out to lunch, or ask a colleague if she would be interested in a mid-day coffee run.”

Engaging with shy people or introverts can be a harder task, but a rewarding one, added Masini. When they avoid eye contact or sitting with you in the company cafeteria, you have to accept their true nature. Realize that “you’re going to have to do the inviting,” she said.

“You can invite them to go out to lunch with you there or off-site or ask if you can join them if they’re already sitting down to lunch,” Masini said.

One way for managers to encourage their team members to actually take their lunch breaks and avoid being overworked and burned out is to have food brought in during crunch time or hectic projects, Driscoll said.

Some employees will find their CEOs eating lunch with them once a week at their company cafeteria in order to establish camaraderie. When Anand Deshpande, CEO of Persistent Systems, a Pune, India and Santa Clara, Calif.-based technology company, sat down next to Anuja Khaire, a software designer and manager, and her team recently, the impression given was that he was accessible to his employees.

“He walked up and sat next to us like another employee,” she said. “He was so approachable and this created a sense of trust, friendliness and mutual respect.”

Colleagues to Avoid

Some co-workers make great lunchtime companions while others should be avoided, because they are malcontents and their goal is only to spread office gossip and not building trust or long-term relationships, said Driscoll.

“Rumor-mongers are well known to most employees and it is best not to be associated with them,” he said. “Employees who have a negative outlook on everything might not make the best lunchtime companions. Conversations with them will likely be draining rather than uplifting.”

Avoiding the “stream of consciousness” talkers or self-absorbed ones is a much more daunting task.

“If you want to avoid a co-worker at lunch because they don’t ask questions and basically are looking for a forum in which to dictate and lecture, you can try to be coy,” Masini said. “Eventually, they’re going to get the idea that you don’t want to join them.”

When they sit down, you can exit by announcing that you forgot about an appointment, she advises. Or ask for them opinion on a topic.

“This creates an opportunity for you to talk uninterrupted and for them to listen,” Masini said.

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